A FilmExposed Film Review
Dirs: Various, 2006, France, 120mins, English/French with subtitles
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Steve Buscemi, Nick Nolte, Margo Martindale, Natalie Portman
How many directors does it take to make a feature film? In the case of Paris Je T’Aime, the answer is 21. An incredible array of talent has been assembled for this intriguing production, and the result is a collection of 18 short films, which each have a tale of romance to tell from the French capital. It's a tall order to squeeze so many shorts into the space of just 120 minutes and expect the picture to work overall, but Paris Je T’Aime manages to pull it off. Every film in this unabashedly romantic compendium zips by in just a few minutes, ensuring none can be accused of outstaying their welcome, and with so much variety on offer, Paris Je T’Aime guarantees something to please every viewer.
Each of Paris Je T’Aime's segments represents one of the city's arrondissements (two were dropped from the final edit), with the best entries dividing into two categories: those that work because they bear their director's unique fingerprints, and those that succeed through excellent performances. The chief highlights in the former category include the Coen brothers' hilarious skit featuring Steve Buscemi as an unlucky tourist, Tom Tykwer's contribution, which recalls the kinetic energy of his debut Run Lola Run (1998), and the live-action debut of Sylvain Chomet who still works with a cartoonish fervour. The more performance-driven films are distinguished by first-rate displays from the likes of Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maggie Gyllenhaal and the unlikely partnership of Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardant; and there is also the chance to appreciate some good old-fashioned movie star charisma, with Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands (pictured) giving Paris Je T’Aime a touch of Cassavetes spirit in one of its finest vignettes.
The various stories in this picture run the gamut from wacky comedies to mournful tales of lost love, and it is this extraordinary diversity that makes Paris Je T’Aime work better than you'd expect it to. The film shifts into a different gear every five minutes, constantly surprising the viewer with a different take on the central theme, and while there are plenty of weak moments, they are generally mediocre at worst rather than awful. Gus van Sant, Gurinder Chadha, Nobuhiro Suwa and Christopher Doyle provide the biggest misfires among others, but these lesser shorts aren't anywhere near bad enough to scupper the project.
It's hard to say whether Paris Je T’Aime's eclectic content will work for everyone - some will be irritated by its inconsistent nature, and the film's utterly sincere faith in the power of love is borderline saccharine - but the film has a certain je ne sais quoi which gradually sucks you into a world of wild fantasy and heady romance. Paris Je T’Aime eventually grows into something much more than the sum of its parts, and by the time Alexander Payne's touching, elegiac film has brought the whole experiment to a beautifully-judged close, most viewers will have fallen a little bit in love with it.