Film Review: Paris

Anxious and amicable, <i>Paris </i>is in the eye of the beholder, like the city itself.

Unlike recent multi-narrative films that insist on synchronicity—Alejandro González Iñarritu’s Babel and Paul Haggis’s Crash—Cédric Klapisch’s Paris allows its several stories to unfold according to their own logic, without regard to contrived schemes intent on bringing all plots to simultaneous climax. The new film by the director of L’Auberge Espagnole is more like Robert Altman’s The Company in structure and style, an insouciant portrait of a city that attempts to convey its heart without belaboring the interconnectivity of its souls.

The metaphor is deliberate: Paris, literally, concerns the heart of its central character, Pierre (Romain Duris), a dancer in need of a heart transplant. Pierre’s sister, Elise (Juliette Binoche), a divorced social worker with three children, moves into his apartment while he awaits a call from the hospital. Pierre’s is not the only broken heart. A celebrated history professor, Roland (Fabrice Luchini), undergoes a mid-life crisis after his father passes away, assuaging his grief by entering into an affair with a student, Laetitia (Mélanie Laurent). Produce merchant Jean (Albert Dupontel), divorced from his wife, Caroline (Julie Ferrier), quietly suffers because he must continue to work alongside her at the market.

These lives casually intertwine as Klapisch records daily life in the arrondissement—Pierre pines for Laetitia, whom he spies on from his balcony, while Elise shyly flirts with Jean as she shops for groceries—along with a substantial cast of minor characters, some of whom seem chosen at random. Roland seeks solace with his architect brother (François Cluzet), who hesitantly maps out the future of the city as Roland uncovers its past. A fishmonger, Mourad (Zinedine Soualem), embarks on an affair with Caroline. Wealthy fashionistas (Audrey Marnay and Annelise Hesme) go slumming in the wholesale district where Jean and Mourad buy their vegetables and branzino in the early-morning hours.

Klapisch allows the audience to make sense, or not, of all this life revolving around death, and there’s a lot of the latter, including a pivotal scene in which ashes are spread across the city from atop the Montparnasse Tower. There’s also much crying in Paris—men and women weep repeatedly, from start to finish, casting a pall over the film. Are Parisians so maudlin? Paris isn’t as tightly wound as the aforementioned Babel and Crash, but it’s afflicted with the same exhausted melancholy that pervades those films.