Paris, je t’aime

“Listen. Listen. There are times when life calls out for a change. A transition. Like the seasons. Our spring was wonderful, but summer is over now and we missed out on autumn. And now all of a sudden, it’s cold, so cold that everything is freezing over. Our love fell asleep, and the snow took it by surprise. But if you fall asleep in the snow, you don’t feel death coming.”

With the sun shining brilliantly on a quiet Sunday that is just about to fully wake up, love can be felt in the soft breeze that sweeps past my feet and can be seen in the smiles of the people I walk alongside. It is the perfect day to stop off for croissants and a café au lait before heading off to the city of lights and love. Of course, a flight to Paris is not reasonably in this humble film critic’s budget so I had to opt for the next best thing, “Paris, je t’aime”, a collection of 18 short films by a variety of international directors. Each piece is named after a different Parisian neighborhood and is a reflection on love. Careful not to over glorify the most powerful and persuasive of all human emotions, “Paris, je t’aime” explores love at the many stages of its own game. The results are spontaneously romantic and surprisingly consistent. And truly, what better way to express the fleeting nature of love and how a moment can change your life than with a collection of filmed moments.

The beautifully poetic quote above is taken from Tom Tykwer’s Faubourg Saint Denis. True to form, Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) uses time-lapse photography and repetition to demonstrate the entire cycle of love, from inception to dissolution. Originally shot in 2004 and paired down for this anthology, Faubourg stars Natalie Portman as Francine, an American actress in Paris for a part in a film, and Melchior Beslon as Thomas, a blind man she falls in love with. Here, the blind leads the blind through the most unstable of terrain, where two people consume each other to a point where their lives nearly lose their own existences. As love seems to go from dazzling to dizzying, Tykwer reminds us of the tricks it can play on our minds and the illusions it can create when we stray towards doubt.

Perhaps the most giddily romantic offering comes from Sylvain Chomet’s Tour Eiffel. Choosing the city’s most identifiable attraction for its title, Chomet (“Les Triplettes de Belleville”) gives us a little boy who tells the story of how his parents met and fell in love. His father, a mime (Paul Putner), finds himself falling into one surreal scenario after another and eventually lands himself in jail. This is where he meets the woman who will become the love of his life (Yolande Moreau). Miming has become something of a dying art, if it isn’t already dead. Yet by nature, it is dreamy and untroubled. Miming points its silent finger at the ridiculousness of human behaviour and what but love can make people act more absurd? We might find someone special in the least likely of circumstances if we could just take ourselves a little less seriously.

“Paris, je t’aime” keeps the flow lively by not always focusing on love between lovers. Three memorable shorts focus on the love between a parent and a child. Walter Salles (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) has Catalina Sandino Moreno singing lovingly to her child before she leaves him to sing the same song with a distant longing to the child she watches over for her living. Nobuhiro Suwa (“Un Couple Parfait”) has Juliette Binoche trying desperately to overcome the emptiness she feels after losing her son. Binoche says very little yet, not surprisingly given her immense talent, her struggle is evident in her face as she learns that love sometimes means letting go. And Alfonso Cuaron (“Children of Men”) weighs in with one continuous shot of a father (Nick Nolte) and his grown daughter (Ludivine Sagnier) walking together for what must be the first time in a long while. We see them only from across the street and we only get close to them as the distance between the two characters narrows to a place of comfort and accepting.

The last short to screen is Alexander Payne’s 14ieme Arrondissement. As usual, Payne (“Sideways”) takes an ordinary person and shows us what makes them extraordinary. Carol (Margo Martindale) is another American in Paris. She is there alone and for less time than she would have liked as she has dogs waiting for her at home. She is a plain person with an uneventful life who finds herself in a city that is rich and lush. In beautifully delivered Americanized French, she muses about the sights and how being there makes her feel. This woman spends so much time trying to be happy despite life’s numerous disappointments and as she sits in a city made for lovers, she realizes that she is in fact happy and loves herself more than she knew. She falls in love, if only for perhaps a moment, with life and love itself.

The characters that appear but fleetingly in “Paris, je t’aime” find themselves at the romantic center of the universe. The moments they share with each other, be it helping someone up after a hard fall or reaching out your hand to another person without touching them or without their knowledge, are the moments that give love its flare and flourish. Outside the city of lovers, it can be easy to miss moments such as these but we must remind ourselves of their significance. It takes but a moment for love to shine through a cloudy sky. You just have to keep your heart open to see it. And if one city can be so abundant with love, one has to believe it can find its way one day to your door.

Review by Joseph Bélanger