Vignettes proceed from one to another in random fashion, and although the film develops a measured, even majestic rhythm, its structure makes it demanding, even wearying in less involving moments. Attention, however, is rewarded with episodes that are worthy of comparison with those of the silent-era masters, Buster Keaton in particular. Especially delicious is a nightmare sequence in which a man dreams he is at a family dinner party and is determined to demonstrate that he can pull out a tablecloth without disturbing the 200-plus-year-old china sitting upon it. The poor guy meets disaster and faces the electric chair. A kindly executioner actually counsels the distraught man by saying, "Try thinking of something else."

The film opens with a hefty young couple sitting in a park, and the woman is so miserable she breaks into song, expressing her longing for a motorcycle that will "take her away from it all." After all the woe-is-me routine, she adds, "I might come along later" to her boyfriend, despite her earlier extravagant rejection of him.

Perhaps the most significant sequence involves a psychiatrist who addresses the camera saying that after 27 years he is worn out trying to make patients happy who are mean because they are so selfish and egocentric. "You, the Living" suggests that we would do well to discover the joy we find in each other that so often goes along with the pain.

-- Kevin Thomas "You, the Living." MPAA rating: Unrated. In Swedish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills.

Seeing another side of Paris

In his bittersweet valentine to the City of Light, Cedric Klapisch crisscrosses an array of mostly working-class Parisians whose lives intersect. The setup is a common one for contemporary filmmakers; what lifts "Paris" from the subgenre pack is a fine ensemble, in particular the emotional chemistry between two of the screen's most magnetic actors, Juliette Binoche and Romain Duris.

Duris' dancer faces a life-threatening heart ailment. He remains eager for life, even if he must experience it from his balcony or at the corner boulangerie, run by a comically chirpy martinet (the superb Karin Viard). Taking care of him, his sister (Binoche) comes to a new understanding of the joking remark that opens the film: "The universe is everywhere."

There are fine moments throughout. A history professor (Fabrice Luchini) text-stalks a beautiful student (Mélanie Laurent) and, in a terrific scene, visits a psychotherapist (Maurice Benichou), all but begging for his defenses to be torn down. But as good as the cast is, the multiple stories dilute the film's effect, and authorial string-pulling is often evident.

If the idea of interconnectedness feels secondhand, what's fresh and affecting is the way Binoche's and Duris' characters navigate life and death. From the catacombs to the city's heights, "Paris" turns an unblinking gaze on the beauty of melancholy and the daring leap toward joy.

-- Sheri Linden "Paris." MPAA rating: R for language and some sexual references. Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes. In selected theaters.

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