Short films have really been pushed under the rug lately. This once important part of the cinema going experience mostly disappeared from the public eye around the same time as the newsreel. Since then, short films have mainly lived only in film festivals and film schools; they still give out Oscars for them, but the winners are usually completely unseen by the general public. Still, there is a soft spot in most people hearts for this little brother to the theatergoing experience. The internet has been a help for the medium, the BMW shorts were a neat experiment and most festival related shorts will find their way to cyberspace. Every once in a while, however, an anthology of shorts like Eros, Four Room, and Coffee and Cigarettes will find its way to adventurous theaters.
The latest example of the short film anthology is Paris je t’aime (which translates to “Paris I love you”), a film which collects eighteen five-minute shorts all related to the city of Paris and all related to love or romance in some way. Some of the shorts here are made by important world-class directors like Gus Van Sant, Alfonso Curon, Wes Craven, Tom Tykwer, Alexander Payne, and The Coen brothers. Other films here are directed by French locals like Bruno Podalydès, Sylvain Chomet, Olivier Assayas, and Gérard Depardieu. Still others are directed by an eclectic group of world filmmakers like Gurinder Chadha, Walter Salles, Isabel Coixet, and many others.
Most of these film a very simple and usually depict a nice little slice of life. All of the films involve love as a theme, but it isn’t completely dogmatic about this. The film transitions between the films with little shots of Parisian locales. Each film is also clearly marked with a title and a caption identifying its director.
Of course not all of the films here are going to work as well as others. When I re-examined my notes after viewing the film I found that I had given an “A” to four of the films, a “B” to seven of them, a “C” to four, a “D” to two of them, and I gave an “F” to the Sylvain Chomet which fails by default for prominently featuring mimes. One would think that major directors like Alfonso Curon would dominate the A-list of shorts, but that wasn’t entirely the case. Part of this may be because the less known directors had more to prove, good work here could really launch their careers, while the more famous directors can afford to just phone it in while they’re doing a side project between features.
The best films were the projects from Gurinder Chadha, Isabel Coixet, Oliver Schmitz, and Tom Tykwer. The Tykwer project is particularly impressive; it depicts the entirety of a relationship between a blind Parisian (Melchior Beslon) and an aspiring American actress (Natalie Portman) in a matter of just three minute, all in a beautiful little framing story. Tykwer uses the techniques that made his Run Lola Run fun, but has more substance than that entire feature film.
Another standout film comes from the unknown to me South African/German filmmaker Oliver Schmitz. His film begins with a paramedic meeting a dying man on the street and then flashes back on what lead him to his current state. Isabel Coixet also impresses with a sweet Maupassant, story about a man whose attempts to leave his wife turns out much different than he expected.
Most of the B-level films like those from Gus Van Sant, Richard LaGravenese, and Gérard Depardieu depict nice little slices of life, but are generally not very ambitious. The entry from the Coen brothers, which depicts a confrontation between a mute Steve Buscemi and an arguing Parisian couple, is cute but fails to generate the resonance of many of the other vignettes. Another disappointment comes from Alfonso Curon, who films his entire segment in one shot, but it is little more than a fairly banal conversation between a man played by Nick Nolte and a woman played by Ludivine Sagnier. Curon’s decision to make this a single extended shot was a mistake, it leaves the actors faces obscured in the dark, which is a big problem when your film is a single conversation.
The only true failures here mainly fail because they are a lot stranger than the films that surround them and thus disrupt the flow of the film as a whole. The aforementioned mime film is the most guilty of this, but close behind it is an oddity from Vincenzo Natali involving a romance between a backpacker played by Elijah Wood and a female vampire (Olga Kurylenko)… Yeah, you read that right, a vampire. The only other real oddity comes from the Christopher Doyle film.
The films, despite the fact that they’re separate productions, do connect well and there is a real wisdom in the order the producers choose to order the films. They wisely choose to distribute the quality films evenly with the lesser films so that there weren’t any really long bad stretches. Bruno Podalydès’ film is hardly the best filmhere but it establishes the mood real well as the first film while Alexander Payne’s film, wistful little love letter to the city by an American tourist, is the perfect segment to close the film on.
In general Paris je t’aime is a worthwhile project. There are a lot more hits than misses within the anthology. Even the films that don’t work are at least interesting, and if they fail… well they’re only five minutes anyway.
*** out of four