Paris, je t'aime (2006) / Romance-Comedy
aka Paris, I Love You

MPAA Rated: R for language and brief drug use
Running Time: 116 min.

Cast: Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Juliette Binoche, Catalina Sandina Moreno, Elijah Wood, Natalie Portman, Melchior Beslon, Ben Gazzarra, Gena Rowlands, Nick Nolte, Ludivine Sagnier, Miranda Richardson, Fanny Ardant, Bob Hoskins, Emily Mortimer, Rufus Sewell, Willem Dafoe, Marianne Faithful, Barbet Schroeder, Xin Li, Paul Putner, Olga Kurylenko, Alexander Payne, Gerard Depardieu, Wes Craven
Director: Olivier Assayas, Frederic Aubertin, Emmanuel Benbihy, Gurindher Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Gerard Depardieu, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravenese, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podaydes, Walter Salles, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Daniela Thomas, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant
Screenplay: Olivier Assayas, Emmanuel Benbihy, Gurindher Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Christopher Doyle, Gabrielle Keng, Richard LaGravenese, Kathy Li, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podaydes, Gena Rowlands, Walter Salles, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Daniela Thomas, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant
Review published May 8, 2007

Paris I Love You is a two-hour cinematic tribute to the city of Paris, four years in the making, told through a series of short vignettes (each approximately five minutes) as directed by an international slate of esteemed directors and actors. Each short film takes place in one of the arrondisements (municipal boroughs) of Paris, and though 20 of them exist, and were filmed, only 18 of them made the film's final cut (the two efforts not included were made by directors Christopher Boe and Raphael Nadjari due to problems working them in thematically). The filmmakers contacted were told that they could make any kind of short film that they wanted, with the only stipulation that the subject matter took place in their particular arrondisement and had to do with love (though not necessarily romantic love).

Due to the amount of short films, I won't go through the tedium of discussing each one individually, although, as with many projects made by various filmmakers, there are some segments that are stronger than others.  It's a given that there will not likely be a consensus on just which are the best among audiences -- it all comes down to individual taste. Due to the various backgrounds of the directors and actors themselves, there is a wide array of diversity captured in the city of Paris, from different dialects, ethnicities, religions, occupations, and persuasions. In short, the film captures the essence of Paris and its reputation as the city of love -- a city that doesn't belong just to the people of France, but truly is a treasured city to people the world over.

I think that, as a love letter to the city of Paris, Paris I Love You does succeed in getting its overall message across as seeing the famed city as a place of rich beauty, romance, and friendship among people of different walks of life. While each individual entry will vary in terms of its entertainment value to particular viewers, there are a few standouts from my perspective. Perhaps I'm a bit chauvinistic when I think back to my favorite segments and discover that my two favorites are done by American directors.

The Coen Brothers (The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty) have a segment in the Paris Metro early in the film starring Steve Buscemi (Art School Confidential, The Island) as a visiting American who makes the mistake of reading his guidebook on Paris tourism, which admonishes its readers to avoid eye contact when possible, a little too late. He ends up inadvertently drawing the eyes of a Parisian woman who proceeds to try to seduce him right in front of her jealous boyfriend, and an altercation brews instantly.

My favorite piece of the film happens to be the last, directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt), which features a middle-aged American woman traveling alone, with a voiceover done entirely in French with a thick American accent, commenting from her humble-but-naive American perspective on Parisian life. Her love story is not a conventional one -- just one woman who falls in love with a city, and a city, as if a living, breathing entity, loving her and all its inhabitants in return. Out of all of the stories of love between two people, it's ironic that the one which does not feature a romantic or familial connection would be the most heartwarming.

There are other standouts in the pack, such as German director Tom Tykwer's (Heaven, The Princess and the Warrior) whirlwind romance between an American actress, played by Natalie Portman (V for Vendetta, Revenge of the Sith), falling for a blind Parisian, as well as Sylvain Chomet's (The Triplets of Belleville, The Old Lady and the Pigeons) quirky tale of a mime who finds his soul mate in another mime while in prison. However, for the most part, many of the short films are nice, and very beautifully shot, but don't always strike as distinctly Parisian in nature. One in particular seems not in keeping with the rest, done by Canadian director Vincenzo Natali (Cypher, Cube), isn't even rooted in reality, telling of a meeting between one young man, played by Elijah Wood (Everything is Illuminated, Sin City), who comes across a female vampire feeding on her latest victim (none other than Wes Craven, who would coincidentally, direct the following short). It's not a bad piece, and it is very eye-catching, but, while it does manage to tie in to the love aspect, it's not really about Paris, or even about anything remotely close to reality, so I am not sure it fits the theme of the film from my perspective. Christopher Doyle's (Away with Words) surreal, Asian-tinged, quasi-kung fu short about a hairdresser is even more bizarre.

As I mentioned previously, there aren't any of the short films that I would consider bad, but the amount of them I'd ever want to see again is probably limited to less than a handful. I should commend the makers of the film for choosing the proper order for these films, as they seem to be balanced quite well throughout. Even so, with so many starts and stops, it's difficult to get caught up in the film as a whole, as we are departing from characters almost as soon as we meet them, and though it is about love, we aren't given enough development in story or characters to truly feel a real sense of the love contained within -- except for Payne's finale, which does actually have a character that has been fully developed all along -- that of the city of Paris itself.

Though we may not feel for individual people in the film, I think that Paris I love You manages to do what the filmmakers set out to do -- it captures the look, feel, vibe, and importance of the city of Paris to its inhabitants, and the world at large.  Each character in the film, at some point, finds love in Paris, and for Paris, and the conglomeration of all of these emotions and feelings is the true essence of the city itself, and not just the brick and mortar buildings that make up its landscape.

Qwipster's rating

©2007 Vince Leo