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— Overlong and with ambitions of grandeur, Cedric Klapisch’s enjoyable Paris is an attempt at Trollopean social archaeology that’s best received with a shrug and a smile. Just because it isn’t what it’s meant to be doesn’t mean you can’t savor its sun-dappled pictures of the French capital.

Klapisch (The Spanish Apartment, Russian Dolls) has a deft touch with light comedy, and much of Paris breezes by on the charm of a tousled Juliette Binoche. She’s Elise, a divorced social worker with three young children who, after discovering her younger brother Pierre (Romain Duris) needs a heart transplant, takes up residence in his shabby chic (and remarkably spacious) bourgeois apartment.

Elise means to take care of Pierre, as the prospect of an early death concentrates his mind and causes him to finally begin to appreciate the teeming variety of life that’s spread (pretty literally) before his feet. Whether the little stories about the characters he glimpses are meant to be actual case histories or Pierre’s imaginings is never quite clear, nor terribly important.

While it’s obviously trying to be more - there’s a scene where Baudelaire’s description of Paris as being “without heads or tails” is invoked, seemingly to justify the film’s narrative strategy - the overall effect is more confusing than edifying.

But Baudelaire - who also called Paris “a vast graveyard that is called a great city,” but that doesn’t fit with the tourist boardvision that permeates the movie - would be horrified at Pierre’s (and Klapisch’s) vision of the city as a beautifully banal middle-class affair, lightly seasoned with marginal characters, some of whom the saintly Elise incurs as professional obligations.

There’s a subplot involving illegal immigration from Cameroon, and a lecherous historian Roland (Fabrice Luchini) who, feeling the breath of mortality on his neck, hits on his students and agrees to host a middlebrow TV series, but somehow these sporadically engaging themes never quite cohere into ballast-lending dramatic motifs. Instead they drift off into the clean Gallic night to the strains of an Erik Satie piano tinkle.

This is a sweet old world where people are pretty much what you expect them to be beneath their colorful costumes - the vegetable vendors and truck drivers are salt-of-the-earthy types, the immigrants are hardworking if naive and a good man is difficult to find even when you look like a slightly harried Juliette Binoche.

MovieStyle, Pages 47 on 11/06/2009

Print Headline: REVIEW Paris

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