Paris, Je T'Aime


MOVIE REVIEW by Willard Manus

Paris is usually sold as the city of love, but this sentimental notion is shattered in PARIS, JE T'AIME, a new film comprised of eighteen segments shot in almost every neighborhood of the city by an equal number of directors. Among the contributors are Gus Van Sant, Gerard Depardieu, Joel & Ethan Coen, Wes Craven, Isabel Coixet and Alexander Payne.

Some top-flight actors took part in the project as well, such as Juliette Binoche, Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Miranda Richards.

PARIS, JE T'AIME was the brainchild of the young French director, Tristan Carne, who pitched the idea to producer Emmanuel Benbiby (Run Lola, Run). The latter was able to attract directors and actors, but needed help from veteran producer Claudie Ossard (Amelie) to raise the necessary funds. Each director who came aboard was asked to shoot on a tight budget and shooting schedule.

"Coincidentally, one of the cast members, Barbet Schroeder, who appears in Christopher Doyle's Port de Choissy, produced the first Parisian film anthology Paris Vu Par (1965), which included shorts by Nouvelle Vague directors Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol," said Ossard.

Originally twenty segments were shot (to match the number of arrondissements in the city), but Ossard decided that the contributions by Denmark's Christopher Boe and Israel's Raphael Nadjari did not belong in the film. Benbiby protested, feeling that the idea behind the project was compromised without all twenty neighborhoods being represented. Ossard disagreed and the conflict between them turned nasty, with Benbiby filing a lawsuit to prevent the film from being screened at Cannes. Both parties finally settled and PARIS JE T'AIME made its debut at the festival.

The subtitled American version is entertaining and compelling. Although some of the shorts are slight, little better than anecdotes or jokes, many have depth and power, and are anything but sentimental. Loin Du 16eme, for example, (written and directed by Salles and Daniela Thomas), focuses on a young, stressed-out girl (Moreno) who must rush through Paris to deposit her baby at a day-care center. When the tot cries as she is about to leave, Moreno soothes her by singing a Portuguese lullaby. Then she bustles off to work in the home of a wealthy Frenchwoman, who brusquely hands her a list of things to do while she's out shopping. Among Moreno's chores are the care and feeding of the woman's baby, who bursts into tears at the sight of her.

Moreno croons the same lullaby heard earlier, but though the words are identical, the look in her eyes and the tone of her voice speak volumes about the painful irony of her life, being alienated by class, race and ethnicity from the true object of her affection. Stories like that help us to see Paris in a new and provocative light.