In recent years it has become more and more prevalent for studios to produce ensemble movies. Focusing on microcosms of some alternative reality where vast swathes of celebrities are subjected to the same romantic trials as the rest of us and yet always seem to end up with the right person when their vignette is done with less explanation than their ordinary ninety minute romantic comedies. Some work well, using their own absurdity, general lack of any real conclusion and palpable chemistry to their full advantage but others, especially those that give the art set another excuse to try and one up themselves against the surrounding pieces (I’m talking to you, New York I Love You) crash and burn like a direct to DVD sequel to Weekend at Bernies.
Paris, an endeavour by director Cedric Klapsich (perhaps better known for the overlooked The Russian Dolls) resides in the no mans land somewhere in between.
Pierre (Romain Duris) has discovered that he is facing a heart transplant due to a recently discovered defect that has left him somewhat isolated in his Parisian apartment, watching the lives of others pass him by. His sister Elise (Juliette Binoche) upon discovering his illness puts her life, or lack thereof, on hold and moves in with her three children, forcing Pierre to reevaluate his outlook on life and morality.
Several other subplots including an awkward professor (Farbice Luchini) hoping for one significant romance that might bring him out of his academic shell, pass through on a transitory basis, always orbiting the central idea whilst trying not to hamper its development.
Perhaps the largest issue with the film as a whole are the divides between the actors and director and between the director and himself; the cast fights against an otherwise cold portrayal of the city, brought about by the director’s need to reconcile the relationship between the supposed old and new Paris as described by the professor during one of his lectures, yet never trying to significantly build upon the foundations he gives the argument. The acting is subtle but aloof, perhaps created by the sometimes awkward writing that can feel too poetic for its own good, making it hard to connect and sympathize fully with the cast in certain instances. Thankfully, overall the cast manage for the most part to inject a likability and tenderness where the script itself seems to force it and fall flat on dialogue alone. The lack of cohesion between threads invariably work to the film’s advantage as their relationships to one another feel laboured, enhancing the emotion of each without the need for absolute conclusions.
It falls somewhat flat again however, when the director tries to regain some control only to confuse the premise further. Having abandoned his earlier lofty assertion (or trying to reconcile it to the specific incidents presented), Pierre asserts that “we are never happy” but “that is Paris”, a brittle and awkward argument to make so late in the game.
But despite the uneven portrayal of the city and often characters, there is a warmth and tenderness in everything they do, an unexpected perfection told through imperfections where Paris is what they make of it. As a result, the piece has a poigniancy in spite of it’s flaws.