Paris 36

Paris 36 movie poster
MPAA rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama
In 1936 Paris, three out-of-work friends (Grard Jugnot, Clovis Cornillac, Kad Merad) create a musical, but must struggle with their lack of experience and a local thug to run the show and raise enough money to buy the theater.
Starring: Gérard Jugnot, Clovis Cornillac, Kad Merad
Director: Christophe Barratier
Running time: 2:00

Editorial Review

"Paris 36" is a handsomely made French musical that never really soars.

To an extent, that earthbound quality is intentional. The subject is the Chansonia, a second-rate music hall that hosts woefully bad acts to sparse audiences. The Paris of 1936 seethes with political and economic turmoil. Liberal, Jewish politician Leon Blum has just been elected prime minister, radicals are calling for nationwide strikes and gangsters are trying to close the Chansonia. After his actress wife runs off with another man, theater manager Pigoil (Grard Jugnot) looks for work and raises his accordion-playing son, Jojo (Maxence Perrin). A half-dozen or so other characters are caught up in similar professional and familiar conflicts, though those are revealed slowly.

Eventually, as Pigoil tries to reopen the music hall with acts that are even worse than the ones that flopped earlier, a young woman named Douce (Nora Arnezeder) shows up. She is the ray of light they've all been waiting for.

The gangster Galapiat (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) sees her first and lays claim, but Milou (Clovis Cornillac), the hunky young commie in a leather jacket, is not to be dissuaded.

The sets and cinematography create an idealized Parisian neighborhood, but the film is at its best when the focus is on Douce. Arnezeder is a Gallic gamine in the Audrey Tatou and Marion Cottilard mold with more conventional Hollywood glamour than either. She has a fine singing voice and real presence. Unfortunately, she is absent for long stretches while the script by director Christophe Barratier and Julien Rappeneau flirts inconclusively with politics, anti-Semitism, divided families and old secrets.

Those flaws wouldn't mean much if the musical numbers soared. They do not. The melodies are forgettable, and the pedestrian lyrics must lose something in translation.

-- Mike Mayo (April 24, 2009)

In French with English subtitles. Contains sexuality, nudity, violence and brief language.