A love letter to the city of Paris featuring an impressive lineup of 21 internationally acclaimed directors tackling stories titled after each of the city’s 18 districts, Paris je t’aime (Paris, I Love You) is about as good as this kind of thing can get.
Which isn’t quite perfect; the quality of the individual parts is, of course, varied, and your enjoyment of overall film will be determined by an appreciation of those individual parts rather than the sum of them.
But there’s a high level of success here, which can be (mostly) attributed to the talent involved; rarely does a segment miss, and even those misses prove interesting.
My favorites: Alfonso Cuarón’s Parc Monceau, a single tracking shot starring Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier that featuring a delicious little twist; Joel & Ethan Coen’s nicely off-kilter Tuileries, with Steve Buscemi as a tourist in the Paris metro; Sylvain Chomet’s sweet mime romance Tour Eiffel; Walter Salles & Daniela Thomas’ touching Loin du 16čme, with Catalina Sandino Moreno as a nanny who leaves her own infant to care for another; and Oliver Schmitz’ Place des Fêtes, with Seydou Boro and Aďssa Maďga and a story I won’t spoil.
Other segments prove talkative but worthwhile, affecting: Gus Van Sant’s Le Marais; Gurinder Chadha’s Quais de Seine; Richard LaGravenese’s Pigalle, starring Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardant; Olivier Assayas’ Quartier des EnfantsRouges, with Maggie Gyllenhaal; Wes Craven’s unexpectedly light Pčre-Lachaise, with Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer; and Gérard Depardieu & Frédéric Auburtin’s Quartier Latin, with Cassavetes vets Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands.
Bruno Podalydčs’ Montmartre, which opens the film, is, perhaps, the weakest segment on display, akin to a local favorite given the opening night nod at a film festival.
I only take umbrage with two of the tales, Tom Tykwer’s Faubourg Saint-Denis (starring a lovely but sometimes grating Natalie Portman) and Isabel Coixet’s Bastille, both of which take potentially affecting stories and choose to tell them with nonstop, overbearing narration.
But nonstop narration fits perfectly in Alexander Payne’s 14th arrondissement, a sly travelogue narrated in grammar-school French with Margo Martindale as a middle-aged tourist.
And I see only one outright failure here, though it’s an interesting one at that: Nobuhiro Suwa’s Place des Victoires, a dour and pretentious tale of parental loss with Juliette Binoche and Willem Dafoe as a mysterious cowboy.
Vincenzo Natali’s Quartier de la Madeleine, starring Elijah Wood and Olga Kurylenko as a vampire, doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the tales, but I appreciated its B-movie affection.
Similarly, acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s Porte de Choisy, starring Barbet Schroeder as a hair product salesman, is pretentious to a fault but a pleasant enough diversion.