|DAVID KOSKAS/IFC FILMSJuliette Binoche is a single mom social worker in “Paris.’’ (David Koskas/Ifc Films)|
Lovely people abound in a loving look at Paris
After sojourns in Barcelona (2002’s art-house hit “L’Auberge Espagnole’’), St. Petersburg and London (2005’s “Russian Dolls’’), the French writer-director Cédric Klapisch has come home to Paris and to “Paris.’’ The new film is the best armchair holiday going - the cast is lovely to behold and the plot dips in and out of the arrondissements with panache. You almost don’t mind that none of it adds up to terribly much.
Like a Gallic Robert Altman, Klapisch introduces us to a handful of characters and lets them roll around the city like marbles, colliding and ricocheting off each other. A single mom social worker named Elise (Juliette Binoche) tries to help her kid brother Pierre (Romain Duris), a dancer diagnosed with a possibly fatal heart disease. An august history professor, Roland (Fabrice Luchini), becomes obsessed with a beautiful student named Laetitia (Mélanie Laurent), texting her adolescent mash notes and watching her reaction from the next café over.
Caroline (Julie Ferrier) works in an open-air market in a stall with her ex-husband (Albert Dupontel), dodging the flirtations of his colleagues and trying to carve out an independent existence. In far-off Cameroon, Benoit (Kingsley Kum Abang) sets out on a risky voyage to Paris, hoping to join his brother (Zinedine Soualem) and look up a shallow French hottie (Audrey Marnay) he met while working at a resort.
All these characters and more weave in and out of the tapestry of the city, and one of Klapisch’s points is that we’re so much more closely knit than we realize. The dying dancer lives across the street from the beautiful student; the social worker has her eye on the ex-husband in the market stall; the corner boulangerie with its fresh baguettes and officious proprietor (Karin Viard) is the hub from which an entire city seems to radiate.
Klapisch pokes fun at le Franche stereotypes - an accordionist atop a Montmartre wall turns out to be an actor hired to provide local color for a TV production. Instead, “Paris’’ indulges richer and more resonant clichés, quoting Baudelaire on the soundtrack and rolling out the Erik Satie music (very effectively, too). Christophe Beaucarne’s camerawork throbs with a sense of place, investing such mundane objects as an espresso cup with fresh presence.
There’s a long-view awareness of history to the film, often literally: All the characters live high up, with vistas that open to the metropolis spreading before them. The professor gives his brother (François Cluzet) a painting of the view from his balcony 300 years earlier. The ancien regime is never fully out of sight.
If “Paris’’ feels like an Altman film in structure, it lacks the late filmmaker’s bite, not to mention his genuine curiosity about human beings. This movie about hesitant connection itself struggles to connect. Klapisch has made a moody reverie - a metropolitan love letter punctuated by sighs. The tragedy, as he sees it, is that people can live in such a magical place without understanding how blessed they are.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.