314) Paris (2008) Dir: Cedric Klapisch Date Released: September 2009 Date Seen: September 26, 2009 Rating: 2.75/5
The egoism inherent in any meta-reflexive, quasi-autobiographical narratives can often make them feel like exercises in masochistic self-deprecation. Cedric Klapisch's Paris begins by announcing such an impulse, using Pierre (Romain Duris), an affluent Parisian with a fatal heart condition* to tell us that the film is a story about storytelling as homeopathy. Nestled safely in his plush condo above the Parisian streets, Pierre looks down on the world and imagines what peoples lives are like so that he can exorcise his own demons. To deal with his own latent racism, he creates the character of the bigoted bourgeois boulangier. She thinks she's praising her North African cashier by complementing her race for being hard-working and giving but she's just being a selfless bitch. The more time we spend with these characters, who allow Pierre and us to live vicariously through stories that pointedly never have a resolution, the more we see that they're doing the same thing, turning other people into their victims, their knights in shining armor, etc. So what real-life problem is Cedric Klapisch trying to avoid/work out here?
If you're frustrated that I'm applying Klapisch's simplistic post-modern logic, good; that makes two of us. Since L'Auberge Espagnole, Klapisch's snappy pop romances have quickly become more anguished and self-involved; perhaps the immediate pleasures of creating heart-felt but shallow meat puppets has lost its appeal. Here he's gazing so deeply into his navel that he doesn't even have the guts to drive his points home, using the caprice of his dying avatar to excuse his own disinterest. If he had really wanted to leave his characters' unfinished stories enough room to make them worth contemplating, he would have actually developed them into full-fledged stories. As it is, it looks like he's too spineless to really take Elise (Juliette Binoche), Pierre's sister, to task for her liberal guilt or even blame Pierre for wanting the aforementioned North African girl partly out of lust and partly out of pity.**
But he doesn't have to because that's not the film's aim. Klapisch aims low enough that all he needs to do to succeed is show us how and why people use each other--Sexual frustration! Daddy issues! More sexual frustration!--to defend their wounded psyches. Then he can shrug, I mean have Pierre shrug, his shoulders and sigh contentedly "Ah, Paris" at the end, as if the existence of a limitless series of possibilities had an inherently palliative effect.
*This is one the first of many disingenuous feints Klapisch makes in the film. Though Duris was, in his heyday, an effete dancer, the disease he's dying of is not in fact "Le Sida" but rather a heart condition, which seems like a dishonest way of making him a straight gay man.
**Can you tell that I've just finished watching Todd Solondz's Storytelling? I think you can.