Paris, Je T'aime (France; 90 min.)

directed by: Olivier Assayas, Gus Van Sant, Ethan and Joel Coen, Isabel Coixet, Christopher Doyle, Alexander Payne, Walter Salles, Alfonso Cuarón, Wes Craven, Tom Tykwer, et al
starring: Steve Buscemi, Marianne Faithfull, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Barbet Schroeder, Miranda Richardson, Leonor Watling, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Nick Nolte, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Fanny Ardant, Bob Hoskins, Natalie Portman, Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazarra, Gérard Depardieu, Margo Martindale, Elijah Wood, Emily Mortimer
Paris, Je T'aime

Bruce says: "Twenty two directors join together for twenty short stories about love, each set in a different arrondissmont in Paris. The directors approach love from different angles. Some are dead serious, some bittersweet and others, quite amusing. By the end of the film it is nearly impossible to remember all the stories clearly. Collectively, however, they have quite an impact and they certainly do Paris justice. Some of the vignettes are quite stunning. Others are less successful or fall flat. That they all mesh together so well is miraculous since the writing , editing and cinematography all are the product of separate hands. The closest thing to creative continuity lies in the editing ; one editor (Simon Jaquet) is given credit for at least seven of the stories. Two vignettes were filmed by the same cinematographer (Eric Gautier.) In most cases the director also served as screenwriter with the notable exception of Gena Rowlands who wrote the 'Latin Quarter' segment. Ton Tykwer gets an original music credit for 'Faubourg Saint-Denis.'

"Among my favorites are Gus Van Sant's 'Le Marais' in which two boys who meet in a framing shop connect spiritually but not verbally. In 'Pigalle' directed by Richard LaGravenese, Bob Hoskyns and Fanny Ardant contemplate the question of what we do out of love. 'I ache,' is the response. In 'Quartier de la Madeleine' vampires express a different kind of love. In Frédéric Auburtin's 'Latin Quarter' Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazarra have a final meeting before their divorce. Alexander Payne's '14th Arrondissement' features a poignant Margo Martindale as a Denver letter carrier who is emotionally overcome by the City of Light. The wonderful Catalina Sandino Moreno delicately balances her roles a mother and nanny in Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas's 'Loin du 16ème.'

The most disappointing is Christopher Doyle's 'Porte de Choisy' segment which feels clumsily out of step with the other vignettes. Sylvain Chomet's 'Tour Eiffel' features a lackluster mime. Joel and Ethan Coen's 'Tuilleries' segment about jealous love also doesn't cut the moutarde. Many may argue that there are too many stories in this big city. To that hypothesis, I would argue 'Better too much than too little.' 4 cats"

Jay says: "The idea behind PARIS, JE TAIME was to tell a Paris love story for each of the City of Light's twenty districts, each from a different director. It falls a bit short of its lofty potential - two of the twenty arrondissements don't make it into the film, and many of the tales don't seem terribly specific to Paris. I don't mind, though, the way I see it, Paris is just an excuse for a passel of talented filmmakers to tell us a story in six or seven minutes.

"Six minutes is not a lot of time; filmmakers used to working at feature length might find themselves feeling cramped. Fortunately, that is seldom a problem for any of them. In some ways, the directive to make a love story is a big help; all you really need for a romance is two people; adding many more will likely complicate things and distract from the basic idea the director is trying to get across. As much love story might seem restrictive, it turns out to be a fairly flexible description. We get the expected types of stories, the ones that cover the start of a romance, but we also see a number of parents and children, people set in their relationships, people having second thoughts, and relationships reaching their ends.

"Expecting all eighteen stories to be top-notch, and a few do turn out to be let-downs. I found that those tended to be the talkiest sequences, though that takes several different forms. The first segment, Bruno Podalydes's 'Montmarte', has writer/director/star Podalydes talking to himself a lot, and he's not quite so charming as he seems to imagine himself. Gus Van Sant's 'Le Marais' gives us a one-sided conversation, and I found that one side pretty annoying. Scruffy guys not saying much seems to be Van Sant's thing lately; pity the film's only gay love story couldn't be more interesting. Olivier Assayas' 'Quartier des Enfant Rouges' isn't terribly verbose, but is kind of charmless.

"While not off-putting like those entries, Wes Craven's 'Père-Lachaise' cribs its best lines from Oscar Wilde, and they don't sound right coming from Rufus Sewell's character (Emily Mortimer, however, is delightful). Richard LaGravenese has wonderful chemistry at his disposal in Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardant; 'Pigalle' should be a bit better than it is. Nobuhiro Sawa's 'Place des Victoires' falls a bit short of its ambitions.

"Not all talking is bad, though, not by a long shot. Isabelle Coixet uses a lot of narration in 'Bastille', almost completely substituting it for dialog; it's good narration, but it's kind of distancing. Despite her missteps, though, there's real sweetness and sadness in that short. Conversations at opposite ends of a relationship are presented by the teams of Gurinder Chadha & Paul Mayeda Berges in 'Quais de Seine' and Gena Rowlands, Gerard Depardieu & Frederic Auburtin in 'Quartier Latin' (they're nearly at opposite ends of the film, for that matter). Chadha & Berges give us a sweet tale of a pair getting to know each other, while Rowlands (who wrote while Depardieu and Auburtin directed) gives herself a viciously polite and barbed conversation with Ben Gazzara. Alfonso Cuaron, meanwhile, teases us with a conversation between Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier that takes wonderful twists and turns in a single shot as they walk through 'Parc Monceau'. Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas implore us to listen carefully to how Catalina Sandino Morena delivers the same lines twice in 'Loin du 16ème'; the irony is almost painful.

'Cuaron's tracking shot aside, the ones with some of the least words and most visual style are some of the most memorable. Vincenzo Natali's 'Quartier de la Madeline' is a delight, a silent film pastiche featuring Elijah Wood as a tourist who comes upon a beautiful vampire. It's filled with deep shadows, black and white except for the bright red blood, with a bombastic score by Michael Andrews. The ending is funny and romantic and delightfully gross. The Coen Brothers start off with an odd camera angle on Steve Buscemi, who makes for a great straight man in the 'Tuileries' subway station. Even if the directors weren't identified up front, theirs would be immediately identifiable. The same goes for Tom Tykwer, although the fast-moving, playing-with-time style he uses in 'Faubourg Saint-Denis' hasn't really been his mode of operation since Run Lola Run. He blitzes us with an entire relationship between American actress Natalie Portman and blind Mechoir Beslon in fast-forward, composing the soundtrack himself, too. Also playing with time is Oliver Schmitz, whose 'Place des Fetes' injects potential tragedy into what looks like a sweet story.

"The wildest visuals come from two of the expected places: Christopher Doyle, an award-winning director of photography who mostly works in Asia, makes a beautiful and chaotic film about 'Porte de Choisy' that I'm pretty sure makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It's beautiful enough that I don't care, but I can't fault anyone who sees it, asks 'what the hell was that?', and faults it for not giving an answer. Just as eccentric but much more comprehensible is 'Tour Eiffel' from TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE director Sylvain Chomet. He spins a hilarious fantasy about a man (Paul Punter) for whom mime is not just a performing art, but a way of life. He meets his soulmate, which is cute, but not nearly as brilliant as giving us a world where mimes are an especially annoying class of neighbors.

"The soul of the film is saved for the end, though, as Alexander Payne gives us '14th arrondissement'. Margo Martindale narrates for us in the sort of American-accented French that hurts the ears of native speakers watching the movie, pouring out the loneliness of this middle-aged mail carrier from Denver in Paris on her own. It's a situation that drives many tourists in many cities to despair, but Paris isn't most cities. Even as her words and expression are sad, the happiness in her voice isn't completely forced; by the end of the film, she'll have fallen in love with Paris, and feel that the city loves her back.

"There's a couple minutes after that, showing the characters from the different segments interacting, but, there's really nothing more that needs to be said. Yes, there are some disappointing bits to PARIS JE T'AIME, but there are others so perfect that they'll break or mend your heart. With eighteen neighborhoods to choose from, everyone will likely find something that gets to them. 5 cats.'