Saturday, March 8, 2008
The strength of PARIS lies in being steeped in its own disjointed nature. Cedric Klapisch, who’s last two films L’aberge Espagnol and Russian Dolls, were more or less about the thrusting together of people or the recapturing of those friendships, whereas PARIS hinges more on a despairing and inherent note of separation, and the reigning faculty of chaos, albeit with the undercurrent of people pulling towards one another. PARIS is thusly inclined, both in story and structure, from the first frame to the last. Particularly telling of the films philosophy were the beautiful opening shots through a rain-beaten car windshield. It produces blurred images of urbanity, becoming clear with the swipe of the blade, only to again be obscured.
PARIS is an interweaving tiered narrative of human fragmentation told through structural fragmentation and shades of coincidence, however not one which is unnatural or imposed. (For my own purposes, this review will be as equally fragmented). Though ultimately each of the characters are together in geography, and therefore encounter each other to varying degrees, they are more or less just swimming in a fishbowl of concrete and glass. The editing of the film is to be commended for the levity and subtlety it affords us in swaying each narrative thread into the other, if only to have one character ride past another on a bicycle, enter the bakery in which another character has just been hired, order produce from them regularly at the open air market, or to see them unknowingly from a passing taxi while making a perfectly apt judgment about them.
Not surprisingly, PARIS has a distinct global sensibility because of the diversity of peoples and places exposed within the film. Ranging from the center of Paris to its scaffolded outskirts, from the wealthy to the working class, to immigrants risking reprimand and exhaustion to get to the ‘city of lights’ from north Africa. Again, this isn’t an imposed quality. It is one that arises as a natural observable element of the city and the manner in which the world is indeed getting smaller. Within this diversity is a common root, and in afflicting each person with the same emotional forces, shows both an external and an internal universality.
Based on this observation it seems apt to mention that through out PARIS’ course, I was reminded of the Vietnamese film THREE SEASONS (1999), which quite gracefully (almost to a fault) follows four characters that are swimming in the marginalized malaise of modern Ho Chi Minh City, and is a tonal match to PARIS, if not a few shades less humorous. It too bears ‘the city’ in all its pervasive grit and glory, holds to the same mentality of disillusionment amidst modernity, broadens its scope with diversity (a white American is one of the main characters), and forgives its own sentimentality with strokes of harsh emotional complexity.
Paris, the living, breathing, aching city is so palpable and ubiquitous a presence that the title of the film is unmistakably appropriate. The capturing of the city to such a degree was not merely haphazard, but is a careful and artful testament to the visual dynamic of a Klapisch film. Kudos to Christophe Beaucarne for his photographic economy and fluidity.
PARIS purports that there may be a kind of perspective above all of that weaves convolutedly in the streets. I’ll borrow a quote from THE DREAMERS (2004). “We look around us…complete chaos. But when viewed from above, viewed as it were, by god, everything fits together.” This notion is a jumping-off point, if you will, for a number of thread intersections, and is instilled in the omniscience of the character of Pierre (Duris), a former dancer and now a recluse in his fifth story apartment, who overlooks the chaos of urbanity and humanity in a state of his own ever impending death. I don’t think he sees the world “fitting together” as the quote suggests so cleanly, but he certainly attains a kind of uniformity in his observations and judgments. His sentimentality and intrigue, if not his disdain for those who reject theirs, arises mostly from what potential is taken from him by this chance heart condition. In this state of suspended life, as is often the case, Pierre acquires a kind of unpretentious wisdom and fervor in awakening others (particularly his sister) to their own stifling self-loathing.
One of the bridging ideas in PARIS, and for that matter THREE SEASONS, is the warring simultaneity of “the traditional and the modern.” The character of Roland Verneui (Luchini), a Sorbonne history professor afeared of his vintage and eccentricity, says to his class that the idea of a ‘rooted traditional culture, oppressed and struggling against the waves of modernity is a myth in a sense, because modernity itself is defined by or built upon the mingling of all that came before and all that is strived for afterward. Modernity doesn’t exist without its predecessors.
Beyond this kind of talk, Klapisch brings the issue of generational conflict into the concrete realm. The character Roland, a historian of the city’s past, has an architect for a brother, Francois, building the proverbial future of Paris. Furthermore, Roland, who feels he has mutated into a vessel of ineptitude and verbosity, seeks the affections, via anonymous text messages, of a vibrant and generously featured female student named Laetitia (Laurent). The fact that he is using text messaging in his tactic is perfectly beneath his demographic, and therefore is well suited to holding the tension between ‘modern and traditional.’ Though maybe it isn’t so beneath a character who describes himself as still feeling like he’s 15, and so burgeons the topical complexity of PARIS. Among the other threads, Pierre’s sister Elise (Binoche), brings herself and her children to live with him in his dying days. Elise is a divorced mother of age 40, and is sadly discouraged by the prospect of ever meeting someone again romantically, at her age. So in this pocket of the film, we have the brimming lives of Elise’s children that have just begun to live, and that of Pierre which is standing on the mortal threshold.
There are nuances abounding in this sprawling film that are caught only by the net of a city grid. There is much more teaming in its moments, threads I haven’t mentioned, and ranges in emotion than I have neither time or inclination to discuss. In the end however, PARIS is a near masterpiece of disjointed continuity, if I might coin a term. What ultimately ties these threads of humanity together is not tactile per se (beyond the city as a vessel of their malaise), but ideological or thematic. Each character or group of characters are united in their experiences of death, in their clumsily striving for connection or rebuilding, and in their simply being confoundingly imperfect and simply driven creatures. And like so many films about disconnection in the modern era; BABEL, NORIKO'S DINNER TABLE, the result of the narrative is a proof by contradiction. It seems to be inevitable that they will reveal that which connects, in spite of the prevalence what separates us.