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.
- Entertainment: 2/5
- Artistic: 4/5
- Intellectual: 3/5