A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Cinema, je t’aime…

In Directors, drama, romance on July 4, 2009 at 5:00 am

I’ve not tried to discuss 18 movies in one blog post before; so luckily there was a single movie made that contained 18 smaller ones and they’re all even about the same subject matter. The place is Paris, and  the movie is PARIS, JE T’AIME. The concept behind having a groups of writers/directors come together to tell stories – in what was originally supposed be each district (or, in francais, arrondissement) – was conceived by Tristan Carne and Emmanuel Benbihy. From there we get some fantastic, international filmmakers from The Coen Brothers to Alfonso Cuaron, Gurinder Chadha to Gerard Depardieu and of course, Wes Craven to Walter Salles.

The first part is titles “Montrmartre” by writer/director Bruno Podalydes (who also acts as the lead actor in this part), and the story features a man driving around trying to find a parking spot. When he does, he questions himself in the mirror on why he’s not with someone. He’s funny and can laugh at himself. Then he notices a woman walking past the car, but when he sees that she doesn’t continue past the car – him looking through the side-view mirror. He gets out and sees that she has passed out on the sidewalk beside his car. From there, it seems to be a love connection and off we go to the next segment.

“Montmartre” is pretty funny and is a great kick-off to the movie in its entirety. There’s a little bit of the universal real life in this movie – the search for a parking spot – and the fantastical – where the girl that catches your eye, almost literally falls into your lap. Of course, as this movie goes to length in showing, this is not a promise of a happy ending; but at least a happy and sweet beginning to a relationship.

The second section is “Quais de Seine” by writer/director team (and married couple) Paul Mayeda Berges and Gurinder Chadha, and involves a trio of boys who each take their turn trying to score with the mademoiselles. The only one that kind of has a clue is the one who gets up to help a muslim girl that trips in front of them. The boy, Francois, helps the girl put the hair cover back on, with silly results and then later meets her – and her grandfather – outside of their mosque.

The segment is funny, for the many and varied ways that the young boys keep addressing the girls that walk by. There’s never any sign that they have a chance, and Francois sees the muslim girl smirking at their hijinks. It’s sweet and unlike the previous – or other segments – doesn’t offer up the promise of a “true love” moment, as much as just two people meeting and striking up a friendship. With, ok, the possibility of other things.

Next is “Le Marais”, by Gus Van Sant. It takes place in a print shop, where one boy sees another and instantly feels a kindred spirit. He goes on and on about how he just feels like he has to keep talking to this guy, only problem is, the other – American – kid doesn’t really speak french. It’s only after the printshop owner tells him that he ought to call the other guy, that the American kid takes off down the street trying to find the other.

You almost know the twist to this story, before it’s revealed – although, I initially thought that it was going to that the non-speaking kid was going to be deaf, but then he was responding a little. The only part that kind of seemed off – was the ending where it seemed like all of sudden the American kid felt like he so desperately he needed to find the other.

“Tuileries” takes place in a subway station, and features Steve Buscemi – written and directed by The Coen Brothers – and it’s our first straight-up slapstick segment of the movie. Granted it features the Coen’s trademark dark-humor, and Buscemi’s character doesn’t say a word in the entire segment. Even when he’s being attacked by a guy who he caught Buscemi’s tourist looking at his girlfriend.

The next segment is titled, “Loin du 16e” and features a young spanish woman dropping off her infant at a daycare so she can head to work. Before leaving and to soothe her child, she sings a lovely lullaby and then we get a fairly long segment showing the commute the girl has to go through to get to her job. Where we learn, is to take care of another infant – by a rich white woman – and this time when she tries to soothe the infant with the same song, it doesn’t seem to really work. So, she seems to spend her day looking out the window.

This segment is by Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas, and they do a good job of showing us the variety of denizens of Paris. If I did read the story correctly – with the differing responses of the two babies, then it’s an interesting story of love over your own family over “strangers”. But, the young Spanish girl is well played by Catalina Sandino Moreno.

Next we have “Port de Choisy” by Christopher Doyle, where we are introduced to a man who is trying to get directions to a salon. Whereupon once he arrives, he is attacked through a glass door and then the whole story kind of gets confusing in an array of sort of a music number and surrealistic hair-styling with a group of Asian women who take on the hairstyles of famous actresses – like Audrey Tautou in AMELIE.

I found this one to be one of my least favorite segments. It’s well made and I like the beginning part with the man trying to find his way to the salon, but then I guess I didn’t really “get” what it was trying to do.

“Bastille” is the next part and is made by Isabel Coixet and features a man who is meeting his wife at the same cafe where he first realized that he no longer loves her, to call off their marriage. The wife is played by Miranda Richardson, and she drops in with some news of her own. Which leads to him staying with her after all, and still winding up alone at the end; whereas he had had a mistress initially that he was looking forward to being with after his divorce.

The story, like many of these, is done without much dialogue and is narrated by revealing things about the wife, which he started off thinking were wonderful traits, but now drive him crazy. Like her red trenchcoat, or the song she sings when she makes dumplings. I liked this segment a lot, and it brought the movie back up to the level of the first few segments.

“Place des Victoires” is by Japanese writer-director Nobuhiro Suwa, and stars Juliette Binoche as a mother mourning the loss of her son. She then dreams that she can get him back, via following an American cowboy, played by Willem Dafoe. It’s a sad and yet kind of fun segment.

Next we get the story of young Jean-Claude, and how his parents met. The segment “Tour Eiffel” is by Sylvain Chomet. The boys parents, of course wind up being mimes, and we get a day in the life of the father and he eventually winds up in jail, only to be placed next to another mime – a female one – and they fall in love.

I know that there’s the stigma against mimes, but I found this segment endearing and pretty funny. Especially the male mime, who we see the most of. The most hilarious part is the fact that he uses his feet as his car – as all good mimes would – but he is able to still move at incredible speed and moves his feet almost like the Road Runner. And the giant book that young Jean-Claude wears on his back is pretty funny too.

“Parc Monceau” by Alfonso Cuaron, is done all in one long, continuous take and features Ludivine Sagnier and Nick Nolte walking and talking. We see Nolte’s character meet up with the young woman and we think that the conversation is heading one direction – and by the end, the story reveals itself to be about something else entirely. It’s all very well done – and carrying on the long takes Cuaron used in (one of my favorite movies) CHILDREN OF MEN – and it was good to Nick Nolte acting.

The next section called “Quartier des Enfants Rouges” by Olivier Assayas, features a guy riding up to a building on his scooter, only to reveal that he’s a drug dealer, and he’s there to sell his wares to an American actress – played by Maggie Gyllenhaal – who seems to develop a crush on the guy and calls him up for another hit, but is really just wanting to see the guy again.

There are some good bits in this segment, mostly having to do with the movie set that Maggie’s character is shooting on. And then there’s the unfortunate ending, that sends us into the next segment. But, for the most part, I wasn’t too thrilled with this one either. The beginning is cute, where Maggie has to go to an ATM to get cash, and then to a bar to break her bills into something smaller. This is where she possibly makes the mistake/misinterpretation of the drug dealer asking for her number.

“Place de Fetes” by Oliver Schmitz is about a man who is face to face with a woman he’s seemingly remembered her from a chance encounter where he was cleaning a parking garage. She’s currently attending to him, after he says he must have gotten stung by a bee and asks her to have a cup of coffee with him. It’s revealed that she’s actually a paramedic and he’s wounded. We then see some flashbacks to what this man’s life has been. Getting fired from a number of jobs, taking up playing a guitar and singing. We then see how the man wound up in the position that he’s in.

It’s a heart-breaking segment and the final shot of the woman holding two cups of coffee, is especially profound.

“Pigalle” starts with us seeing Bob Hoskins going into a bar, and getting a drink. He looks at and is spoken to by a woman who asks for a song to be played that was played the first and only time she fell in love. Then Hoskins walks back into a what is essentially a peepshow booth, where the woman from the bar then bursts in and tries to seduce Hoskin’s character.

It’s then revealed that they’re doing some kind of role-playing and actually are a couple. They leave the bar argue as they seem to be heading home. The writer/director Richard LaGrevanese, gives us a short view into a long relationship that has seemed to have gone through their ups and downs, and by the end we know that they’re used to performing.

“Quartier de la Madeleine” by Vincenzo Natali is about a young backpacker (Elijah Wood) who encounters a vampiress who is chewing on her latest victim – both a lucky and unfortunate Wes Craven. She then jumps at Wood, but sniffs him and then decides to leave him alive. It’s only when Wood’s character cuts himself, and then slips and falls down a flight of stairs that the vampire (played by Olga Kurylengo), with her white eyes and flowing hair and clothes, decides to save him by turning him into a vampire.

This was another segment that I didn’t really care for. I understand the history involved with things like vampires and grand guignol. But, this segment is kind of ridiculous with how Olga’s character’s hair and clothes seems to be running in reverse. The stylization of the blood and how the vampire looks is great though.

Continuing on with the macabre, sort of, we move on to “Pere-Lachaise” which has us following an engaged, British couple who are walking through the cemetery, and come upon Oscar Wilde’s tombstone. The story is really about the couple still kind of getting to know each other, while on their pre-marriage honeymoon (it’s the only time they could fit it into their schedules) and realizing that one’s too serious and doesn’t enjoy the fun things in life (as portrayed by the always fun Rufus Sewell) and well, the other joins the multitudes who have visited Wilde’s grave and left their mark by covering it with kisses (Emily Mortimer).

The fun part of this segment, which despite Sewell’s repeating saying that he’s never made anyone laugh, is when he falls down; bumps his head and sees a vision of Oscar Wilde, himself (as portrayed by Alexander Payne), who tells him to go after that girl. The fact that this segment is by previous vampire victim, Wes Craven, is a fresh outing from a director whose last real good movie was probably SCREAM and this is probably one of my favorite parts of the movie.

“Faubourg Saint-Denis” is about a young blind kid who while out walking one day hears a girl screaming that she’s locked in someplace and needs help. Of course, this is revealed that she’s just an actress practicing for a part. The girl played by Natalie Portman, is then shown a shortcut to the place of her audition, by the blind kid running through the streets. (amazingly he seemed to know a shortcut, that made the hall where she needed to go, right around the corner. This segment by Tom Tykwer, then follows these two as they seem to go through the motions of an entire relationship – which might actually have mostly all occurred through one phone call.

It’s a fun segment, that harkens back to Tykwer’s movie RUN LOLA RUN. And the revelation at the end could have a few meanings.

“Quartier Latin” was a magical portion of this movie, written and directed by Gerard Depardieu and Frederic Auburtin and features the onscreen reteaming of Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara. The couple used to work on movies with Rowlands’ husband – John Cassavetes – and was great to see them together playing a couple who are both in the twilight years of their lives, but starting over with younger partners, so they need to finalize their divorce.

There’s some wonderful and witty banter between the two, and really the saddest part to me was seeing these two aged so. Gazzarra apparently had a stroke a couple of years ago, and therefore his characteristic strong growl of a voice is muffled and weaker here. Also, Depardieu as Maitre’d was a nice touch.

The final part of the movie, is called “14e Arrondissement” and is by Alexander Payne – or Oscar Wilde – is about a mail-carrier from Denver who is in Paris alone and seeing the sights on her own. The story is told seemingly from a report that Carol (Margo Martidale) has written for some kind of (I’d assume French speaking) class. The narration is told in a choppy, not well, mannered french (as opposed to the other American performers in the movie, who all do pretty well with their speech) and winds up ruminating on her own life. How miserable she is being alone, how she thinks that her last boyfriend would enjoy this trip – except they last talked 11 years ago.

It’s a great and touching segment and Margo does a fantastic job in playing this part, and in her final moments, while looking around the park and finally falling in love with Paris, and knowing that it loves her.

The movie’s finale are short bursts of seeing how some of these characters have mild interactions. But, it’s not forced or anything. The whole package comes together to form a uniform vision of this city, that outsiders to the city might not see. There’s an idealized version of what Paris is, and none of that is really shown in this movie, other than as transitions between segments.

The interesting thing to me is that this is a concept that is seemingly going to be expanded to other cities, including Tokyo, New York and Rio.

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