We'll Always Have 'Paris'

Friday, May 25, 2007

For some reason, the prospect of an anthology of short films about Paris by some of cinema's hottest directors didn't fill this critic with frissons of anticipation. But "Paris, je t'aime" builds into something quite wonderful.

An omnibus of 18 films by 21 directors, the collection -- unsurprisingly -- too often devolves into scenes of romance (new, old, thwarted, rekindled) whose resolutions veer from the tritely precious to the preciously trite.

But hang in there, because "Paris, je t'aime" gets better. Apparently invigorated by his bravura outing in "Children of Men," Alfonso CuarĂ³n delivers a fabulous tracking shot of what turns out to be a shocking liaison; Richard LaGravenese executes a similarly witty reversal in his bonbon starring Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardant. Try to ignore Elijah Wood in the "Irma Vep" redux and proceed directly to Tom Tywker's miniature morphology of a romance (starring Natalie Portman), followed by the great Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands duking it out over glasses of a good Bordeaux.

Then, take out a hankie for Alexander Payne's final segment, a heartbreaking letter home from an American tourist played by Margo Martindale. Subversive and sad, full of longing and exhilaration, Payne's portrait ends "Paris, je t'aime" on a lovely, bittersweet note. Parfait .

-- Ann Hornaday

Paris, je t'aime R, 120 minutes Contains profanity and brief drug use. In English and French with subtitles. Area theaters.

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