With its throng of critics’-fave directors (Gus Van Sant, Walter Salles, Gurinder Chadha and more) and international marquee names (Juliette Bincoche, Natalie Portman, Bob Hoskins, Gérard Depardieu, Rufus Sewell and more), Paris Je T’Aime is what it must feel like to be cluster-bombed by the Cannes Film Festival. In other words, it’s bucketing shorts, which range from the poignant to the banal, the spirited to the tedious, the witty to the tragic.
Each director takes on a different Parisian district – arrondissement – to reflect the city’s amorous but patchwork soul through their diminutive slice of running time. Hence, Van Sant pitches up in Le Marais with the swoony tale of a gabby Frenchman (Gaspard Ulliel) who feels an instant connection with a printer’s apprentice (Elias McConnell); the Coens go underground for the playful adventures of a hapless American tourist (Buscemi); and Salles draws the unfeeling line between posh and poverty, as Catalina Sandino Moreno’s toiling immigrant abandons her own enfant daily to be nanny for a yummy maman.
Inevitably the story torrent yields a juddery momentum, stalled by the occasional duffer. With 18 yarns about the City of Love, sure enough, up crops a mime romance – courtesy of Gallic helmer Sylvain Chomet – that could make you loathe the white-faced street parasites even more than Woody Allen does. Equally, Chadha’s pro-hijab sermon on the Seine feels like a school lecture.
But Paris Je T’Aime also has glittering highlights: Oliver Schmitz’s ‘Place Des Fêtes’ is wince-inducing and heart-wringing. And the film exits triumphantly with Alexander Payne’s sardonically amusing entry, a clumsy-French monologue by Yankee frump Carol (Margo Martindale). Ending with Payne leaves you feeling giddy, yet also relieved. But it’s on DVD, in short bursts, where this elaborate French kiss will be most at home.