ANYWAY, since our plans for a messy Friday/Saturday followed by a horror movie marathon on Sunday went awry, I decided to go for something completely different. Also, I was feeling a teensy bit emotionally fraught so it wouldn't have been the best. We've been given the task of trying to write a 10-minute short film for Richard this year, and containing short films within a time limit is something I have a bit of trouble with. After wandering around HMV clutching a copy of Silence of The Lambs for about 15 minutes (I was thinking about tension...and bad trannies), I ditched the much-watched (but never owned) favourite, in favour of Red Road and Paris Je T'aime. Harry had told me about the former aaaages ago and I'd put it on my List Of Films To Watch but inevitably never did. A quick glance at the cover told me it was some kind of gritty thriller, and that was most definitely not what I needed. Instead, I opted for a collection of short films about love, set in the most romantic city in the world.
I know, I know- not something I'd usually have opted for, huh? I loved Coffee & Cigarettes, the Jim Jarmusch film, which was basically a series of short vignettes connected only by the eponymous black gold and happiness sticks. Paris Je T'aime had a similar theme, in that every 10-minute short was connected by the setting and the fact that they were about luuuurve. I must have been feeling particularly emotional, because I sat glued to the whole thing and my attention never wained once. There were 18 shorts in total, from a host of directors including Wes Craven, Gus van Sant, Alfonso Cuaron and the Coen brothers.
The format is quite simple- it covers all the different areas of Paris, from le Marais, to Montmatre, to the Bastille and everywhere in between. Each segment tells a different story of love and relationships, whether they be romantic, familial, happy, tragic or curiously quirky. Aside from the obvious common themes, each story was linked by the same beginning and end frame- that is, the beginning of one scene was the same as the end of the previous story. It seems really obvious but it was really clever in that it made the whole thing flow alot more seamlessly. There didn't seem to be any awkward transitions and it made each individual story follow on alot more naturally.
As is the case with films like this, some stories were alot stronger narratively than others, and sometimes it felt as if they ended as soon as they were getting interesting. The benefit of this, though, is that it constantly holds the viewer's attention and even if the current short isn't working for you, the next one will be along in a minute.
Thankfully, there were more shorts that worked than ones that didn't. Gus van Sant's 'Les Marais' was an early highlight, telling the tale of a smitten young assistant, Gaspard, talking to printers' assistant Elie, in rapid fire French about soulmates. It's a lovely little story and, when it seems like poor Gaspard's affections are going unrequited, it's revealed that Elie in fact doesn't speak any French. Also, this story featured an appearance by Marianne Faithfull, and she's just COOL.
I also loved Wes Craven's 'Pere le Chaise', for so many reasons... It's based around a young engaged couple finding Oscar Wilde's grave, which I visited when I was in Paris aged 18. Me and my flatmates spent a whole afternoon walking around the place and I found it to be really interesting and magical, in a macabre kind of way. The dark and autumnal look of the segment reflects this and it was kind of exciting seeing on film the place I'd been sitting myself. And yeah, I was looking for my own lipstick mark... I'm almost sure mine was there, although I'm certain I'm not the first person to think black lipstick would leave the biggest impression...
Obviously with such a huge roster of directors, never mind actors, the quality of performances is bound to vary a little too, but admirably most of it never falters. Probably the most affecting was Juliette Binoche as a mother who has recently lost her young son in 'Place des Victoires'. Her inability to move on, coupled with her shaken belief that there is a God, is heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.
On the flipside of this, there were a few times when I wished I hadn't lost my fast-forward button. 'Tour Eiffel' is about a lonely mime who finds love after driving around Paris in an invisible mime-car... It's sort of funny, but the guy's face and mime make-up was really creepy and the odd slapstick tone didn't really work for me. I thought I'd love 'Quartier de la Madeleine', a vampire effort starring Olga Kurylenko, but sadly it just didn't seem to work for me... It had a kind of Sin City, hyper-real comic book look to it which jarred really oddly with the rest of the film and also, Elijah Wood is a creepy looking man-child.
I'm not gonna sit and synopsisize every other story in the film. One, because it'd be the dullest thing ever and way long; two, because I just made up the word synopsisize; and three, because the true beauty of this film is watching each individual story unfold and link together with the next. Each relationship, regardless of its context, is beautifully portrayed, lovingly shot and shows a snapshot of Parisian life that is as eloquent as it is fascinating.
Despite the fact it might come across as quite twee and mushy, it's a little gem of a film that shows that romance isn't dead- it's everywhere around us as long as you keep your eyes open to it.