Film Review: Lost in Paris

Spinster librarian searching for her dotty aunt finds a Parisian vagrant instead in a retro comedy by the team of Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon.
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Belgium-based performance artists Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon have turned their love for clowns and the circus into a distinctive style of physical comedy. In Lost in Paris, their fourth feature, they string together low-key jokes and gags—more whimsy than slapstick—in a mistaken-identity plot that plays out in a tourist version of Paris.

Francophiles of a certain age will find much to delight them in Lost in Paris, not the least Emmanuelle Riva, a star of Hiroshima Mon Amour, in her last screen role. (Pierre Richard is also on hand to evoke his 1972 hit The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe.)

Gordon dominates the first third of the film as Fiona, a spinster librarian in an Arctic Canadian village who is summoned to Paris to save her ailing aunt Martha (Riva) from authorities who want to put her in an old-age home. Within a few minutes of screen time, Fiona falls into the Seine, loses her passport and money, and winds up in a posh, floating restaurant.

Abel plays Dom, a vagrant living in a tent along the Seine. In a protracted gag involving food stolen from the restaurant garbage, Dom winds up with Fiona's belongings. When they meet that night, it slowly dawns on Fiona that he is wearing her clothing.

Several plotlines unfold, as Fiona and Dom attend the wrong funeral, Martha misleads the nurses trying to help her, and love disrupts the most careful plans. Jokes about begging dogs, loud restaurant music, Mounties, and men caught holding lingerie alternate with complicated physical routines between Fiona and Dom.

Very poorly lit and indifferently shot, Lost in Paris becomes increasingly leaden as it progresses. The movie runs its cheerful nitwits and happy derelicts through gags stretching back to Tati and Keaton. Unlike those clowns, the characters here simply react to what happens to them. People who don't know how to answer a phone or use an elevator, they can't improvise or find solutions. Instead, they can fall down, often into the Seine.

Abel and Gordon know how to perform difficult stunts, but are less adept at how to stage and frame them. The novelty of a well-executed pratfall is lessened by irrelevant details and mistimed editing.

For those who find Amélie and its ilk too cloying, Lost in Paris will be pure torture. But lovers of refined, high-toned slapstick can settle comfortably into Abel and Gordon's pastel-colored, utterly non-threatening world.

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