2008, R, 130 min. Directed by Cédric Klapisch. Starring Juliette Binoche, Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini, Albert Dupontel, François Cluzet, Mélanie Laurent, Kingsley Kum Abang, Sabrina Ouazani, Karin Viard, Zinedine Soualem.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Oct. 9, 2009
Klapisch previously covered a lot of Parisian ground in his 1996 breakthrough When the Cat's Away, but the French writer/director is probably best known for his recent polyglot picture L'auberge espagnole and its companion piece, Russian Dolls, which first put a tangle of sexy university internationals in a shared boarding house and then revisited them four years later. They were likable if glib films, with sprawling casts, romantic romping, a drunk's walk of a plot, and, as the linchpin, amiable, puppyish Duris, a Klapisch regular. All of these elements figure into Klapisch's latest, although Paris is clearly a bid at something weightier. Taking a cue from the mid-Aughties tic of jigsaw plotting (Crash, Babel), Paris follows a half-dozen-plus Parisians who mostly operate in sets – siblings, exes, new lovers – and occasionally brush past one another on the street, at the fish market, and at the hospital. Duris plays Pierre, whose career as a dancer in a revue is sidelined by a heart ailment that's slowly killing him; Binoche is Élise, his rundown, single-mom sister, so unlucky in love she's close to resigning herself to a lifetime of frumpy jeans. Another pair of siblings, opposites-in-every-way middle-aged brothers played by Cluzet and Luchini, meet infrequently to discuss the impending fatherhood of one and the May-December affair of the other (so very French, he texts Baudelaire to his sweetheart). And in far smaller subplots, another man awaits the arrival of his brother from Cameroon, while a party girl and her sister frequent fashion shows. There are no great revelations or titillations in the characters' interconnectedness, but I don't think that was ever Klapisch's point. Actually, his point is fairly obvious – and facile – delivered more than once from the mouth of the dying Pierre, who scolds those with fully functional hearts about their petty complaints, and hammered home in the film's exit music, Wax Tailor's trip-hop remix, "Seize the Day." For all the inelegance of the method of the message's delivery, there is nothing inelegant about Klapisch's aesthetic vision – the man has a stylish eye – or the actors' performances. To a one, they're terrific. But in this overpacked ensemble cast, it's Binoche you want to see more of. The former ingenue, now in her mid-40s, has only grown more layered and luminous with age. It's a foregone conclusion that her defeated Élise will seize the day, too, but the surprise comes with how artfully Binoche skirts the loaded triteness of the scenario for a moment of genuine and tender triumph.