Paris, je t’aime (Various, 2007)

Like a fleeting whiff of pungent perfume, Paris, je t’aime reeks of sweetness and artificiality. This collection of short films (made by some of the better Western directors, but where’s the Asian or African representation?) about love in Paris attempts to construct a whimsical and elaborate connection between the perception of the city as a romantic mecca and the sometimes brutal reality of heartache which follows. But this omnibus struts out one forgettable story after another, surprising considering the talent on both sides of the camera. Stars like Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood, Gena Rowlands, and a host of other well known actors wander through Paris, je t’aime with aimless wonder, fronting wordy snippets of unrequited desire, brewing anger, and false pretenses. There’s something tiresome about the whole experience, especially when so many filmmakers like the Coen brothers, Gus van Sant, and Alfonso Cuaron are working far below expectations. In retrospect, while many of the shorts produce a ho-hum response, only two segments make an impact. One, a heartbreaking ode to chance and disappointment entitled “Place des Fetes” by director Oliver Schmitz, follows an African man’s attempt to get the attention of a young woman, which sets off a devastating chain of events. The second (which thankfully ends the film), a transcendent piece about a lovely middle-aged American woman traveling alone in Paris, charts a personal and evolving relationship with a new environment via voice over and mise-en-scene. Directed by the brilliant Alexander Payne, this sunny travelogue boasts a charm and warmth none of the other segments can claim. Ironically, Payne’s piece doesn’t deal with human affection as all the other’s do, but a romance with the entire city. While flimsy and candy coated as a whole, the few bright highlights of Paris, je t’aime prove that in the greatest love story’s, actions speak louder than words.

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