Paris, je t'aime

un film de Olivier Assayas, Frédéric Auburtin and Gérard Depardieu, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Joel and Ethan Coen, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravenese, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydès, Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Tom Tykwer and Gus Van Sant

As is often the case with many an omnibus film, Paris, je t'aime is more of a novelty than anything else. Full of highs and lows and many in betweens, this collection of eighteen shorts (each about five minutes in length) from twenty-one directors (there are three co-directed spots) is quirky at best and well, quirky at worst too. Never quite hitting the mark of exellence - as is usually the case with such a buffet of auteurs as this - there are still a handful of segments that can be called good, even near-great if you will. The rest are mere triflings at best.

The closest we ever come to a great film is with the Coen Brothers' best-of-the-bunch segment about a hapless tourist trying to find his way through the metro, but who mistakenly makes eye contact with an arguing young couple from Hell. As if taking a cue from Keaton or Chaplin or perhaps more aptly, Tati, with the tourist-in-trouble routine, Steve Buscemi wordlessly comes off as a clown prince par excellence. Another possible candidate for best-in-show is the one-take camera dance of Alfonso Cuarón as he follows Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier throughout an O. Henry-esque argument down a Parisian boulevard. Making it a trifecta of the near-greats is Frédéric Auburtin and Gérard Depardieu's story of an older couple - played with viscous tanacity by Ben Gazzara and co-writer Gena Rowlands, as they quibble and quabble over divorce, remarriage and each other's much younger new partners. Just the idea of seeing these two great actors interact again after all these years is well worth the show alone, even if it is for just five minutes or so.

Meanwhile, Olivier Assayas bemuses us with a tale of a young starlet on location shoot (played by the always adorable Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is anxious to score both drugs and love and Oliver Schmitz jerks some crocodile tears out of us with a tale of racism and death. Sylvain Chomet hands us trepidatious laughter with the help of a couple of mimes while Gus Van Sant weaves us a tale of queer love without translation. Richard LaGravenese lets us watch as Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardant play sexual games with one another and Vincenzo Natali gives us a taste of blood with an awkward yet strangely tender vampire love story. Wes Craven puts forth a comical story which if it hadn't taken place in a cemetary, one would never have known it was from the master of horror and Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas give us their idea of class seperation in modern day Paris - and the world. With slightly altering notions of mediocrity, these still play out as better than average in the whole realm of things to come.

All the while, set somewhere betwixt the good and the bad (the ugly comes later) are a pair of what-ifs that definately emphasize a style over substance form of filmmaking. Cinematographer extraordinaire Christopher Doyle, the artiste responsible for painting the landscapes of Wong Kar-wai, Zhang Yimou and an upcoming Van Sant, slaps, chops and Hong Kong Phooeys his way through the pretty-as-a-fucking-picture story of a bald hair supply salesman-cum-stylist (played by director Barbet Schroeder) and a melange of hot Asian models posing as best they can. Then Tom Tykwer, the one trick pony who gave us the wildly overrated one-note rave-pop-pic Run Lola Run a few years back, tries (and almost succeeds) to pull off another fast-edit montage movie spectacle starring the crackerjack known as Natalie Portman. Both of these segmants play the middle ground to picture perfect perfection. One can not help but love their spazzed out energy while at the same moment loathing their spazzed out lack of class with an equal vim and vigor.

As for the down side - and many segments fall into smaltz more often than not (even some of those listed above) - we get a muslim/christian teen angst story (Gurinder Chadra), an attempt at romantic absurdity (Bruno Podalydès), a preachy tragedy of a man finally loving his wife just as it is too late (Isabel Coixet), some sort of tear-jerked story of a mother grieving over her dead child, which somehow involves Willem Dafoe as a cowboy/angel (Nobuhiro Suwa) and the most manipulatively sweet of them all, Alexander Payne's finale tale of the ugly American in Paris routine. All-in-all, I suppose the whole kit-and-kaboodle is not all that bad when considering the possibilities for quasi-total failure which exists in such an endeavor. Perhaps too, it is my (and many a cinephile I am sure) fervent Francophilia which causes an upswing in mood toward many an uneven storytelling technique. Viva la Paris anyone?[06/25/07]