Even with the impressive talent involved, Paris, Je T'Aime
could've ended up like a fallen soufflé. Though all 18 films aren't equally successful, they hit the mark more often than not. Romantics anticipating happy love stories set amongst the City of Lights may be disappointed to find that many are quite sad and that some parts of Paris are less inviting than others (each takes place in a different district). Further, the shorts aren't all en Français, since the actors and directors hail from around the world, but their outsider perspectives lend the project depth. The strongest entries are provided by Gurinder Chadha (Quais De Seine), Gus Van Sant (Le Marais), Oliver Schmitz (Place des Fêtes), and Alexander Payne (14ème Arrondissement), but all find interesting ways to explore cultural misunderstandings. In Joel and Ethan Coen's tragic-comic Tuileries, tourist Steve Buscemi angers a couple simply by making eye contact. Like Miranda Richardson in Isabelle Coixet's heartbreaking Bastille, he does all his acting with his expressive face. And while Maggie Gyllenhaal speaks the language adroitly in Olivier Assayas's intriguing Quartier des Enfants Rouges, Nick Nolte (purposefully) mangles it in Alfonso Cuarón's surprisingly weak Parc Monceau. The anthology ends with Payne's audio-postcard, in which Margo Martindale's postal carrier narrates her vacation in awkward, but endearing French. Instead of another person, she falls in love with Paris, simply for allowing her to be herself. It's the perfect finish to a poignant repast, like strawberries dipped in chocolate--sweet, but not cloyingly so. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Eighteen different directors and a slew of indie actors come together for Paris, Je T'Aime
, a cinematic homage to the City of Light. Each director presents his or her own short story set in a different Parisian quarter, each one featuring a different cast of characters. The pieces vary in length, with some of them striving to tell a fully developed tale--no matter how simple the plot--while others are more abstract, content to rely on sparse dialogue and vivid imagery. With directors such as Gus Van Sant, Alexander Payne, Wes Craven, and the Coen brothers participating, the tales are as varied and oddball as one might expect. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a lonely actress with a fondness for her hash dealer. Elijah Wood encounters a seductive vampire on a moonlit street. Steve Buscemi is a flustered tourist. Natalie Portman falls for a deaf Frenchmen. Each tale is markedly unique, and specific to the quirky style of its director, and the film is a veritable Who's Who for indie buffs. In the moments when it succeeds, the movie can feel mysterious and magical, evoking the romance and longing the city is famous for.