Most anthology films can be pretty hit-and-miss affairs… but at least when you watch Paris, Je t’aime (2006), you can be sure that even the sucky segments will show you some interesting scenery! Apparently all the shorts, which are themed around different “arrondissements” of the eponymous capital, were shot under pretty tight restrictions (they only had a couple of days to shoot, and several of them were disrupted by wet weather and random Parisian passers-by), so I probably shouldn’t judge them too harshly… but some of the “misses” played like very bad sketches, with stupid, gimmicky set-ups, and irritating, twisty punchlines. Of the eighteen short films I would say that only five of them are worth watching a second time… and, weirdly, despite the presence of some top-name talent amongst the ensemble cast, most of the segments I preferred featured relatively unknown actresses!
My personal fave was the final segment, ‘14e Arrondissement’, starring Margo Martindale as a sweet, simple-minded (in the best possible sense) American tourist, narrating her solo vacation experience in stilted French, for the benefit of an unseen language class. It’s the most moving and human of all the films, gaining its power from the plain-speaking sincerity of its main character, as she naively expresses the thoughts and feelings that the city stirred in her… and Martindale gives a great performance, both visually and vocally. I didn’t recognise her at the time, but apparently she also played Nick’s mother in the ‘Chicago’ episode of New Girl! Top lady.
Second fave would have to be Wes Craven’s skit about a British couple (played by Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell) getting into a row and breaking-up while visiting Père Lachaise Cemetery, only to be reunited by the ghost of Oscar Wilde! It’s a little silly, but quite sweet, and the actors have fun with it. Third fave would be ‘Loin du 16e’, starring Catalina Sandino Moreno as a young Spanish nanny, who has to leave her own child in day-care, before she makes the long journey to work for her wealthy employer. There isn’t much to it in terms of dialogue, but it’s quite an effecting piece, with a neat structure. Fourth fave would be Gurinder Chadha’s ‘Quais de Seine’, starring Leïla Bekhti as a young Muslim woman who’s taunted by some random a-holes in a park, before striking up a friendship with a more sensitive local lad. To me, it seemed more like the opening scene of a much longer story, rather than a complete piece in itself, but I like the way that Chadha was adapted her own recurring themes and interests to a new setting, language, and political climate. Fifth fave would have to be ‘Montmartre’, which starred director Bruno Podalydès as a man who picks up a fainting woman (Florence Muller), and lets her recover in the back of his car. It is, to my mind, the most “French” of all the films… although, as ever, I can’t really explain what I mean by that.