Cinephile

By Buchanan, Kyle | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), May 8, 2007 | Go to article overview

Cinephile


Buchanan, Kyle, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


Why settle for just one American in Paris when the new movie Paris, je t'aime can give you a multitude? This omnibus film (comprised of shorts directed by the likes of Gus Van Sant, Alfonso Cuaron, and the Coen brothers) assigns an arrondissement to each director alongside a simple challenge: Make a five-minute love story set in Paris. Though you might expect these shorts to be composed of emblematic Parisian images, the city and its thespians actually play a quiet supporting role, receding into the background as imported actors like Natalie Portman and Nick Nolte do their business.

Of the 18 love stories on display, the only one with a queer take comes from Van Sant, and his modest short is one of the most successful. It follows Gaspard (Gaspard Ulliel), a native Parisian who, upon setting foot in a print shop in the Marais district, immediately becomes besotted with printer's apprentice Elie (Elias McConnell, of the director's Elephant). The sexy Gaspard is thrown off his game by this quiet young man, whose placid nonreactions eventually prompt Gaspard to get ever more desperate and revealing. There's an easily guessed twist, but that's not the point of this exercise (as it unfortunately is in some of the other shorts, including Cuaron's); instead, the question is what Gaspard sees in the uncommunicative Elie. Is he charmed by the boy's beauty, or is it that he can project himself and his desires onto Elie's broad, blank canvas?

Other sterling shorts include those by Tom Tykwer and Olivier Assayas, which both concern American actresses (Portman and Maggie Gyllenhaal, respectively) who bewitch the Frenchmen who cross their paths, and especially the closing short, directed by Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways), about a middle-aged Denver mail worker (Margo Martindale) taking a trip to Paris for the first time. The woman's out-of-shape physique and badly garbled French make her stand in stark contrast to the chic Parisians around her, and she could have been an easy target for Payne, who's not always known to be so kind to his characters. Fortunately, what emerges is a generous and even moving moment when this woman, whose life appears so unsophisticated, finds a transcendent experience in a Paris park that reminds us that the desire for love and connection is the same in any language.

With all these Americans invading their turf, it's only fair that Europe get something in return, and the U. …

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