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Originally published Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 3:01 PM

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Movie review

'Paris': Muted lives in a radiant city

"Paris," a pretty travelogue about mortality, stars Juliet Binoche as a Parisian social worker whose brother learns that he has potentially fatal heart problems.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Paris,' with Juliette Binoche, Mélanie Laurent. Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini, François Cluzet. Written and directed by Cédric Klapisch. 124 minutes. Not rated; includes rough language. In French, with English subtitles. Egyptian; see Page 17.

A pretty travelogue about mortality, "Paris" never quite lives up to what turns out to be a presumptuous title.

In the opening scenes, a professional dancer (Romain Duris) learns that he has potentially fatal heart problems, while a 95-year-old man's funeral is attended by his sons (Fabrice Luchini, François Cluzet). Later on, a nasty traffic accident claims another cast member.

The dancer's sister (Juliette Binoche) moves in with him and tries not to be too critical of his increasingly passive people-watching habits. Luchini's character, a professor who uses text-messaging to stalk one of his students (Mélanie Laurent), is going through a midlife crisis, and so is the frequently tear-stained Cluzet.

Attempting to tie their story lines together are postcard-perfect widescreen pictures that show off familiar landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, which is lit up for the year-end holidays like a shimmying carnival attraction.

Surveying the sights, however, isn't enough to sustain a two-hour movie, especially when the characters cope so predictably with their dilemmas. At one point, the student and teacher even mock the stereotypical nature of their behavior.

Some characters barely register at all — most conspicuously a Cameroonian man with romantic aspirations. Why cut away to so many touristy, redundant shots of Cameroon when your movie is called "Paris"?

The writer-director, Cédric Klapisch, once made a charming trifle, "When the Cat's Away" (1996), and he tries hard to establish connections between the actors and the roles he's invented for them. Luchini almost makes the professor's sexual fantasies ring true, and Binoche and Douris quickly establish a credible, almost incestuous bond.

But Klapisch is trying for an Altman-esque panorama, and he strains to make some kind of statement about 21st- century Europe. Only the brief, intimate moments hit home: a baker's prejudice-filled rant, a short showdown between Binoche and her fellow social workers, a film-within-a-film focusing on Luchini's faltering approach to Parisian history.

John Hartl:

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