“Paris, Je t’aime!” is great to watch on a DVD because you can stop between the episodes to savor and reflect. Eighteen vignettes on the theme of love, each limited to five minutes and assigned to a specific neighborhood of Paris, and all directed by exceptionally outstanding directors using actors they love and admire, this anthology is remarkably lovable. Usually projects this grand fall flat on their faces.
Not that everyone likes every piece -- in fact, the comments on imdb.com are interesting more because they are from such different points of view than that they are particularly insightful. Some directors were being utterly practical: for instance, “Tuileries” was shot underground in a subway station so that shooting wouldn’t be interrupted by rain -- as “Quais de Seine” was. But the results were totally different as well: “Tuileries” was directed by the Coen brothers with their usual violent, sexy action and weirdo characters caught up in impossible situations. They managed to refer to the famous gallery without marching us up and down the spaces, dollying past paintings.
Gurinder Chadha (You have to be really into the global scene to know her, I guess) was the director interrupted by weather, but she kept the focus on her delicate and idealistic cross-cultural love-at-first-sight scene. Gus van Sant’s bit, “La Marais” was a sort of same-sex version but when one of the couple took off running as fast as he could, I was unclear whether he was running AFTER the interested party, AWAY from him, or just running to use up energy he had been suppressing. Maybe the ambiguity was the point.
Two episodes depended on knowing the actors and both were for older watchers who could enjoy the reflexivity. One was “Quartier Latin” with Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands, waited on by Gerard Depardieu in a pleasant little cafe while they sparred over a divorce, clearly way overdue. Their ambivalence over each other is matched by our own ambivalence at seeing beloved actors, but so old! So old! Then Bob Hoskins plays off against Fanny Ardent in the Pigalle, the most English actor ever -- squat and pugnacious -- against the most French actor ever -- elegance embodied.
There was love for children: Juliette Binoche, a bereaved mother, is given one last reunion with her dead son while Willem Defoe, a horseman of death portrayed as a cowboy, stands by. In another tale largely in the subway, an immigrant mother wakes her child and leaves him in a nursery, singing him a little song, then travels to her job as a nanny where she sings the same song to the child she is caring for.
Some tales were nutty, one in a traditional way with two white-faced mimes who are parents to a sturdy little boy, and one in a goofy frantic hair-dresser extravaganza that’s philosophically fuzzy, but fun just the same. And the obligatory vampire tale with the reddest blood ever catches up “Frodo Baggins” in another unreal adventure: Frodo lives...forever.
The one I loved the most was very simple: an immigrant parking attendant, Seydou Boro, sees a beautiful girl -- love at first sight! Then later he gets into a quarrel on the street, through no fault of his own,and is fatally stabbed. The girl, Aïssa Maïga, returns as the responding EMT. He begs her to have a cup of coffee with him “later,” but she already knows there will be no “later.” Nevertheless, she asks someone to bring two cups of coffee, in case he lives long enough to share them with her. He does not. Oliver Schmitz is the director, a South African, who tells his story with great simplicity and tenderness. The actors are black. I don’t know about Schmitz.
The wind-up story is the love affair between a solitary tourist and Paris itself. Margo Martinda, an actress you'll recognize but not be able to name, is Carol in the "14ème Arrondissement", walking, walking, walking which she doesn’t mind a bit since normally she’s a letter carrier in Denver. Nor does she mind being alone in a city full of lovers -- she loves her two dogs and will be happy to get home to them in spite of this “affair” in Paris.
The potential for using this DVD is enormous. It is a course in cinema all of itself. It gives lots of material for a philosophical discussion of love. One could analyze style and cinema tricks like making vampire blood practically glow in the dark or the mimes putter through the streets without moving anything but their feet, which are blurred with speed. One could address nationality: French, English, American, Islam, South African -- or class.
But what I think would be most fun would be to divide one’s own town into neighborhoods and write a story for each of them. Maybe I’ll try it. In McKinley, Montana, the imaginary town that’s geographically on a website: McKinleyMontana.com. A railroad neighborhood, a growing suburb, the mall, the main street, and so on. Or maybe Valier: along the lake, on a modest historic street, in a block of old houses versus a block of new houses, the “field” of grain bins, the trash roll-off.
Or how about a series of stories on the rez. I did one in terms of time, “Twelve Blackfeet Stories.” Now maybe I’ll do one for each town, maybe an old-timer town like Heart Butte and then a “young tourist” town like St. Mary. Moccasin Flats would have to be a memory piece. East Glacier a plan-for-the-future piece?
Or it would be possible to write a story for each “arrondissement.” I think I’ll try it: a fishing story by Willow Creek interrupted by a drunk; a one-hundred-year old Blackfeet woman at the IHS hospital, so white and clean it looks like the inside of a spaceship, and a young nurse who is slow to realize that this old woman is her blood ancestor. An espresso barista in the big old concrete tipi who is fascinated by a young black man who arrives in a Porsche, hoping that maybe HE’s Blackfeet. A playground drama on one of the elementary school grounds. A library discovery at the high school, maybe a note found in one of the books that was written by his grandfather. See how easy it is?