Paris 36 Directed by: Christophe Barratier Cast: Gérard Jugnot, Clovis Cornillac, Kad Merad, Nora Arnezeder Running Time: 2 hrs Rating: PG-13
Plot: A craftily shot French drama about a fledgling theater in the heart of Paris that falls under hard times and must succumb to a tyrant of a landlord who attempts to bring it to its demise. However, once an astonishingly alluring young actress arrives on the scene, hope returns to The Chansonia. An uncanny mixture of dramatic scenes coupled with visually stunning musical numbers enhance the plot by giving audience members a chance to sing along to the twisted tale of love, deceit, and deception.
Who’s It For?: As with 2008’s The Class, this film requires a tremendous amount of reading as the French-language format requires the subtitles to come a-flowing. Those of you unfettered by this systematic requirement needn’t worry. Though the film takes a hop, skip, and a jump to get going, you’re quickly unaware you’re doing any “work” at all.
Expectations: Foreign films released in America aren’t expected to do much in the financial realm. The potential for critical acclaim is what draws European filmmakers across the pond. Expect a shrewdly thrown together spectacle that goes for both the heartstrings, and the melodies encased inside viewers who loved Chicago more than they loved Moulin Rouge. Sorry, Baz…
Gérard Jugnot as Pigoil: Think Bob Hoskins if he were [A] French, and [B} never intentionally funny. Jugnot is sublime as a life-long stagehand whose career hits a dead end when his beloved place of employment goes under. His performance tugs at the string of Americans with his economic difficulties. It's such an endearing portrayal of an unexpected pink-slip that it’s occasionally hard to watch. What’s worse, he’s stripped not only of his job, but also of his son, and only a very talented actor can pull off these sentiments without trying too hard. It never appears as though the Frenchman is doing so, and his brave efforts pay dividends as a result. Score: 9
Clovis Cornillac as Milou: Clenched rage. Or is it? Cornillac doesn’t have to do much to keep us guessing where his priorities lie. He’s supposedly the head of a Red Army-endorsed union that stands up against the oppression of a slave-driving government. What’s really going on in his head? What are his motives? Are his ambitions merely the culmination of a slew of faux-ideals encapsulating an entirely over performed farce? These are the questions you’ll ask over and again throughout the film, and Cornillac holds his emotions dangerously close to his chest. Though initially just a side-player, Milou finds himself at the epicenter of the story by film’s end, and you’ll be very glad such a strong actor was plucked to carry out such a daunting task. Score: 8
Kad Merad as Jacky: The comic-center of a film that isn’t often sure how funny it wants to be. Merad is a highly touted French thespian, and does what he can with a character that seems to be struggling with a bit of cinematic- schizophrenia. As a grotesquely underachieving-imitator, he’s initially the anchor that keeps The Chansonia chained to mediocrity. It’s only once he forgoes a shoddy slew of impersonations, and stands up to the evil holding his friends from their dreams that we see what Merad’s capable of. The trouble is, it’s too late for us [and his character – plot spoiler] to acknowledge what a commendable performance his could have been. Score: 6
Nora Arnezeder as Douce: Instant star. Who’s to say whether her performance will be seen be enough American contemporaries to garner enough attention, but one thing’s for sure: She deserves it. Remember how electrifying Franka Potente was in Run Lola Run? She won several roles in American films as a result [most notably running along side Jason Bourne], and Arnezeder certainly should as well. Douce is a beatific young woman whose self-consciousness nearly blankets her immense talent, and it takes a Hell of an actor to appear uncertain of herself despite being dealt a full house of beauty, stage presence, and grace. Score: 10
Talking: You get more in subtext than in spoken word, and as the film wears on, the weight of the discourse heightens. The French say more with less, and Paris 36 is a staunch example of this. The truth always finds its way to the surface… eventually. The jokes cut deeper despite rarely providing a gut-wrenching moment, but it’s okay because hilarity has no place in this film—Just occasional amusement that lasts long enough to keep the story from getting too bleak in its darkest moments. Score: 8
Sights It’s a daunting task to provide a fresh look at Paris, regardless of the era you’re depicting. Enough tweaking is done to the horizon at dusk to make 1930’s Paris seem fresh and inviting, despite the film’s dreary demeanor. Score: 8
Sounds: This isn’t necessarily a musical so much as it’s a feature film with timely musical-moments. However, the songs send a necessary surge into the continuity while also providing brief breaks from the story [trust me, you won’t mind this]. The songs themselves aren’t so much revolutionary as they are pleasant odes to how anecdotal choreographed music can be to the poison of malcontent amongst the characters and audience-members alike. If that doesn’t make sense, go watch Rent again and try to tell me the catchiness of the ensembles don’t often make you forget that the film [and play] are about the death of free love, and the birth of a killing-machine of a disease. Score: 6
Best Scene: A tender moment between two forbidden lovers [Milou and Douce] pulls from Shakespeare without reminding too much about what went down in Verona. It isn’t so much a plagiaristic moment as it is a nod to the greatest love story ever told, because really when you’re in the process of falling in love, it seems your story very well may be.
Ending: A rare treat. This film isn’t American, but the ending very well may be. Some shocking occurrences take place as the film winds down, and invigorate temporary fear that they may not finish the story in any sort of Hollywood fashion by film’s end. Let’s just say all true romantics will go home with fresh moisture under the eyes, and new found appreciation for why we bother trying to make our dreams come true in the first place, despite the potential of horridly telling consequences that may arise along the way.
Questions: Does the film try to accomplish too much, and as a result sink below the standards like films should rise to? Do the characters come off as caricatures rather than authentically thought out persons? Does a film reliant on subtitles work when it’s laden with musical numbers? The answers to all three will be deftly answered by the time the credits roll. Rest assured.
Rewatchability: Add it to your DVD, or blu-ray collection as soon as possible. Great “make the moves on her” date movie.
Not everyone will like this film. It takes a true appreciator of film to accept the chances the few brave directors still take with the cinematic tools at their disposal. Paris 36 borrows from proven silver-screen templates, but doesn’t apologize for it, and it doesn’t have to. This is a film that takes a little too long to begin, but once it does you’re hooked to the story and its characters without question. A mesmerizing young songstress is the glue that binds this picture together, and without her angelic presence and daunting vocal-abilities, it may not have flown as high. Luckily, a talented-as-Hell cast is employed to keep the film engaging. It’s over the top in moments that are fleeting enough to allow you to forget an occasional unnecessarily added moment of fluff. Largely, this is a strong film with a resilient amount of heart. An enjoyable import from the same country that gave us a statuesque welcome mat for all wide-eyed romantics the world over.
Final Score: 7/10