Paris, Je T'aime (Olivier Assayas, Frédéric Auburtin, Emmanuel Benbihy, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Ethan & Joel Coen, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Gerard Depardieu, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravanese, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydès, Walter Salles, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Daniela Thomas, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant, 2006)
English Title: Paris, I Love You
Watching through Paris, Je T'aime is like eating through a box of mixed chocolate truffles. The eighteen five-minute shorts are all undemandingly commercial; a few touch on more relevant issues but most maintain an atmosphere of pure saccharine joy. Like those expensive chocolates comfortably sitting in a box, the short films come in different shapes and sizes, with different fillings and tastes --- sometimes the effort reveals a surprisingly satisfying delicacy; other times, it comes out as bland or just indescribably bad.
The omnibus starts with Bruno Podalydès Montmartre (the eighteen films' titles are derived from the different districts of Paris), where an adult man struggles to find a parking space only to end up with a woman who serendipitously faints beside his car. Most of the short films aren't complete tales. They are mostly beginnings or ends, with the other parts inconveniently left out for the imaginations of the viewers. Gurinder Chadha's Quais de Seine, about a young man who falls for a Muslim woman, and Gus Van Sant's Le Marais, about a guy who attempts to hook up with another guy he meets in a shop, can be described as starting stories for blossoming relationships. They directly address the city's ability to spark romance, even against cultural barriers.
Some of the films are anecdotes like Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas' Loin du 16e, a sentimental look at an immigrant who during the early morning, placates her baby by singing a native lullaby, and spends the rest of the day earning her keep by taking care of the baby of a more affluent mom. South African Oliver Schmitz mixes the cruelty of romantic destiny and the plight of African immigrants through his Place des Fêtes. Christopher Doyle playfully experiments while addressing the difficulty in communication between Chinese immigrants and Parisians with the largely absurd, mostly confusing Porte de Choisy.
More touching are the short films that hint of closure. The aforementioned Place des Fêtes details a relationship that ended before it even began. Isabel Coixet's Bastille narrates a break-up that goes awry when a cheating husband suddenly learns of his wife's cancer. Richard LaGravanese's Pigalle delivers a quasi-romantic wrap-up to a partnership that has aged through time. Most satisfying is Frédéric Auburtin and Gerard Depardieu's Quartier Latin which inflicts dry humor to a cordial yet painful divorce settlement. Nobuhiro Suwa's Place des Victoires portraits a heartbreaking closure for a mother mourning over the death of his son.
Alfonso Cuarón misfires with his Parc Monceau, a conversation between an old man and a younger woman walking in the streets of Paris with a not-so-insightful revelation in the end. Tom Tykwer's Faubourg Saint-Denis unsuccessfully breezes through the ups and downs of a relationship between a blind man and an aspiring actress. Opposite Tykwer's meager attempt is Olivier Assayas' more daring Quartier des Enfants Rouges which similarly discusses a relationship between an actress and a drug peddler, although aborted by their respective addictions. Unique yet disappointing is Vincenzo Natali's Quartier de la Madeleine, which puts a vampire twist in the oft-used trope of Paris being the city of lovers.
The Coen Brothers' play a prank on American tourist (wonderfully played by Steve Buscemi) in Tuileries, while Wes Craven declares that a little bit of Oscar Wilde (imagined or not) can put any rocky relationship at ease with his hilarious Père-Lachaise. Magical however is Sylvain Chomet's Tour Eiffel. The short film details the story of a Parisian mime who unintentionally wreaks havoc in Paris, and meets the love of his life in prison. Chomet, who magnifies the mundane as he has done in The Triplets of Belleville (2003), colors the already colorful streets of Paris with the imaginative antics of a less-than-charming mime artist.
Wrapping Paris, Je T'aime is Alexander Payne's 14e Arrondissement which summarizes the directors' efforts through the surprising wisdom of a middle-aged, middle-income and oversized American woman who spends her savings to stay a few days in Paris. Narrated by the American in poorly rendered French, we witness Paris in its least magical (stripped away of all the drama, the comedy, the tragedy, the romanticism and the enchantment of the short films previously shown), where food is the same as in America (burgers and faux Chinese food), the parks are the same as in America, and the people are the same as everywhere else. Yet despite its ordinariness, it still listens and speaks and accepts and gives out love proposals, as experienced (depicted with wry and typically Payne humor) by that faceless American.
The omnibus is concluded with a love song to Paris playing side by side with the resolutions of each depicted tale. Expectedly, I was on a sugar-rush. The high inflicted by the eighteen whimsical tales will soon be drowned and forgotten. What remains is that permanent desire to experience a Parisian anecdote of my own.