Ive never been able to speak a foreign language. I took four years of high school French and can still barely even mutter Bonjour, without a weird southern drawl making it hardly distinguishable as one of the most recognizable French greetings. I traveled to Paris in the nineties but, I lazily relied on the ability to always find someone who spoke English. Although I do not understand the language, I adore Paris. It is a city like no other where life can be whimsical, seductive, gloomy, romantic and haunting all at once. There are few cities that
can achieve these great feats of human emotion in one stroll down any boulevard. Yet, this is Paris.
Even with my great love for this city, my inability to interpret the language spoken so eloquently in the City of Light, renders the challenge of being a foreigner asked to create a five minute segment to be a part of the recent DVD release, Paris, Je TAime, petrifying.
Naturally, many French directors were part of this Parisian inspired storytelling event. And, it is unfair of me to assume that my fears of the language of love are shared by the non-French directors asked to take part. Alexander Payne and Joel & Ethan Coen probably have a second home in the French countryside or maybe they took something away from high school French classes.
Using different locations in Paris, around twenty international directors were asked to use a part of the city and compose a five minute story about love. Like most cities, Paris is an amalgamation of assorted areas and people. Thus, the stories in Paris, Je TAime varied in the examinations of love, but stayed true to the sense of Paris as a city of culture and soul. The most amazing part of a compilation of this sort is to see how the same setting and the same story idea when imagined by the multitude of talented directors can become the signature of that director. Yet in spite of the different directors styles and use of comedy or drama to convey the message of love, the pieces mesh.
Of the stories, some directors stood out and some were more subtle in their use of the five minutes. Tom Tykwer, of Run Lola Run fame, used fast motion filming in order to speed up the entire love affair, which occurs between a blind French man and an American actress in the segment "Faubourg Saint-Denis. The irony of Tykwers segment is that the love affair is seen as a memory of the blind man because he misinterprets a phone call from the actress. In Alexander Paynes, "14th arrondissement, his lead character is a middle aged female American tourist experiencing Paris on her own. Her voice-over narrative reading a letter written in French for the final project in a French class taken for the purpose of the trip, tenderly exposes that her love was with the city of Paris itself. "Place des Fêtes" by South African director, Oliver Schmitz, follows Hassan, an immigrant who falls in love, loses his job, becomes homeless and ultimately gets stabbed and dies looking into the eyes of the woman he admired at the beginning of the vignette. Of course, it is Paris, and there will be a segment dedicated to the Eiffel Tower and mimes by Sylvain Chomet. Elijah Wood encounters a vampire in Vicenzo Natalis "Quartier de la Madeleine." The ghost of Oscar Wilde, played by Alexander Payne, appears to Rufus Sewell in Wes Cravens "Père-Lachaise." The Coens use Steve Buscemi in a very funny piece, filmed in the metro system, which strongly advises tourists to not make eye contact with the locals. Bastille, by Isabel Coixet, shows a man pretending to be in love and falling in love again to his dying wife, played by Miranda Richardson.
Paris, Je TAime is full of whimsical, tender, seductive, haunting, clever, funny and sad segments by noted international directors showing their admiration and appreciation for Paris, the city of love.
Is the myth of New Orleans remotely as powerful as the myth of Paris? Could we have our own New Orleans, Je T'Aime?