Movie Review: Ann Hornaday on Cedric Klapisch's 'Paris'

Juliette Binoche as Elise in
Juliette Binoche as Elise in "Paris." (By David Koskas -- Ifc Films)
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By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 2009

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, director Cedric 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 M?nilmontant, 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, but most of the action centers on 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. While an ensemble of attractive characters weave in and out of each others's lives (Melanie Laurent, of "Inglourious Basterds," and Francois Cluzet, from "Tell No One," are only two), Pierre observes the comings and goings from his aerie, his elegiac attachment to his city infusing "Paris" with a contagious sense of wistful romance. (Some of the movie's most evocative scenes transpire outside Pierre's purview, in the wholesale market that comes alive on the outskirts of Paris after hours.)

Duris has starred in several of Klapisch's previous films, but he is best known for his captivating turn in 2005's fabulous "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 mostly 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.

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