Released in 2006, Paris Je T’aime is a collection of 18 short films that are all set in Paris and are all directed by a different director or directorial pair. Each short film is named after the neighborhood of Paris where the story takes place and each is a story of love – in fact, the film’s subtitle is “petites romances de quartiers”.
As with most short story collections, there are some clear stand-outs and some duds. One was a dud on delivery, the strange inaccessible “Porte de Choisy”. A few others just don’t survive well on the rewatch because their main appeal is a twist at the end and once you know it, there’s little else to commend them. This is the fourth or fifth time that I’ve watched Paris Je T’aime and my favorites are pretty well cemented.
The gems of the collection are “Bastille” (dir. by Isabel Coixet) and “14e Arrondissement” (dir. by Alexander Payne). In “Bastille”, a man about to leave his wife instead plays the good husband when she is diagnosed with a terminal illness. The story is told like a fable, with an attention for small details that is reminiscent of Amelie. There is a slight levity in it that helps buoy what is overall a bittersweet little heartbreaker.
“14 Arrondissement” is one of several tourist tales in this collection. The Coen brothers subject Steve Buscemi’s hapless tourist to some indignities in “Tuileries”. In Vincenzo Natali’s funny-icky little romance, Elijah Wood’s backpacker tourist runs into a deadly but strangely compelling vampiric creature (played by Olga Kurylenko).
Both of these shorts are very stylized and enjoyable. But they are no competition for “14e Arrondissement” which is wisely chosen as the last short of the collection. An unsophisticated but endearing American tourist, played by Margo Martindale, narrates her solo trip to Paris in rudimentary French. In another film, her far from glamorous character would perhaps be the subject of ridicule and nothing more: she eats fast food and wonders why French fare is not as good as advertised; her knowledge of famous dead French authors in a cemetery is restricted to her guidebook’s brief summations. But despite going about Paris “all wrong” as some might judge, she takes true pleasure and interest in the city sights. There’s nothing really to spoil about the ending, but I’ll simply say that it’s ultimately about the love of Paris and the way a place can capture one’s heart.
Two other shorts worthy of note are Tom Tykwer’s cinematic collage “Faubourg Saint-Denis” featuring Natalie Portman and “Loin de 6e” which follows Catalina Sandino Moreno on a journey of sacrifice that is unseen and unappreciated.
This post was a contribution toward the Paris in July blogging event. Have you seen Paris Je T’aime? If so, what was your favorite short? If not, where in Paris would you want your little romance?