Paris is a city of light, lovers, art and beauty, and it's been immortalized in paintings, music and fantasy throughout the centuries.
But you've probably never seen so many facets of this city before. "Paris, Je T'aime" explores all the sides of the city in in eighteen very brief films, all set in various arrondissements of Paris, and directed by some brilliantly underrated directors with widely-ranging casts of stars both great and small. And all of these films seem to be about love -- often it's a person, but each one is also an ode to Paris itself.
A somewhat lonely Denver mailwoman (Margo Martindale) makes her first trip to Paris, and recounts how "I fell in love with Paris, and Paris fell in love with me" as she gets acquainted with France. A mime spreads colour and mischief on his way to love. Two struggle with love at a bar. A medic learns that a romantically-minded dying man is in love with her, and seeking her out inadvertently led to his death at the hands of a racist gang.
A young boy leaves his misogynistic pals behind, to seek love with a young Muslim girl. A pair of British people visit the tomb of Oscar Wilde in Pere-Lachaise, an American actress falls for her drug dealer, and a young nanny's dismal living conditions are a stark contrast to that of the people she works for. All these -- and more -- are intertwined gently in the finale.
But two stand out especially. Tom Tykwer's includes a young blind man (Melchior Beslon) receiving a call from his American actress girlfriend (Natalie Portman). She tells him, "Our spring was wonderful but summer is over now and we missed out on autumn... our love fell asleep, and the snow took it by surprise." In his sorrow, he thinks back to how they met, and how their relationship continued... and gets a surprise.
And Vincenzo Natali turns in a bloody, gothic love story. A young American tourist (Elijah Wood) is walking alone at night, when he steps in a pool of blood. He follows the blood to where a beautiful vampire (Olga Kurylenko) is slurping someone to death -- only to have a sudden attraction bloom up between them. When he has a fall, what will happen?
"Paris Je T'aime" has it all -- comedy, tragedy, romance, racial tension, religion, vampires, sunlit vacations, glamour and cliches, all of them blooming in the middle of Paris' sunny streets. Okay, there's the occasional dud -- "Tuileries," about an American tourist by the Coen Bros., is just lame. But since all the directors are given only about five minutes, most of them are tiny, polished gems without any extraneous material.
And you can expect the directors to stretch their limits -- Natali's is colourless (except for blood) and eerie, Gurinder Chadha's is shyly sweet and sunny, Richard LaGravenese's is adorable, Craven's is syrupy, and Tykwer's is a delicate web of camera tricks and blurred glimpses. Sylvain Chomet even charms us with mimes zooming through the streets. And each brings another dimension of Paris to life, from lush green parks to bars to the Eiffel Tower itself.
And the acting is just as great -- the great Juliette Binoche, Seydou Boro, Catalina Moreno, Marianne Faithfull, Fanny Ardant, Gérard Depardieu, and the adorable Melchior Beslon. Martindale deserves special praise for her sweetly realistic portrayal of an American tourist, and Portman is brilliantly vibrant as a girl who yells a lot. And Elijah Wood turns out a brilliant performance in total silence, managing to convey fear, mischief, eroticism and love.
Unlike many movies, which are getting the deluxe treatment in blu-ray, "Paris Je T'aime" seems to be pretty bare-bones. Aside from the usual previews and subtitling, it has a making-of featurette and... that's it. In other words, don't expect the wealth of extras from the two-disc edition, because as far as I can tell they are nowhere to be found.
"Paris Je T'aime" is a collection of little gems, with the occasional dull pebble thrown in -- brilliant directors, emotionally charged stories, and great acting. Enchanté!