Paris, je t’aime (2006)

Tombstones, Subways

Recently, I walked through a Japanese cemetery that is several hundred years old. There is in this place a variety of tombstones, a very wide variety. There are stylistic similarities, weaving through eras, religious traditions (which are remarkably complex and subtle). The place is old enough that reference can be made to earlier traditions, but with important evolution or annotation. Each stone denotes a significant life or lives remembered coherently.

Its a place of stories, of connections, flowing valences that are rich and anchored to place. Moving through the space, one feels tidal magentisms. Its easy to believe in spirits of place. When I heard of this project, that is what I expected: many stories, each short form. Each pulling from some deeply connected pool of what we know, each weaving in with the others to give us what amounts to the Japanese cemetery experience:

A full connection of self with a coherent weave of stories — often contradictory — that settle in the notion of space. I was, in effect, hoping for a simple, cinematic, Parisian Finnegans Wake. One thing that got my hopes up was the last compilation project I saw: Eros. It was only three films, by masters. They were longer and rooted in woman, an easier focus than a city which has a certain mostly unpalatable history.

And then there was “Destricted.” That was seven films. Though nominally about sex, they were actually about the nature of art and observation. Because most art is thin social perspective these days, so was this but it was obviously so because of the editorially integrated facets. Also, those BMW films were wonderful and interdependent.

Anyway, the point is that my hopes were up. I was hoping for something that actually used the city: …its fabricated association with natural romance, which is cinematic because it came from US subsidies to US filmmakers to make Paris seem so as part of the Marshall plan. …its easy way with the world in terms of collaboration. Yes, its easy manner of conflating pleasure with subservience and the resting puzzling saturation of instant sex into instant love, but only with male persistence.

There are good filmmakers involved. It sometimes is visually wonderful, especially the seamless transitions that bring different cameras, colours, shadows.

Many of these individually are powerful, closed little tastes, each one an experiment, each one creative in its own way. If I saw them one a day, I would be thrilled. But it is not a dessert every day for three weeks, its a meal. And as a collection, it is a mess, even the way things are assembled. Many of these undermine the others. Virtually none of them use the city. There seems to have been some vague charter about love without a deeper hook.

So we are left with commenting on single desserts. Six of these have merit in my view, which is to say they pulled me as I walked along.

Christopher Doyle’s adventure in women and the kung fu goddess of hair has to be the one with he most lasting effect. This will be he one that sticks. Its because its wholly new, building new things in you. It is connected, not merely derivative.

The five others that matter all use the film-within, the business of love being something nurtured as an internal story that the partner sustains. Its how the partner is able to do this without effort that engages us.

The most accessible of these is Tom Twyker’s segment. He’s still channeling Keislowski and uses Natalie Portman as she is best (a presence that is deliberately created, maintained for appeal). Its all about how she sits in memory and how we constantly project that memory into the future. Love is not what we have, but what we worry about having. Its highly dependent on cinematic images for us, indeed her character is an actress. The lover, being blind, has none of what we do and its a cold awakening when we realise how true the cinematic love must be that we share.

The most powerful is a simple story told in broken forward-backwards, about an immigrant who falls in love at a glance and wins love by dying with her. Because the segment must be short, his entire life is cleverly compressed and we learn things that reinvent what we just saw, adding long-form structure. I do not know this South African filmmaker. I wish I did.

And finally we have two that are not successful, but which have deep ambition.

The one that closes the collection is by Alex Payne, of “Sideways.” It is a lonely woman writing about her visit. She’s more isolated in Paris than she is at home. We see her only slightly touch the place (eating at MacDonalds), but the yearning to have the romance of the place matter to her makes her matter to us. It is because we yearn so, because Paris is accidentally in that direction, and because we find her desperate inner self unsettlingly easy to know.

The last I will mention is a mess, but fun. Its a long married couple, a fact we only discover late. They keep the inner fires warm by actively finding the harness of the other’s fantasy. They are in a story that creates stories that find stories that maintain the story of active love. It is clumsy the way it is done, more like an acting class with an ambitious form. But it is here, and it is engaging.

Posted in 2009

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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