There is a certain cinematic romanticism about the city of Paris, and with "Paris, Je’Taime," eighteen international directors have composed a collective ode to the magical, innately lyrical place. The result, while bursting with perhaps a few too many stories, is well worth a viewing for the performances and stories that are at once haunting, charming, relatable and life-affirming.
Given only a few minutes to present their segment, each director spins their own Parisian love song within a different district of the sprawling city. There are the requisite stories of meet-cute and first attraction, the resurfacing of old flames, and validation of relationships taken for granted. Those scenes are charming enough, especially with an omnipresent tinkling of French accordions in the background to give the film an airy, sentimental feeling; but love is not always sweet, and the stories that deftly examine non-romantic love, and even loss and longing, prove to be the most moving of the entire collection.
The Coen brothers’ submission, starring eternal hangdog Steve Buscemi, alights on a lonely American tourist waiting for the subway in the City of Love. His handy guidebooks inform him of the sights, sensations, and STDs of Parisian life; that he falls victim in humorous style to the very sentiments that are popularly associated with Paris (art, amorous couples, and cute little tots) merits hilarious sympathy and lends the film a sly self-awareness.
Outsider-extraordinaire Alexander Payne‘s scene follows another lonely American tourist (Margo Martindale) through Paris as she narrates her trip in comically terrible French, as an assignment for her adult education language class back home. Middle-aged and single, her wistful soliloquy seems at first pitiable, but is heartwarmingly revealed to be something altogether different.
Despite its often comic, frequently celebratory takes on romantic love, "Paris, Je’Taime" doesn’t forget the emotional ache of love’s failings and drawbacks. A working class mother (Catalina Sandino Moreno) must leave her beloved newborn at daycare to care for a rich baby across town, only to be reminded constantly of the distance between them. An elderly couple (Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands) reignite their electric chemistry when they meet in a cafe to finalize divorce. And in the film’s most powerful scene, a mother (Juliette Binoche) mourning the loss of her young son is overcome with grief at the mere remembrance of his flights of imagination, and conjures his imaginary cowboy in order to gain closure.