If there's a kind of movie I hate to review more than any other, it's the one that sounds too good to be true. Like a jilted lover obsessively reliving every painful moment, it requires rehashing your embarrassing anticipation and then laying out every deflating pinprick of disappointment. Besides, readers really hate the bearer of bad news. It can sap the joie de vivre right out of you.
So here we go again. Paris, je t'aime
sounds like a connoisseur's delight: two hours of short films celebrating the most romantic city in the world, directed by an impressive roster of international auteurs and starring a legion of favorite actors: Olivier Assayas, the Coen Brothers, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Christopher Doyle, Alexander Payne, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant; Natalie Portman, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gerard Depardieu, Juliette Binoche, Ludivine Sagnier, Steve Buscemi, Bob Hoskins, Nick Nolte, Ben Gazzara, Marianne Faithfull, Miranda Richardson, Fanny Ardant, Gena Rowlands, Barbet Schroeder, Gaspard Ulliel. Surely, this could be nothing but a pleasure?
To be fair, there is some pleasure. The beautiful Leila Bekhti rearranges her hijab, Maggie Gyllenhaal develops a crush on her hash dealer, and Natalie Portman races after a blind man who guides her down cobblestone streets. But most of the shorts don't work. The score card: Bruno Podalydes, Gurinder Chadha, Isabel Coixet, and Olivier Assays turned in first-rate work, winning, touching miniatures that sparkle with life. About half of what's left is not without merit, like the films by Wes Craven or the exercises in style by Tom Tykwer, Christopher Doyle, and the Coen Brothers.
Leila Bekhti in Paris, je t'aimeFirst Look Pictures
But far too many of the shorts are duds that don't nourish the audience in even the most basic ways. Some rely on a single idea to carry them through. Alfonso Cuaron repeats his long take shenanigans from Children of Men, except that this time his single shot is drained of all excitement. Alexander Payne delivers an outsider's view that leaves a bad taste in your ears (if that's even possible.) Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas earn points for making Catalina Sandino Moreno sing, but it's just to hammer home a tired conceit. Anybody who has ever watched a DVD will have a very hard time keeping their itchy trigger fingers calm during the duller episodes--and there are a lot of duller episodes.
In fact, a fast forward button could easily fix everything that's wrong with Paris, je t'aime, and that's the problem with anthology movies in 2007: we're much more accustomed to random-access entertainment now. The film's ten-minute chunks fit the YouTube model perfectly--except that someone else is doing the surfing for you. Paris, je t'aime is not a movie, it's a playlist, and that's why you should resist the temptation to see it in the theater. Wait for best shorts to appear on the web, or get the DVD and keep the remote within reach.