A soft jazz piano soundtrack provides contrasting wintry commentary for this steamy meditation on the transience of love and the importance of family ties. In softer mood than the sexually explicit Ma mère, the director explores similar themes in a more entertaining style.
Analyzing themes of loss, melancholy and the difficulty of letting go, Dans Paris avoids mawkish self-indulgence by calling attention to itself as film and through the sensitive ensemble playing of its central characters. Jonathan (Louis Garrel), a laid-back Gen-X student of darkly handsome foppishness, engages in a series of inconsequential encounters with three women whom he beds during the course of one day. His moody brother Paul (Romain Duris) playing most of his scenes in crumpled underwear, is so depressed in the aftermath of a parting from his girlfriend that he jumped off a bridge into the Seine, afterwards swimming ashore apparently unharmed but then refusing to leave the bedroom. Their father (Guy Marchand), in whose cramped flat both have taken shelter and who feeds them despite his limited means, stoically goes through the domestic routines his wife performed before she left him for “that Canadian lumberjack.” He alternately fusses over and nags his sons as Christmas approaches and the streets of Paris grow ever more glamorous in the run up to the festive season. The film’s title reflects its focus on the inner lives and relationships of the protagonists in the aftermath of a family tragedy which overshadows their behavior and which is only revealed late in the narrative.
Despite the strong presence of Paul’s beautiful ex-girlfriend Anna (Joana Preiss) in several flashback scenes, during one of which she performs a semi-nude freeform dance for the ungrateful Paul, the film taps into the emotional lives of the three men in the story, and reveals them as both mutually dependent and mutually supportive. Jonathan complains about his brother occupying his bedroom – that he has to sleep on the sofa and endure the disturbance of his father’s interruptions – but tries to help Paul get over his broken love affair; he bets him he can reach the Paris department store Bon Marché within a ridiculously short time as part of a ruse to get him to leave the flat. Later on in the bedroom he in turn asks Paul and to read to him as he did when Jonathan was a child. That the moral of the children’s story is only obscurely related to the bothers’ relationship problems is a puzzling distraction from an otherwise overly sentimental scene.
Dans Paris pays homage to the 1960s New Wave with its spontaneous characters and authentic locations. While key conversations take place in the father’s flat, so overheated that nobody needs to wear clothes, claustrophobia is avoided by a presence of balcony looking out high over the city towards the Eiffel Tower, this same balcony a source of anxiety for the father when Paul ventures out onto it. Shots of Jonathan running through the streets, of car headlights at dusk along the Seine or the father dragging a Christmas tree along a pavement with a snapping dog convey a sense of the city as a presence that both beckons and encroaches. The very first shot of the film shows Jonathan’s winding up the bedroom shutters to let in the dawn light of the city to reveal the bed has three occupants.
Stylish ironic references such Jonathan, affecting the role of narrator, addressing the camera directly, or pausing to catch his breath in front of cinema posters, or the father glumly repeating Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears to himself as he prowls, pyjama-clad around the narrow corridors, add a dimension of quirky humor. This is also true of the scenes with the cheerfully brisk and volatile mother (Marie-France Pisier), who drops in to cheer up Paul but who leaves as unexpectedly and abruptly as she arrives.
The harrowing montage of flashback scenes as Paul and Anna stretch out their inevitable parting are contrasted with a bizarre sung telephone conversation which hints at reconciliation. Jonathon’s encounters with young women in Paris are entertaining, especially the one where he meets the girl to whom he owes 3,000 Euros and who is not so easily shaken off as the others. In the final analysis, the director suggests, it is the blood tie that delivers security whilst other activities and relationships circle on the periphery, as seductive and essentially ephemeral as the City of Lights at Christmas.
© 2007 Sheila Cornelius. All rights reserved.
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