‘Paris’ is a good idea that adds up to little in its many segments

  • By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, May 31, 2007 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

It’s hard to resist the idea behind “Paris je t’aime,” an omnibus film that gathers films by different directors on the same theme.

When they used to do this kind of thing in the ’60s, it would be three or four big-time international directors grouped together, each making a 30- to 40-minute film. Think of “Paris je t’aime” as the same idea for short attention spans.

This one has 18 different segments, each lasting five minutes – or less. Some of the directors are indeed major names (Joel and Ethan Coen, Alfonso Cuaron, Tom Tykwer) and some less known, but they all have the saving grace of brevity.

The theme, if you hadn’t guessed from the gushing title, is Paris, and the different angles on love that the city creates. And if you also hadn’t guessed, the results overall are a mixed bag of good and indifferent.

The opening tale by French filmmaker Bruno Podalydes sets the right winsome tone, about a man who witnesses a woman fainting on the street and enjoys being mistaken for her husband.

The movie also ends well, with a story by Alexander Payne (“Sideways”) about a lonely Denver postal worker (Margo Martindale) reminiscing about her week in Paris, where nothing special happened, except that something important happened.

Some of the segments are essentially a single joke: Gus Van Sant does a take on the language barrier, and Cuaron on false assumptions. Cuaron’s story is shot in a single take (the style he favored in “Children of Men”), and doesn’t get close enough to actors Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier to appreciate them.

The segments are supposed to correspond to Paris neighborhoods, but this doesn’t always matter. Richard LaGravenese uses the sleazy Pigalle district to original effect, in a story featuring Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardant. Horror maestro Wes Craven sets his in Pere Lachaise cemetery, although there’s merely a cameo from a ghost (Oscar Wilde’s) as two lovers (Rufus Sewell, Emily Mortimer) bicker.

Other actors include Natalie Portman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Elijah Wood, and Juliette Binoche. Steve Buscemi gives a silent performance as an abused tourist in a subway station, in the Coen brothers’ part.

As you can see from the cast, much of the film is in English. Only a couple of the stories are duds, and some are quite lovely. Even with the general niceness, the film doesn’t add up to much, but if you like short films, this is a collection with an impressive bunch of resumes.

A scene from “Paris je t’aime.”

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