Thursday, May 31, 2007
A Million Years
There’s something wonderful in the simplicity of seeing Ben Gazzara sit down for a conversation with Gena Rowlands. Or Bob Hoskins playing a scene with Fanny Ardant. Or the sadness in Catalina Sandino Moreno’s face. Or the confusion in Steve Buscemi’s.
So are the pleasures of PARIS JE T’AIME, a collection of eighteen short films which focus on the concept of love, various kinds of love, in Paris. The directors include the Coen Brothers, Gus Van Sant, Alexander Payne, Olivier Assayas, Tom Tykwer, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Richard LaGravenese and other talents from around the world. Actors who turn up also include Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood, Miranda Richardson, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Nick Nolte, Maggie Gyllenhaal and other talents from around the world.
Comprised of pieces that run about 5 minutes, many of them have a playful feel with very few pretensions involved. While many omnibus or anthology works are pretty hit and miss, much of PARIS JE T’AIME is surprisingly effective for a variety of reasons. Well, not the whole thing—for starters, there’s a piece about a mime. Fortunately, it’s not that long. There’s also one directed by Christopher Doyle and for the life of me I couldn’t tell you what it’s about. I bet very few others could. That one ends pretty quickly as well.
A man sits in his parked car, thinking about how he will forever be single, when a woman faints next to the car. A distraught woman tries to come to terms with the death of her young son. An immigrant leaves her baby behind as she goes to her job where she takes care of the baby of her rich employer. A man is about to tell his wife he is leaving her when she reveals she has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. A long-married couple meet for a drink the night before their divorce papers are going to be signed. A young man gets a call from his girlfriend which causes him to go over the entirety of their relationship in his head in rapid succession. A middle-aged single woman from America visits Paris for the first time and achieves a small but significant realization about herself.
That last one is directed by Alexander Payne and it’s a near-perfect encapsulation of some of the themes in his films. Feel free to consider this the new Alexander Payne film; the woman is played by familiar character actress Margo Martindale, who is quite amazing.
There are many other delights found here. The Coen entry, which stars Buscemi, is the one flat-out comedy of the bunch and it’s a riot. The sequence with Gazzara and Rowlands (she wrote it;Gerard Depardieu, who also appears, co-directed) is a pleasure just from watching the familiarity the pair have with each other combined with the awkwardness of what they’re clearly not saying. Cuaron’s, which stars Nick Nolte and ends with a tiny twist, is filmed entirely in one take. The best entries of PARIS JE T’AIME are simple, understated and ultimately elegant.
While a few of the pieces feel slightly under-nourished due to their brief running times, their cumulative effect resulted in my feeling a small bit of transcendence once PARIS JE T’AIME wound to its closing moments and I was sad that it was ending. The freedom some of these directors clearly felt by working under these tiny conditions is infectious and some of the entries, particularly Payne’s, deserve to be ranked among their best features. Here’s hoping that the future will bring us ROMA TI AMO.