Paris Je T'aime

Rated NR

This sounds like a great idea for a movie: Get 20 great directors, and give them each a neighborhood of Paris and five minutes of film time. Unfortunately, most of these long-form directors don’t handle the short form well, and they wind up producing fluffy pieces that culminate in punch lines. The exceptions, though, are exceptional: Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run) makes great use of his few minutes to produce a riveting experimental love story about a blind man who sees his past flit before his eyes. And Alexander Payne is in top form with a piece narrated in poorly accented French by a middle-aged American woman on her first visit to the city of lights. It’s touching and sad and powerful in the way that Payne’s films (Citizen Ruth, Election, Sideways) are, eschewing the standard cinematic fascination with beautiful people for a painfully realistic character sketch of a woman who maintains an almost delusional positive attitude in the face of a creeping void of meaninglessness. Otherwise, though, there are a bunch of painful clunkers (including a misfire by the Coen brothers), and a few sweet but not terribly memorable love stories. The cast, though, is mind-blowing: Steve Buscemi, Barbet Schroeder, Miranda Richardson, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Nick Nolte, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Bob Hoskins, Elijah Wood, Natalie Portman, Ben Gazzara, Gena Rowlands and Gérard Depardieu all show up, with varying levels of effectiveness.

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