I have known many quality French people in my life. But if I had to choose a favorite, it would be my Aunty M. She’s not really my aunt and her name is actually Mathilde, but we’re close enough to be blood relatives and I can’t make my mouth lazy enough to pronounce her French name, so we’ll just call her Aunty M. A dinner party with Aunty M is a night of humor and beauty — she swishes her wine, takes delicate bites of her ‘asperge,’ makes sexual innuendos and laughs at her own European-ness. I think that I liked Cédric Klapisch’s “Paris” because it felt like two hours with my beloved Aunty.
Like my Aunty M, “Paris” is distinctly not for our generation. Like any good foreign film, it weaves together the stories of four or five disconnected characters and draws unforeseen connections through the juxtaposition of their stories. But lamentably, not one of these characters resonates directly with the standard teenage audience. There’s a single mother in desperate need of a boy toy, her brother who is on the brink of a premature death, a professor having an affair with his student and an African immigrant struggling to reach France. Basically, “Paris” falls into a familiar world of foreign drama in which we must believe any and every plot twist thrown our way.
That said, the film retains its accessibility through the unbearably believable realism of its minute exchanges and character interactions. When the lusty professor goes to see a shrink, he speaks with a down-to-earth honesty that is shockingly relatable to any viewer who has ever felt misunderstood and a little crazy. “Paris” hit its high point in its portrayal of the most awkward love scene ever shown on screen. Dying for one last love-making, the young brother is paired up with a colleague of his sister’s. The ensuing exchange, in which the randomly chosen woman apologizes because she’s not waxed, and the dying man acquiesces because “beggars can’t be choosers,” is exactly what the audience needs. Midway into a plot that is almost alienating in its unreality, this scene is perfectly and refreshingly realistic. It’s just like the time my Aunty M spent 45 minutes making small talk about her job as a lawyer for a human waste company before leaning over and whispering, “You know what I’d like to do? Lose a lot of weight, dye my hair and become a slut again!”
It’s lucky that actors Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini and the rest are able to pull off these awkward interactions, because the rest of the film is severely lacking in originality and plot. Despite its focus on excitingly unpredictable characters, “Paris” falls quickly into a story of obvious clichés. The middle aged mother finds love again, the immigrant struggles through hard work and dedication to make it to France etc. etc.
And though this predictability could ruin a film, “Paris” retains its likability because it knows it’s nothing new. In one scene, the elderly professor asks his new playmate if she is okay with “the student-screwing-her-professor cliché?” She is. She even likes it. And if that’s the way you look at it, “Paris” provides a refreshing take on some good old fashioned clichés. It’s like the time my Aunty M swished a little too much wine and poured it all over her designer frock — with a charming little chortle, she giggled, “Well, that’s the French for you!”