Paris, je t’aime


Paris je t'aime

This annoying Parisian mime has his poor woman beside herself.

(First Look) Juliette Binoche, Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Gerard Depardieu, Marianne Faithfull, Ben Gazzara, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Bob Hoskins, Olga Kurlyenko, Emily Mortimer, Nick Nolte, Natalie Portman, Miranda Richardson, Gena Rowlands, Barbet Schroeder, Rufus Sewell, Leonor Watling, Elijah Wood. Directed by Many, Many Directors

Ah, Paris, the City of Light. No other city in the world conjures romance and civilization the way the capital of France does. Visions of sidewalk cafes, the Left Bank, the beautiful architecture and the masterpieces at the many museums make Paris a city where one’s oeuvre for the finer things in life can be properly exercised.

But like any city its size, Paris has more than just one face and more than just one personality. Paris has many neighborhoods, some ethnically arranged and others more lifestyle arranged. One of the joys of exploring Paris is to delve into these neighborhoods, not all of which turn up in guidebooks.

Some of them, however, appear here in this love letter to and from Paris. 18 vignettes have been directed by some of the world’s best directors (or teams, such as the Coen Brothers) like Gus van Sant and Isabel Coixet. Appearing in them is a tremendous international cast, some of whom (but not all) are detailed above.

Each vignette is set in a different neighborhood in Paris and all have something to do with love, which is fitting enough. As with any anthology film of this nature, the segments work to varying degrees but I have to say that I can’t honestly say that any of them are horrible.

The only one that really feels jarring to me is the one directed byVincenzo Natali, whose “Quartier de la Madeleine” is a Gothic vampire romance, with Bond girl Olga Kurlyenko chasing Elijah Wood through fog-shrouded streets. The tone differs from any of the other films here and it felt more like a Parisian Twilight episode which didn’t really work for me.

Other than that one misstep, there is some magnificent work here. In Japanese director Nobuhiro Suwa’s “Place de Victoires,” a grieving mother (played with astonishing power by Juliette Binoche) gets a chance to say goodbye to her dead son as given by a cowboy (Willem Dafoe) who is acting not unlike Charon on the River Styx, escorting the boy to his final destination. It’s the most powerful segment in the movie in many ways.

Another wonderful piece is “Quartier Latin” by actor Gerard Depardieu and co-director Frederic Aubertin (who also directed the linking segments). Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands, veterans of the John Cassavetes stable, play an aging couple who get together the night before they see the lawyer to finalize their divorce. It is bittersweet without being cloying, a tribute to the two actors who pull off some of the more understated work of the movie.

In a different vein, the Coen Brothers direct their Steve Buscemi in the ”Tuileries” segment for slapstick comedy, as a mute tourist is warned not to make eye contact in the Metro station and foolishly does, twice, leading to all sorts of mayhem being perpetrated on Buscemi, who takes more abuse from the Coens than he has since “Fargo.” The Coens do this kind of thing as well as anybody ever has.

Even horror director Wes Craven gets a shot, with his set in the cemetary at “Pere Lachaise” features Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell as an engaged couple scouring the cemetary for the grave of Oscar Wilde, with Sewell getting romantic advice from the ghost of the writer himself. While this sounds on the surface to be right in Craven’s wheelhouse, it’s actually a bit of a departure for him, being much more romantic than we’re used to from the auteur of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream franchise.

The great Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron does a stunning job with “Parc Monceau,” shooting the segment in one long continuous shot, allowing Nick Nolte to do his thing as a doting father trying to maintain a bond with his daughter. In “Pigalle,” director Richard LaGravenese need do nothing more than film a conversation slash argument between married couple Bob Hoskins and the extraordinarily sophisticated and beautiful Fanny Ardant.

Alexander Payne of Sideways fame directs the concluding vignette, “14th Arrondissement” with superb character actress Margo Martindale narrating the effect a trip to Paris had on the life of a frumpy Midwestern postal worker. It’s a sweet little coda that ties things together nicely.

As I said, not everything works but most work well enough to be reasonably satisfying and all have at least something to recommend them. All in all, it’s a pleasant little pastry that has been put together with loving care by many of the best chefs in the business, and it’s ready for you to sample and I recommend that you do, even if you don’t love Paris but especially if you do.

WHY RENT THIS: A cornucopia of wonderful vignettes about the City of Light with something of a tasting menu of some of the finest film directors in the world.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the segments flat-out don’t work.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some bad language, a bit of sexuality (it is Paris after all), a few mildly frightening moments and some adult themes. While there’s nothing really that you wouldn’t let your children watch, they would probably be bored to tears unless they’re Francophiles.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The original intention of the movie was for each segment to represent a specific arrondissement in Paris (there are 20 in all) but this idea was abandoned.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: In the special edition 2-disc DVD Steelbox edition of the film, there are 18 featurettes, each devoted to a specific segment of the movie. Oddly, these aren’t available on the Blu-Ray making it a rare instance where a DVD edition has more extras than the corresponding Blu-Ray edition.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Paris 36 (Faubourg 36)

The International


The International

When someone tells Clive Owen to go play in traffic, he's man enough to do it.

(Columbia) Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Brian F. O’Byrne, Ulrich Thomsen, James Rebhorn, Jack McGee, Michel Voletti. Directed by Tom Twyker

Given what is happening in the world economy today, most of us have come to the conclusion that bankers have shuffled off what morality they may have had and are operating strictly on a greed motivation factor. Still, even given their reprehensible behavior nobody is ordering contract killings…at least so far as we know.

Louis Salinger (Owen) is a hard-bitten Interpol detective who has been investigating the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC) for a long time. Every time he gets close to nailing them for ethical or legal violations, witnesses recant, die or disappear. Currently he is working with Manhattan assistant D.A. Eleanor Whitman (Watts) investigating corruption in the Big Apple having to do with the bank. Eleanor’s boss (Rebhorn) sounds the cautionary bell but the two plunge on.

However, it appears to be happening again. Louis’ partner dies of an apparent heart attack that was brought on by what might have been a lethal injection after meeting with a bank insider, who shortly thereafter perishes in a car accident. From then on Salinger is looking for leads, running up against dead ends and generally acting pissed off in various locations around Europe before following a likely bank-employed assassin back to New York. After a shoot out in the Guggenheim finishes off the assassin, Salinger recognizes that he cannot get justice via ordinary means. He will have to resort to extra-legal methods.

The above plot synopsis is really a bit of an injustice to this very complex and engaging movie. German director Twyker has a very good sense of pacing and utilizes the locations nicely, capturing the wealth and power of the IBBC and those who orbit around it. Those who remember his signature film Run, Lola, Run will appreciate The International’s twist and turns as well as its compelling action sequences.

Owen has the hangdog, unkempt and sleepless look of a man caught up in the throes of his own obsessions (which Salinger surely is). Only in the eyes does Owen allow Salinger’s consuming rage to show through. That his performance is so nuanced is a credit to Owen’s abilities as an actor; that his character is so easy to root for despite the fact that he’s a bit of a jerk cement my opinion of Owen as a major movie star coming into his own.

Usually I like Naomi Watts but she seems a bit lost here. While there is no romantic connection for her to play off of Owen with, the chemistry between the two seems nonexistent, like two people who work in the same building and recognize the face enough to exchange nods in the hallway. Surely two people who have been directly in the line of fire as these two are depicted would have at least more of a bond?

This is a bit of a police procedural (I never knew that Interpol agents were not allowed to carry firearms) and a bit more of an action film. The Guggenheim sequence, with Owen and his allies running down the ramps of the iconic museum in a running gun battle with black-suited assassins hired by the bank is as marvelous an action sequence as you’re likely to see. Not only would it do the James Bond series proud, but the way Twyker edits the sequence together would bring the warm fuzzies to the heart of a Hitchcock aficionado as well.

Yeah, the storyline can be confusing upon occasion, particularly in the second act and Thomsen as the head banker Skaarsen is a bit bland, which weakens his position as lead villain a bit. Mueller-Stahl is a terrific character actor who manages to be chilling and charming at the same time, something like finding out a beloved grandfather was once a serial killer.

Even though I give it only a mild recommendation because of some of the tendency to over-plot as well as for some of the gaping holes in logic that result, if I think about it I’d probably give this a higher rating after revisiting it in the future. Tom Twyker is a terrific director working with a terrific actor and movie star in Clive Owen. Something tells me that a few years in the future this movie may wind up being a watershed first encounter between two talents who I believe are destined for big things in this business.

WHY RENT THIS: The behavior of IBBC is appropriate given the recent behavior of major financial institutions contributing to our current financial crisis. The action sequences are breakneck and satisfying. Clive Owen is, in my mind, a big star.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the financial biz stuff is fairly boring. No chemistry between Owen and Watts. The storyline can be confusing in places.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots and lots of violence coupled with a good deal of bad language. You make the call.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The set for the Guggenheim Museum, in which a major action sequence takes place, was built in an abandoned locomotive warehouse using the original blueprints from the Guggenheim.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Most of the usual featurettes, deleted scenes and commentary.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Red Cliff