Love is on Display in All Areas of Paris
A Film Review of Paris, je t’aime by Christopher Wostenberg
One thing about film that has always struck me as odd is how few anthology films there are. An anthology film is one that consists of several different shorter films that is often tied together by a single thread, often a theme, location, object, or person. Anthologies are quite prevalent in literature and television, even in classic radio shows, but not so much in cinema. Many early examples of the genre have had minor DVD and/or Blu-Ray releases with minimal restoration, such as O. Henry’s Full House (1952), Dead of Night (1945), and Quartet (1948). Critically acclaimed anthologies also seem to be forgotten with time, like The Red Violin(1998). Even the work of famous directors is ignored. Case in point, Four Rooms (1995) is an anthology film written and directed by Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino, among a few others, made around the same time as their most famous films, Desperado (1995) and Pulp Fiction (1994), respectively. I bet if you asked the common fans of these two directors, more than half have not seen or heard of Four Rooms. Similarly, New York Stories (1989), a compilation from Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen, has also largely been forgotten. Looking through my collection of films, I am actually surprised that I have quite a few anthology films respective to how popular they seem to be. Thus, in this review I would like to talk about the most recent of them, Paris, je t’aime (2006).
Paris, je t’aime is comprised of twenty, roughly six minute-long films about love set in twenty out of the twenty-two districts of Paris. Each segment of the film is directed by a different director and features different actors. Some characters from one segment are seen in the background of another to tie the stories together, but overall the twenty films are distinct and unique from one another. I cannot give a more detailed synopsis of film without telling every story, so you will have to watch it to know more.
Why does Paris, je t’aime work so well as an anthology film? Je ne sais pas – French for I don’t know. It should not be any better than its best segment, while having to overcome its worst segment. (The website And So It Begins … does rank each segment individually.) One reason it seems to work is there are so many good, artistically crafted segments that are unique from each other.
First, let’s look at the overall theme of love in Paris that the movie is built on. Love is such a grand human concept that no one really understands. The movie illustrates this so brilliantly by weaving a traditional love story of boy meets girl in one segment, while in another theme of love is explored between a mother and a child. The movie ends perfectly by looking at the love of a place, specifically an American tourist who falls in love with Paris. This would make it seem disjointed, unfocused on a basic level, but in fact it goes to show how vast and complex love is. Additionally, it does not shy away from diversity. One segment deals with interracial relationships, while another deals with a homosexual relationship. Both segments, along with the rest of the movie, is balanced enough that neither scene seems out of place or contrived to make a point or check all the boxes on a diversity scorecard. Overall, it all seems natural, which love should be.
Next, let us look at the variation in filming style. Each segment was independently made, then put together with images of Paris in between. Again, this should make the movie seem patched together, where at first everything is different in tone and composition, but once you step back to see the bigger design, in fact the pieces do fit together. For example, The Coen brothers’ segment is an odd, surreal comedy reminiscent of their early film Barton Fink (1991). This segment is preceded by Gus Van Sant’s more straightforward comedy of misunderstanding, and followed by the sentimental work of Brazilian filmmakers Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas. This gives an ebb and flow to film. There aren’t sharp emotional changes from one piece to another. The viewer is not laughing for twenty minutes at the beginning and crying twenty minutes at the end. This makes for an organic feel to the emotions produced in the film that mimics real life, especially in the realm of love. The transitions themselves, filled with views of Paris, aid in this by letting you cleanse your palate a little from one segment to another, much like taking a bite of ginger between pieces of sushi.
The uniqueness in interpretation on the theme of love and the diversity in filming does make the movie good, but for the common filmgoer this means that you will probably only like a handful of segments. Therefore, the movie is not lifted to greatness or even re-watchability by the segments alone. So there must be more. What that more is, is the unattainable “je ne sais pas.” Some great movies are unexplainable in their greatness. There is nothing innovative, novel, or exceptional about them, but you watch them and know they are great. While other movies try for greatness but fall short, Paris, je t’aime is inexplicably great even though it has flaws in it.
Favorite Scene: As the movie is diverse in style and stories, no one scene represents the movie much like some other favorite scenes I have done. Thus, I must go with a scene that I best remember years after watching the movie. The scene is of a sad mime that is without love, who finds his soulmate, a fellow mime, while in jail. The segment conveys so much emotion from loneliness and sadness to joy and love in such a short time span all without spoken dialogue much like early silent films. It is made all the more special of a love story as it is told not from the perspective of either of the mimes, but of their ordinary son. The segment shows that anyone can find love, even in the unlikeliest of places. It is one of the segments from the movie I can watch with my six-year old daughter and she can actually enjoy and understand it. In fact, she was mimicking it earlier.
Overall, the movie should not work as well as it does. It is more than just the sum of its diverse pieces. This is evident by its spiritual sequel New York, I Love You (2009), which fails to capture even half the magic. I recommend you sit down for two hours and watch this film. You might not like all the segments but at the end of the two hours you would have enjoyed more than half and gone through an array of emotions. As a bonus, you might feel like you have had the Paris experience without leaving the comfort of your home, which might be vital for your mental health during this pandemic. I think the most appropriate end to this review is a quote from Casablanca (1942) “We’ll always have Paris.”