Intimacy in the City of Light
Paris’ inhabitants glance, touch, spin away
by Molly Templeton
PARIS: Written and directed by Cédric Klapisch. Cinematography, Christophe Beaucarne. Editor, Francine Sandberg. Music, Loïk Dury. Starring Juliette Binoche, Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini, Albert Dupontel, François Cluzet and Mélanie Laurent. IFC Films, 2009. R. 130 minutes.
|Juliette Binoche and Romain Duris in Paris
Cédric Klapisch’s Paris is a loosely knit, moderately charming ensemble piece that centers on the sibling relationship between Pierre (Romain Duris), a dancer with a serious heart problem, and his sister Elise (Juliette Binoche, luminous as ever), a permanently tousled social worker. Elise moves herself and her three children more firmly into Pierre’s life when he reveals his diagnosis: He may only have days, months, weeks to live. From his apartment balcony, Pierre watches the world go by; on the street below, writer-director Klapisch does the same. He follows Roland (Fabrice Luchini), a historian having a midlife crisis that involves falling in love with a student and visiting a shrink; he watches that student, Laetitia (Mélanie Laurent, from Inglourious Basterds), who lives across the street from Pierre. Nearby, an impossibly cranky bakery owner looks for a clerk, but no one meets her exacting standards. In the market, a group of fruit and fish sellers banter and complain, their lives more tangled than they initially seem. In distant Cameroon, Benoît (Kingsley Kum Abang) sets out on a long and arduous trip to Paris to meet his brother; first, he says goodbye to a visiting French woman whose life will later brush up against other characters’ stories as they spin out in Paris.
The city itself is, of course, a character here too; Roland takes a job as a sort of video tour guide, expounding on certain bits of history, and his brother Philippe (Tell No One’s François Cluzet) is an architect, designing modern buildings that stand in contrast to Paris’ past. Klapisch shows Paris both as a sprawling metropolis — he loves to look at it from above — and as it might look if you passed through its streets every day, his eye on cafés and rooftop balconies and sidewalks, his attention on out-of-the-way bars and the detail of a man dropping a postcard into a mailbox or coworkers celebrating after work. When four friends find themselves at the massive wholesale food market after hours, their laughter is, in part, the joy of finding a part of your home you didn’t know was there — a street, a building, a piece of a whole you can never entirely take in.
The midnight tour of the market also reveals things rich Parisian women take for granted, even as it links back to Benoît, in Cameroon. But Benoît’s storyline has little depth and is indicative of one of Paris’ weaknesses: It looks briefly at the complicated issues of race, class and immigration, but it sinks quickly back into the lives of its mostly middle-class characters. A film that looked at a city’s entire population would be unbearably long, yes, but it feels like Klapisch has taken the easy road, even as his other characters endure death, loneliness and the smaller crises of everyday life.
Paris has a sultry, sometimes jazzy soundtrack and is at its strongest when it’s looking at an established relationship, one that fills in the details in gestures and setting, whether it’s Elise and Pierre teasing each other in Pierre’s small, comfortable apartment or Roland and Philippe, arguing against the backdrop of Philippe’s modern home. The worlds of these four characters never quite touch, which is to Klapisch’s credit: He doesn’t try too hard to push people together, and he doesn’t paint things as stunning acts of fate, instead looking for the way city living creates possibility in all the near-misses, unlikely connections and tiny moments of intimacy that happen, unexpectedly, every day.