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Paris 36

un film de Christophe Barratier

Somewhere within the environs of Rene Clair, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the backyard musicals of Mickey & Judy you will find Paris 36. Not really all that good but not really all that bad either. Certainly not quite as bad as my fellow critics would have you believe. Sure, Paris 36 is often dipped deep into the circus vat of cotton candy schmaltz but it manages just enough legitimate charm to avoid smeltering away too long in the faux moxie and obvious gloom it so often bi-polarly portrays.

Not exactly a glowing review (it sneaks and slithers its way just inches above the Mason-Dixon line of criticism) so much as a somewhat patronizing pat on the back to a player who manages to get on base solely due to an error. No runs scored but at least he's on base. Excuse the sports metaphor, but that is exactly what we get in the trite but ultimately fun-loving Paris 36. No great film here but at least we are on base.

Directed by Christophe Barratier, the filmmaker who gave us the tremendously tedious falderol that was the crowd-pleasing mediocrity The Chorus, this film wavers between self-righteous pretension and blase underachievement nearly as thoroughly as that film did. We also get a script that is so laden in obvious metaphor and even more obvious plotline conclusions that one wonders if the film were written as an assignment in screenwriting 101. It all makes one wonder what one could even possibly see in such a film to begin with.

Well visually Paris 36 is something to watch and maybe even behold. Photographed by Tom Stern, the man who has made most of Clint Eastwood's films glisten with possibilities, and designed by Jean Rabasse, the man responsible for such luscious films as City of Lost Children (and there is the Jeunet connection) and Bertolucci's The Dreamers. Paris 36 therefore, could be construed as art-for-art's-sake. Such a thing only goes so far though and the schmaltz is certainly piled on pretty damn thick at times.

We also have the romanticism of the period (Paris 1936 - hence the English title) and the nostalgic peek at what one could mistake for the feel of the MGM and WB musicals of yesteryear. The one proper musical number (this is a musical of sorts after all) ends up being something worthy of any highlight reel. Now if only Barratier could lay off the deadening oversentimental maudlinism for a more than ten minutes. [05/19/09]

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