Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Paris, Je T'aime

In one of the short films included in this anthology, a man is on the verge of splitting with his wife when she informs him she has terminal luekemia. He pulls back from his plan, and during the couple's final weeks together he learns to love her all over again, knowing she'll soon be gone. That's how the viewer is likely to approach these eighteen brief tales: we watch each episode with special attention and heightened appreciation, knowing that it will soon be over. The fact that they all take place in Paris adds a romantic luster to the collection, though none of the stories involves a classic boy-meets-girl scenario. An inventory of some of the plot-lines (without, I hope, giving too much away) might suggest how varied the stories are, as well as providing a challenging memory test:

A woman (Juliette Binoche) is mourning her son's death (he loved cowboys) when she hears his voice late at night. She runs out in the street and encounters Willem Dafoe on a horse.

A ramp attendant becomes friendly with a beautiful woman who's parking her car, and loses his job as a result. Things go from bad to worse for him, but she happens to be the emergency medic who arrives on the scene after he suffers an urban injury.

A couple about to be married have a spat about the importance of humor at the gravestone of Oscar Wilde.

A blind student gets a phone call from his actress-girlfriend cutting off their relationship. He relieves their time together Run-Lola-Run style.

A young man visiting a print shop feels a special affinity for a "deep" quiet man who works in the shop. We learn later that the quiet man simply doesn't speak French.

A fashion-product salesman pays a visit to a Chinese kick-boxing salon.

A single middle-aged woman from Denver describes her solo trip to Paris in stilted school-girl French.

A first-time visitor to Paris (Steve Buscemi) makes the mistake of staring at a kissing couple at a Metro station.

A wealthy, elderly couple (Ben Gazzara and Gina Roland) discuss their impending divorce with wit and style.

A young American actress (Maggie Gyllenhaal) makes a couple of drug deals before an evening of filming.

A young man (Elijah Wood) gets involved in a bloody vampire romance.

A young woman drops off her baby at a day-care center in the wee hours of the morning so she can spend the day caring for the baby of her wealthy employer.

The problem with short films is that there is insufficient time to develop anything. It's impossible to go very deep. And yet short films, unlike many short stories, are often suggestive, rather than merely contrived. At any rate, most of the selections assembled here stick in memory. I could do without the episode of the two mimes who meet in prison. And the short featuring Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardant struck me as unsavory. In fact, I found several of the stories incomprehensible. But none were dull.

I was surprised when the final credits began to roll. What fun, and over all too soon.

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