After deeply enjoying the Auberge Espagnole trilogy and Le Peril Jeune, I decided to branch out into the rest of Klapisch’s filmography. I had high hopes for Paris. I tend to be a sucker for films set in and inspired by the city of lights. Klapisch’s contribution to the cohort seems to fall a little flat.
Paris is a multi-strand story, pulling together stories from neighbours, relatives, acquaintances and strangers to make a coherent whole, a cohesive Parisian community if you will. The trouble is that very few of the characters are established strongly enough in the beginning. We are presented with a flurry of people all more or less the same, middle class and unhappy with their lot in life. Out of these a couple stick out as the “main” protagonists. Romain Duris plays Pierre, a Moulin rouge dancer who is now dying of a heart defect. Fabrice Lucchini is a professor grieving for his father and his own youth. Meanwhile Juliette Binoche plays an unhappy divorcee, but then has Juliette Binoche ever played someone who was in any way romantically fulfilled? Fortunately these three do end up being the characters that are focused on most closely, especially Pierre. There’s an idea that everything we see has been invented by Pierre to fill the boredom of being bedbound but it’s not filled out as an idea and it wouldn’t really change anything either way. Everyone else fades into a melee of one-scene wonders. Even the ones that do recur are so poorly defined that it’s difficult to remember which is which.
In a film that seems to want to genuinely celebrate the diversity of life in Paris having these three, relatively mundane stories as the focus with everyone else as peripheries rather unfortunately reinforces the class issues Klapisch seems to want to bring out. Conversely if these were the only stories Klapisch is interested in, why muddy the water with the other characters at all? There is ample material in these stories that is glossed over for the sake of much more forgettable characters.
Quite apart from all this, Paris is one of the most painfully cynical films I’ve seen in recent memory. The overall message seems to be one of futility. We all will die. Happiness is something we perceive in other people but no one has. Most of all, the idea that everyone you love will die or move on seems to be championed throughout the film. There are flashes of genius in how this is put together, Duris’ performance is incredibly moving throughout. His pain and nostalgia is felt implicitly by the viewer as he looks through old photo albums. It’s impossible not to sympathize with him. Yet Duris’ performance is isolated in a singularly bizarre and miserable film.
This post isn’t a review. In fact this post is entirely unlike anything else I have posted before on this blog. May this serve as official warning.
As most of you will have guessed the person who writes these reviews is a film lover, in fact the person writing these reviews, me, is a filmmaker. My film is currently in the running for the Sundance London short film competition, for both the overall prize and the Community Choice Award. The Community Choice Award is determined entirely by public vote. All the voting requires is a Facebook or Twitter account. It would mean a lot to me if all of you who have read and appreciated my reviews over time could watch my film and vote. Thank you.
Back in 2001 Richard Linklater, sometime between Before Sunrise and School of Rock (must say, I did not expect that on his filmography) made an animated essay about dreaming.There is really no succinct way to speak about this film.
The animation is entirely digital, overlaid onto the previously existing live action. At times it is so accurate as to be uncanny, at others it’s a blur shape and colour. Throughout the film sections of the screen move independently of each other despite logically being fixed spaces. The dreamscape is very powerful but after a while you accept it as real, it stops looking odd for things to be permanently moving. The film moves from person to person: characters, celebrities, characters in other films and even Linklater himself. In turn they share their philosophical perspectives. It’s easy to discount many of these speeches; an angry prisoner, a couple engaging in pillow talk or a group of angry teenagers seem irrelevant and stupid compared to professional philosophers and scientists. As the film wears on it becomes more apparent that every opinion is valid, the absence of jargon doesn’t make the child’s origami fortune teller or the angry rambling less significant. Every one of these people is discussing freedom, dreams and destiny in their own terms. They say very different things between them.
It seems as if every single viewer would get a different message from this film, like some kind of confirmation bias. The views you agree with stick around and further your thoughts. The questions raised vary widely: Is there life after death? Is life all a dream? Does society hold us back? Does time even exist? What is the purpose of cinema? Like all good works of art these questions don’t get answered, at least, not definitively. Most of the characters offer at least one answer or opinion but in the end it’s up to the viewer and the protagonist to think these thing on their own.
All together it feels like falling into someone’s collection of newspaper clips and meaningful quotes and trying pull the common strands of thought out of the pattern that emerges. There’s no traditional narrative, the narrative comes from you as you link the characters and their words with your thoughts and with other films and culture. The whole thing is packed full of references, many of them to other Linklater films but many more that just show glimpses of a moment that reminds you of something else. The experience will build with each new viewing and it feels as if this is a piece to be re-worked and responded to, not to be holed up and revered as a complete work.
If any of you were reading this blog last year you’ll remember my fervent scramble to watch every single film nominated for everything. I didn’t quite manage that but I covered off all of the best picture nominees and all of the major categories if I recall correctly. You may have been surprised by my lack of effort on this year’s nominees.
However, I won’t be watching the Oscars this year, I’ve made it a point to see as many films and the ceremony every year since 2009 (Slumdog Millionaire will always have a special place in my heart) but I saw a lot of films in 2013, some of them were awful, some of them were artworks. Unfortunately none of those beautiful, innovative and creative films appear to have made it into the Academy’s reckoning. 2014 has the smallest selection of films for the big 6 awards ever recorded. It’s an all or nothing approach that leaves a lot of films in the lurch. Gone are the days where one actor could perform in an otherwise snubbed film and get nominated. It seems as if you either win everything or go home cursing David O Russell under your breath. It’s a dull year from the academy and the winners seem entirely predictable. The only real mystery is whether they’ll choose to go with fan-favourite O Russell or politically-relevant Steve McQueen.