Paris merits 18 cinematic love letters in "Paris je t'aime"
Widely varied in tone and style but not in quality, the short films touch a lot of bases: fantasy, romance, mime, horror, comedy, bitter drama.
Special to The Seattle Times
"Paris je t'aime — A Collective Feature Film," with Elijah Wood, Juliette Binoche,
Willem Dafoe, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Various directors and writers. 121 minutes. Rated R for
language and brief drug use. In French and English, with English subtitles. Seven Gables, Uptown.
Live-action collections of short films usually limit themselves to three tales ("New York Stories") or four ("Kwaidan"). Not so "Paris je t'aime — A Collective Feature Film." It presents 18 short stories, which view Paris from many different angles, over the course of a couple of hours.
Widely varied in tone and style but not in quality, they touch a lot of bases: fantasy, romance, mime, horror, comedy, bitter drama. If you happen to react badly to one segment, never mind: There's another one coming up tout de suite, and it might be more to your taste.
Showtimes and trailer
"Paris je t'aime — A Collective Feature Film," with Elijah Wood, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Various directors and writers.
121 minutes. Rated R for language and brief drug use. In French and English, with English subtitles.
Some directors do what you'd expect. Alfonso Cuarón, fresh from the long tracking shots of "Children of Men," does it all over again in his handling of a twisted tale featuring a raspy-voiced Nick Nolte. Tom Tykwer, remembered most fondly for the near-subliminal storytelling in "Run Lola Run," uses a similar flashy method for Natalie Portman's episode about an actress and a blind man.
A few actors suggest roles they've done in the past. Willem Dafoe, who played Jesus a couple of decades ago, turns up as a God-like cowboy who can briefly resurrect the dead son of a grieving mom (Juliette Binoche). Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara, veterans of John Cassavetes' raw dramas, play a tough ex-couple with a lot of baggage.
But there are those who break from type as well. Elijah Wood forgets about that Ring, sprouts fangs and gnoshes on the neck of another vampire. Rufus Sewell turns up as a boor who learns about wit from the ghost of Oscar Wilde (played by Alexander Payne). Maggie Gyllenhaal, usually such an alert presence in movies, does a neat turnaround, playing a stoned actress who's out of it much of the time.
It's difficult to pick favorites from this collection, but Gus Van Sant does wonders with "Le Marais," an ironic piece about a standard pickup line that turns into a soul-revealing monologue. In "Tuileries," the Coen brothers once more team up with Steve Buscemi, to hilarious effect.
There are a couple of shorts by lesser-known directors that beg to be noticed. Especially enjoyable are Isabel Coixet's "Bastille," which reverses a standard breaking-up scenario while giving Miranda Richardson quite a workout; and Gurinder Chadha's "Quais de Seine," about a young man who loses the approval of his juvenile buddies when he helps a Muslim woman.
The best is saved for last: Payne's "14th arrondissement" takes its time to create a Parisian epiphany that both pokes fun at an American tourist (Margo Martindale) and finds grace in her acceptance of a fragile moment of transcendence.
John Hartl: email@example.com