Copyright 2006 by Jayson Harsin
(also published on Bad Subjects)
This is a film of multiple shorts, 20 in fact, by 20 established more or less arty filmmakers, conceived by Tristan Carné & Emmanuel Benbihy. Each short, maximum of five minutes, takes a neighborhood of
I had several favorites of the bunch. Here are my top three, which barely nudged out Place des Fêtes, a beautiful flashback about a young African immigrant musician stabbed, dying and in love with his paramedic about whom he had just written a love song; and Quai de Seine, a gorgeous intercultural love story.
1. Tour Eiffel. This is a movingly creative short by Sylvain Chomet, which uses the device of a charmingly nerdy schoolboy who tells the camera a la documentary that his parents are in jail. The rest of the short is a flashback showing how his parents landed in jail through a typical day in the life of two atypical parents of the quarter: two mimes. The result is warm hilarity.
2. 14 Arrondissement (
3. Walter Salles' Loin du 16me is a subtle and haunting micro-Dickensian tale of two cities. Reminiscent of the irony of the discourse about parental responsibility generated around the November 2005 banlieue riots, this short features an immigrant nanny who rises early in the suburbs to leave her child in daycare, only to arrive in the posh 16me to care for the infants of the rich. She sacrifices time raising her own baby in order to afford to raise her and supposedly provide her a good home and future. But the suggestion is that it is the rich infant that will prosper most from her loving attention. The political economy of child care and nurture. Powerful.
Several of the shorts followed the same structural narrative. They told a story that piled up intrigue to a climax, only to undercut the expectations of the narrative and thus of the audience, worthy of a Maupassant short. Other shorts, like Nobuhiro Suwa's Place des Victoires, had potential but despite decent ideas and odd twists end up seeming hackneyed or relying too much on big devices for such small points. For example, Suwa's piece features world cinema bigshots like Juliette Binoche and Wilem Dafoe in a story about a mother drowning in grief for her dead son. Dafoe appears as a kind of otherwordly Charon in Western duds (reminiscent of the bizarre cowboy in Lynch's Mulholland Drive) who appears to comfort Binoche before he ferries her son across Styx to the nether world (but the ferry is a horse, and Styx is a dark alley leading out of the Place). Likewise, the Coen brothers provide a clever meditation on the ugly American tourist (Steve Buscemi) who turns out to be just as hapless as he is ugly, with his bright white sneakers and bag full of tourist kitsch, which, as with other characters in their oeuvre, makes him worthy of ambivalent sympathy. It's hard to imagine the Coen brothers with a different take on the American Tourist.
For some of the films,
Overall, this is a charming film that makes statements about
paris, je t'aime