Movie Information

The Story: A multi-storied film about the lives of a number of people in Paris. The Lowdown: An often brilliant drama -- or series of dramas -- that focuses more on characters than plot, resulting in a satisfying, if not quite great, work.
Genre: Drama
Director: Cédric Klapisch (L'Auberge Espagnole)
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini, Albert Dupontel, François Cluzet, Mélanie Laurent
Rated: R

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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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3 thoughts on “Paris

  1. nancy

    I don’t want to rain on this parade but I walked out after 65 minutes when my friend nudged me and asked if I felt compelled to stay till the end. I think the part when the old geezer was stalking the pretty young student (one of his by the way) and she confronts him then ends up in his bed, did it for me. Was not able to feel an affinity to any of the characters by the middle of the show and decided it wasn’t worth my time. My friend went because she thought there would at least be beautiful shots of Paris, which there weren’t. Neither one of us could get into this movie. To give it the same rating as Coco Before Chanel seems odd to me. I’m still talking about “Coco”. I talked about “Paris” all the way home but not because I liked it. too bad I couldn’t find “The Invention Of Lying” playing anywhere in the area because that’s the one I really wanted to see.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I think the part when the old geezer was stalking the pretty young student (one of his by the way) and she confronts him then ends up in his bed, did it for me.

    Well, if you read the review this shouldn’t have surprised you, because the information is in there. (Except — probably because he’s about my age — I didn’t call him an old geezer.)

    To give it the same rating as Coco Before Chanel seems odd to me.

    Actually, it just means we didn’t respond to it in the same way. If pressed, I’d probably say I liked Paris a little more than Coco, if only because I could relate to the situations a bit better. Fact is, though, that I liked them both, but I don’t see either of them ending up on my best of the year list.

  3. jfreid

    At least a 4.5! Superb character actors, e.g. Binoche just keeps getting better. One of the few movies I found myself thinking about a lot the next day and still a bit a week later. Fictional people in a magic city, of course. But they are so convincing as to seem real — as people and Parisians.

    See it again (in your spare time!) and see if it doesn’t grow on you. A potential top-tenner for the year.


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