When I saw the name of the writer/director of Paris, Cédric Klapisch, I had to look him up and discovered that I had seen—and reviewed—one of his films, L’Auberge Espagnole (2002). That was a film I’d greatly enjoyed, but one that did not stick in my mind, which makes me wonder whether this film—which I also enjoyed a good deal—will linger in the memory. Though similar in tone to L’Auberge Espagnole—just replace the small space of the house with the much grander canvas of Paris—I have an idea that Klapisch’s multi-storied ode to Paris has greater staying power. Whatever the case, as it stands now, I really liked the film—even at its most convoluted and soapy. I didn’t even mind the predictable sudden death of a character on a motorcycle. (There’s a certain way that characters on motorcycles are photographed in some movies that tells you tragedy is literally around the corner.)
The film hinges on the story of a dancer, Pierre (Romain Duris, L’Auberge Espagnole), who is suffering from a heart ailment that will soon claim his life unless he undergoes a heart transplant. While he waits, his unmarried sister, Elise (Juliette Binoche), and her three children come to live with him. His function in the film is to confront mortality, while hers is to learn how to confront life after romantic disappointment.
Numerous other characters are introduced into the narrative. Sometimes their lives intersect with Pierre’s or Elise’s, but more often they’re only tangentially connected; their stories are more paralleled to those of the main characters than actively a part of them. Laetitia (Mélanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds), the pretty girl to whom Pierre is briefly attracted, is a student of Roland Verneuil (Fabrice Luchini, Intimate Strangers), an historian. Roland has accepted an offer to act as a kind of tour guide for a TV series about the history of Paris. He’s also coming apart at the seams because he’s become fixated on Laetitia, sending her rather creepy—and seemingly threatening—quotations from Baudelaire in anonymous text messages. When she realizes the source, she ends up having an affair with him—while simultaneously becoming increasingly attracted to a man (Joffrey Platel) nearer her own age. There are no prizes for guessing where this is going, but that’s not the point of the film.
Klapisch isn’t interested in plot as such. He’s interested in how his characters respond to the events of the plot—and that’s what makes this Altman-esque exercise in storytelling something rather special. Unlike most multi-storied films where plot—or a plot device—is the focus, Klapisch’s points are all scored by what his characters learn in the course of the film. It may occasionally seem a little too facile, but all in all the movie scores more points than not and becomes a film of genuine merit that’s well worth seeing. Rated R for language and some sexual references.