Paris, the city of light, love and cinema, casts its dreamy spell once again in "Paris, je t'aime," an anthology of 18 love stories from 20 world-renowned filmmakers, all set in various famous Parisian neighborhoods, tourist spots, parks and landmarks. It was a movie that won me immediately. You couldn't call it perfect--the episodes are uneven--but it has something that sometimes is better than perfection: real love for its subject and themes.
Each of the tales gives us an eyeful of that setting, while trying to distill the essence of its romance, drama or comedy in about five minutes. For Francophiles, obviously, it's a must; for cinephiles, it's probably a must too. The movie assembles a supremely broad and gifted international group: the directors range from France's Olivier Assayas, Gerard Depardieu and Frederic Auburtin, to America's Wes Craven and Gus Van Sant to Japan's Nobuhiro Suwa, Germany's Tom Tykwer ("Run, Lola, Run") to Mexico's Alfonso Cuaron.
Their styles may be as diverse as their origins, but all of them revel in the landscapes. (All the directors are listed below.) I don't have space enough to cover all the vignettes. But each has its moments. My own favorites included Gurinder Chadha's Romeo-and-Juliet tale of Western-Muslim tolerance ("Quais des Seine"); the Coen Brothers' wicked jape about why you shouldn't let your eyes wander in the Metro, starring Steve Buscemi ("Tuileries"); Walter Salles' and Daniela Thomas' ode to motherhood ("Loin du 16eme"); Alfonso Cuaron's long-take tale with Nick Nolte ("Parc Monceau"); and the joint effort of writer/actress Gena Rowlands (John Cassavetes' widow) and directors Depardieu and Auburtin, a poignant divorce dialogue, co-starring Cassavetes pal Ben Gazzara ("Quartier Latin").
The masterpiece of the bunch is the last, wonderful piece by Alexander Payne ("14eme Arrondissement"). Payne is admired here, and apparently in Paris too, for the modern comic classic "Sideways." Here, in the moving and funny story of an American in Paris, he amuses us with the rambles of an ordinary woman, Margo Martindale as Carol, a Denver letter carrier who has been saving for years for this trip and even learned French for it. (Her accent is likably atrocious). Very few filmmakers can get humor as bittersweet and realistic as Payne; he gets it again here. Carol's French tour is a lovely end to a wondrous ensemble package of a film.
'Paris Je T'aime'
Directed by Olivier Assayas, Frederic Auburtin and Gerard Depardieu, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Joel and Ethan Coen, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravanese, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydes, Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant. In French, with English subtitles. A First Look Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 2:00. MPAA rated R (for language and brief drug use).
Marianne - Marianne Faithfull
The Tourist - Steve Buscemi
The Husband - Sergio Castellitto
Suzanne - Juliet Binoche
Vincent - Nick Nolte
Bob - Bob Hoskins