(29/06/07) – Perhaps one of the trickiest film projects is that of the portmanteau film, the cinematic equivalent of a book of short stories farmed out to individual film-makers. It’s a form whose track record has, to say the least, been a rocky one. Ro.Go.Pa.G (1963), New York Stories (1989) and Four Rooms (1995) remind us that contemporary talent doesn’t always mean a quality product and, for the viewer, it’s all too easy to end up ranking the various contributions or twiddling your thumbs hoping that the next segment is going to improve on the current one.
So it’s with some trepidation that one approaches Paris, je t’aime, a portmanteau like no other with a bewildering range of the world’s most celebrated directors contributing tiny tales of love in the most iconic of capital cities. The result is a delightful spread of cinematic appetisers, each taking on the flavour of a Paris district as a springboard for light tales of romance and chance encounters.
The very brevity of these stories (the film’s remit and tight budget restricted the film-makers to a couple of days shooting and a maximum running time of five minutes) allows for experimentation and whimsy in equal measures but crucially means that any less stellar episodes are soon swept aside in favour of more enticing vignettes. Wes Craven’s slight Père-Lachaise, about a couple on the verge of splitting up visiting the grave of Oscar Wilde and Vincenzo Natali’s sumptuously shot but incongruous vampire tale Quartier de la Madeleine with Elijah Wood seduced by a beautiful but savage undead woman mark the film’s more ill defined moments but even these are eminently watchable.
Far better though is Gurinder Chadha’s Quais de Seine, a delightfully naive, upliftingly sweet love story that nevertheless tackles racial intolerance, the wearing of the hijab and misogyny in French society. In five minutes. More quirky are the offerings from the Coen brothers (Steve Buscemi catches the eye of a Frenchman and his girlfriend on the other side a Metro platform leading to Raising Arizona style comic violence) and Sylvain Chomet (of Bellville Rendezvous fame) whose hilarious but deeply sinister Tour Eiffel shows the director’s sense of the surreally comic as an irritating con de mime finds female companionship in prison, locked up for crimes against quality street artistes. Upon release the two gleefully explore the streets of Paris is a hyperkinetic pixellated style that shows off Chomet’s love of absurdity.
Tom Tykwer gives us more of the breakneck film-making that so endeared us to Run Lola Run, reprising that film’s potted biographies and restlessly inventive camerawork when Francine (Natalie Portman) breaks off her relationship with her boyfriend triggering an uncontrollable burst of memories.
A quirky, likeable bunch of vignettes ranging from the technically adept (Alfonso Cuarón’s single take Parc Monceau, recalling similar shooting on his Children of Men) to the plain bizarre (Christopher Doyle’s colourful tale of a salesman with a range of miraculous hair products trying to ply his trade at a fashionable Chinese salon), Paris, je t’aime is a freewheeling, frothy take on the diversity and mystery of Paris through 18 of its 20 major districts (two other shorts were shot but controversially dropped). A times slight, profound, whimsical, infuriating and charming this petite selection of tasty hors d’oeuvre makes for varied but cohesive viewing.
Paris je t’aime is released in the UK today.