No one, but no one, makes movies that better capture a sense of place than Cedric Klapisch. Since the miraculous little When the Cat's Away (Chacun Cherche son Chat, 1996) he's consistently been able to evoke a real sense of lived lives and inhabited city spaces. Wonderful then, to discover that after all the travels of The Spanish Apartment (2002) and Russian Dolls (2005) he's returned to Paris to make one of the best films ever made of those little universes within the City of Light. That said if you know nothing about France or its history and culture you just won't get it!
The hook on which this multidimensional movie hangs is Pierre (Klapisch favorite, Romain Duris), a professional dancer who's justlearned that his heart is failing. A transplant may save him, maybe not. All this has echoes of the great Agnes Varda film, Cleo de 5 a 7 (1962), where Cleo, a young singer played by Corinne Marchand, also gets a frightening diagnosis and she too, walks the streets of the city facing her own death. Maybe Paris (the film) achieves even more as a kind of aubade or farewell to the dance of life that ceaselessly crosses Paris (the city) in time and in space.
The centre of the film is Pierre's sister Élise (Juliette Binoche in her most relaxed and charming performance in years). Elise moves in with Pierre (along with her children!) to help out and her own little adventures as she shops at the local market opens out the film as we discover the complex and many layered live of the market workers, especially glum Jean (Albert Dupontel) and his soon to be ex wife Caroline (Julie Ferrier).
Another story thread follows terminally bored history professor, Roland Verneuil (Fabrice Luchini) embarking on a new career as a TV pundit: these scenes are beautifully satirical yet also curiously touching.
Among the many delights of the movie is a great dream scene where Roland's brother, architect Philippe Verneuil (François Cluzet) is plunged into the 3D Universe used to sell off one of his middle class housing Projects and floats like a tormented Mario Brother from some gleaming modernist disaster to rapturous potential buyers and back again. This delicious scene goes on just long bought to make more than a few silly dreams of home improvement (let alone all those fantastical TV Reality shows) seem, as they are, utterly absurd , yet also quite nightmarish in their silly faith in problem solving by buying stuff. For this alone the movie's worth the price of admission!
Interwoven, too, is the story of the anxious young Benoit in Cameroon, adrift and about to try to join his Paris based émigré family in that most dangerous of ways, the open boat from Africa to Europe. All French life, it seems, is touched upon, not least the political morass facing governments as they grapple with the problem of the poor and dispossessed out in the projects. The music track is equally complex, with that old favorite (since Truffaut used it in Shoot the Piano Player almost fifty years ago!) Erik Satie's Gymnopedie Number 1 again weaving its extraordinary spell! You just have to be there!
Klapisch has done something marvelous here, a film full of ideas and humanity, yet one that somehow enables us to engage with and care for so many complex characters without ever having to resort to stereotypes. It's a great achievement and a glorious movie about that city to which we must all return in our dreams: Paris.