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Inside Cédric Klapisch’s city of a million stories

Dec. 8, 2009
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Pierre is downcast from the news. The professional dancer has just been told that he has a serious heart problem, which can only be addressed with a transplant; even then, the odds of success are equal to a coin toss. Afterward, Pierre (Romain Duris) trudges head down along the crowded streets, through all the busy life of Paris, slouching on his way to death.

Despite the tragic dimension, Paris, the latest film by Cédric Klapisch, is more comedy than drama. The light and urbane wit is reminiscent of When the Cat’s Away and other bright, upbeat, conversational films by the French director. Aside from the obvious asset of the city itself, Paris boasts a likable cast headed by Juliette Binoche as Pierre’s sister Elise. She is a 40-year-old social worker fretting that her looks, and her life, are through, even though she still turns heads while bounding along the streets. It’s left to Pierre to be the optimist: “Give chance a chance,” he insists. “Your life’s not over.”

Well, gloom is easily dispelled in the City of Light. Pierre and Elise are just two strands in a web of intersecting plotlines in a movie whose main character is Paris itself, with the metropolis serving as a microcosm of humanity. The problem Klapisch never solves is how to maintain sufficient interest in—and understanding of—the plethora of people he introduces. Like many ambitious movies with too many main characters, jotting down a running who’s who list is helpful for keeping track. Some story lines are left undernourished and underdeveloped.

Among the most interesting characters is the history professor Roland (Fabrice Luchini). Worried about remaining relevant, he reluctantly agrees to host a glib television series on Paris, which allows him to wander among actors playing figures from the city’s past. And while lecturing at the Sorbonne, Roland’s eyes fall upon an enchanting young student. His old heart starts beating in the lusty rhythm of amour. The character of the professor cleverly embodies the creative tension between old and new in Paris, a richly historic city unafraid to embrace the postmodern world.

Opens Dec. 11 at the Downer Theatre.


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