Paris je t’whatever

09/16/2009 4:00 AM |

Directed by Cédric Klapisch

Roman Duris, doing his Dans Paris dour, plays The Great Enunciator in director Klapisch’s Paris (sans Dans), an overly broad survey of the City of Lights through glimpses of those that live within it-a portrait of “ritzy, shabby, trashy Paris,” as one character describes it, told through ditzy, flabby, flashy filmmaking. A dancer dying from a bad ticker, Pierre (Duris) people-watches from his balcony, espying many of the film’s characters from a divinely aerial vantage point; their narratives are like his fantasies, making him a stand-in for the clearly curious Klapisch. There’s the frustrated professor (Fabrice Luchini); the single mother (Juliette Binoche); the men and women who man the fruit markets; the bitchy bakery owner; and, marginally and for good measure, an African immigrant who spends the bulk of his time in Africa.

The professor articulates the theme: cities have no beginnings and no ends, and thus they can only be understood—their stories can only be told—in fragments. For starters, that’s a dubious notion, and, to boot, Klapisch’s characters’ stories unfortunately add up to nothing more than the sum of their parts; without a larger social or cultural message, Paris is a blend of slightly related vignettes, a bloated short story collection with no connecting thread. The one motif that carries through the film is death; this is a movie pervaded by mortality, whether by a trip to the catacombs or the cemetery, by sight of old buildings being demolished or withered old women, by a dying character or a character who winds up dead.

Klapisch abandons much of the razzle-dazzle that characterized previous films like L’Auberge Espagnole and Russian Dolls. The characters in those films were rootless, which the director matched with a hyperkinetic aesthetic. Here, his characters are bound to The City, so he makes an effort to keep the filmmaking steady—though, among other problems, he relies too heavily on funky grooves to set the pace. It’s hard for him to escape the indulgences of his past, which (perhaps serendipitously) is a main idea of the movie, too: One of Klapisch’s points, though he fails to illustrate it well, is that pieces of what were once alive continue to exist even in death, whether it’s people or cities, haunting the present from the past. Another is that minor problems are as significant as major ones, at least to those who have them: The merely heartbroken are as miserable as the ones with real heart failure. “That’s Paris,” Duris tells a vexed cabbie. “We’re never happy.” (As they drive by a cemetery, no less.) But such alienation hardly feels unique to the contemporary urban French. That’s not Paris, man—it’s everywhere.

Opens September 18