The first segment in 'Paris, je t'aime', an anthology of short films of and about love in different forms found in Paris, seems to be about nothing in particular. It features a man who discovers a new kind of affection for his wife after she collapses on the street due to low sugar, close to where he is waiting for her in his car. The themes in the film gradually make their mark. Though it is obvious to us that they are all set in Paris and probably about love, it refines itself as it goes along – we get parental love, in a segment directed by Alfonso Cuaron, where Nick Nolte visits his French daughter and tries to connect with her again; unrequited love, in a touching, almost heartbreaking story about a Nigerian immigrant who fancies a coffee with a woman from his hometown; blind love (in the literal sense) between a struggling American actress (Natalie Portman) and the young blind man she meets in a manic piece directed in only the way Tom Tykwer can make possible and also the blood lust of vampires, as seen in the amusing arc with Elijah Wood walking the dark corners of the city of love (Directed by Vincenzo Natali, of ‘Cube’ fame).
All of these flow freely. Very few fade to black; the segments all segue into one another effortlessly. To call an experiment such as this uneven is to state the obvious and any film made in this manner can very easily falter, the way 'Paris, je t'aime' sometimes does, but this is mostly because some shorts work more (or less) than others. We are reminded at the start of each of the segments who their respective directors are, and this makes it more tolerable than other similar films such as last year's 'Nine lives', the story of nine women in distressing situations, which was too self important and used the services of only one director, or even ‘Love Actually’ which tried to tie all loose ends in an Altmanesque finish, an oft used technique that ‘Paris’ wisely avoids. As a film, it is calmly accepting of its large scale ensemble piece, not just in the way it features so many performers, but also in the way it uses the services of so many directors (21 in all), some known to me, others more obscure.
Despite the universality of its theme, some shorts really stand out, because the more gifted directors are able to both blend in with the look and feel of the overall film and also exert their own authorship and individuality. We immediately realize that ‘Tuileries’ featuring a wordless, possibly American tourist (wide eye Steve Buscemi) who makes the mistake of making eye contact with a tramp making out with his girlfriend in the Paris Metro, is typical Coen’s territory. Or for that matter the sketch entitled ‘14e Arrondissment’, the last and perhaps best vignette featuring a lonely Denver letter delivery woman who tells us in French voiceover how she learned the language for 2 years so she could travel to Paris and write an essay about it in French, could only come from the mind of Alexander Payne, who transforms the most melancholy into the most amusing. These are all stories about love. These are all stories about Paris.
- by Faizan Rashid [Rated 4 out of 5]