3 stars (out of four)
The roaming shots of the French capital and the desultory drift of modern life are right out of a 1960s New Wave classic, except that the more recent "Dans Paris" is shot in color.
Clearly, director Christophe Honore intends this French movie as an homage to the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, though the film's occasional preciousness relates it more to the latter than the former. One major character, Jonathan (played by tousled-hair cutie Louis Garrel), actually resembles Jean-Pierre Leaud, Truffaut's recurring stand-in, and Jonathan briefly addresses the audience directly, looking straight into the camera, evoking the famed last shot of Leaud in Truffaut's "The 400 Blows."
This clever homage would be only that if Honore (who wrote the script) weren't so adept at fashioning a moody, caustic, very real family portrait: Jonathan, a gadabout Romeo skipping college classes to seduce a bevy of women in a single day; Paul (Romain Duris), his sadder, older brother, back home in their father's cramped Parisian apartment in deep depression over a breakup; the crusty but caring father (Guy Marchand), who grumbles and chides the boys in ways that reveal great love; and their estranged mother (Marie-France Pisier), a vivacious but somewhat chilly figure who briefly swoops in to ignite the blaze of blessing and hurt that seems to characterize her role in the clan.
"Dans Paris" ("Inside Paris") darts to and fro among styles and cinematic references, trying on all sorts of devices and genres. At one point Paul even sings a song as if in a musical, and Honore's eerie world view makes room for even this tidbit oddity. "Dans Paris" is a cohesive, albeit sometimes creepy, fabric of disparate modes and colors.
There are scenes of graphic, banal intimacy almost worthy of Warhol--the brothers indulge in one conversation while one of them is on the toilet. The liberal flashes of nudity are a trope of domestic reality, rather than erotic. Honore employs these hyper-realisms for character study, and the result is a family portrait that's itchy, tragicomic and unruly, but here and there beatific.
Despite the interludes on Parisian streets or scenes in the country depicting Paul's battles with his amour, the movie seems mostly trapped in the claustrophobic apartment, the brothers idly lounging on the bed in scenes that hint at their lifelong filial bond, down to a maybe sexual/maybe not menage a trois completed by one of Jonathan's loves.
The unspoken angst of the ambience stems from a sister who committed suicide while a teenager. But Honore's ingenuity involves more than plot or setting. He cites Flannery O'Connor and J.D. Salinger as influences, and no wonder. "Dans Paris" is limned with human stumbling, snatches of temporary joy laced with existential disquiet and the desperation of souls at sea in a sterile universe but not to be denied grasps of pleasure.
The actors are a treasure, starting with Garrel, a seductive gamin who's effortlessly callous; Duris, an agonized Byron trapped in the wrong century; Marchand, authentic, earthy and instinctual; and Pisier, a witty ice queen and (one suspects) a delicious dinner companion.
Written and directed by Christophe Honore; photographed by Jean-Louis Vialard; edited by Chantal Hymans; music by Alex Beaupain; production design by Samuel Deshors; produced by Paulo Branco. An IFC First Take release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:32. No MPAA rating; parents cautioned for nudity, sexual situations and adult content).
Paul - Romain Duris
Jonathan - Louis Garrel
Mirko - Guy Marchand
The Mother - Marie-France Pisier