Cinematic 'Paris' Is a Must-See Destination
By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, Sept. 25, 2009
Were you forced to cancel your annual trip to Paris this year? Then hurry, please, to "Paris," Cdric Klapisch's intoxicating portrait of a city that despite (or, more likely, because of) being in a state of constant flux, retains timeless energy and allure.
Even in its opening mash-up of images and musical styles, it's clear that "Paris" will both indulge and explode the city's mythology. In a frenetic series of scenes, Klapisch announces that his movie will be set in many cities: the Paris of high fashion, the Paris of deeply embedded history, the Paris of love, the Paris of loss, aristocratic Paris, the Paris of African and Arab immigrants. Filming in some of the city's most familiar precincts, from the mansard-roof apartment buildings to the marketplace at Mnilmontant, Klapisch captures both the picture-postcard ideal of the city and the candid truth behind it, managing to enhance both images.
It takes more than one or two characters to lead viewers on such a far-ranging, polyglot tour, and luckily Klapisch is an expert at deploying densely layered ensembles, as he proved in "L'Auberge Espagnole," his lovely 2002 ode to young expats. In "Paris," we follow the stories of several dyads: a dancer named Pierre (Romain Duris), who has just received a troubling diagnosis from his cardiologist, and his sister Elise (Juliette Binoche), a single mother who moves in with him with her three children; a history professor named Roland (Fabrice Luchini) and his architect brother Philippe (Franois Cluzet, from "Tell No One"), who have just lost their father; a market vendor named Jean (Albert Dupontel), who works side by side with his flirty ex-wife Caroline (Julie Ferrier); and a swimming instructor in Cameroon named Benot (Kingsley Kum Abang), who desperately wants to emigrate to Paris and pursue a beautiful client named Marjolaine (Audrey Marnay).
Setting his characters on course to weave in and out of each others' lives, Klapisch confects the perfect conceit for visiting Paris in all its contradictory glory. While Roland narrates a television documentary about the city's architectural history, he longs for his own personal tectonic shift and begins texting a beautiful student, played by "Inglourious Basterds" co-star Mlanie Laurent. For her part, Elise has sworn off men and sex, even though Jean's attentions at the market aren't entirely unwelcome. Marjolaine and her fashion-maven friends traipse around after-hours Paris in chic heedlessness (ending up on a whirlwind tour of the wholesale food market at Rungis, just outside the city), while the owner of a corner boulangerie (Karin Viard) keeps up a virulent string of stereotypes about the work habits of every ethnic group in France.
Watching it all from his Beaux-Arts aerie is Pierre, whose elegiac attachment to his city may or may not end up being warranted, but infuses "Paris" with a wistful sense of romance and fierce devotion. Duris has starred in several of Klapisch's previous films, but he is best known for his captivating turn in the fabulous 2005 film "The Beat That My Heart Skipped." He has one of the most fascinating faces to be found on the screen today, one that possesses a transfixing, ineffable combination of beauty and homeliness. His features are on gratifyingly full view here, but the real revelation in "Paris" is that Duris is a pretty good dancer, as he proves in Pierre's brief flashbacks of his former glitzy glory.
Klapisch manages to choreograph these scenes, as well as the most contrived encounters of "Paris," with smooth assurance, with only a few hiccups along the way (when one character dies, there's an odd lack of acknowledgment on the part of another). Mostly, he succeeds masterfully at proving his modest but also ambitious thesis: that people live in Paris, die in Paris, fall in and out of love in Paris, come to Paris invested with dreams and delusions, and the city accepts it all, sometimes rudely but ultimately with a singular kind of grace. "Paris" is a funny, sad, romantic and deeply felt love letter to a great city. If you can't book a trip now, it's the next best thing.
Paris (134 minutes, in French with subtitles, at Landmark's E Street Cinema) is not rated. It contains brief profanity.