Paris, Je t’aime: A Declaration of Love to Cinema

By Louise Hurtel


Stories of love from the city of love, Paris

Paris, Je t’aime
is a collective film offering a selection of eighteen stories set up in the city of love (Paris). Directed by twenty renowned filmmakers coming from around the world, including Olivier Assayas, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Joel and Ethan Coen, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Alexander Payne, Walter Salles, Tom Tykwer and Gus Van Sant to mention only a few, this engaging and innovative project was made possible thanks to Emmanuel Benbihy and the very experienced Claudie Ossard (Betty Blue, The City of Lost Children and Amelie), who both produced the film and offered the opportunity to international directors to express their views and outlooks on Paris.

The main originality of the film is that each director brings his/her personal contribution to the film by presenting a new portrait of the French capital, revealing the atmosphere and life in several arrondissements and locations of the city. Emotionally engaging, and absolutely original into the concept of film genres, this is a sweet-sour mixture of different stories plunging the spectator for almost two hours into an enjoyable adventure and quest for an unknown Paris. Far from the touristy places and as we approach this unknown territory, we discover a remote and atypical Paris rarely seen before, and which only exists for those who live there.

What makes the film so enchanting is that each short tells the story of an unusual encounter, sending you on a journey to meet a variety of characters and to explore different worlds. You never know what is going to come next, and this is the magic effect that creates the film. With great performances and an outstanding host of international actors, including Fanny Ardant, Juliette Binoche, Steve Buscemi, William Dafoe, Gérard Depardieu, Maggie Gyllenhall, Bob Hoskins, Emily Mortimer, Nick Nolte, Natalie Portman, Miranda Richardson, Gena Rowlands, Ludivine Sagnier, Catalina Sandino, Barbet Schroeder, Rufus Sewell, Elijah Wood, the film illustrates very well the diversity of cultures in Paris, with its international population coming from around the globe.

tuileries-joel-ethan-coen.jpgTuileries (Joel and Ethan Coen)

Possibly the idea of making a film about Paris could appear a bit clichéd. However, the film sheds some new light on real issues of modern society. From racial tensions and discrimination to difficulties in relationships between people of different generations, the film is a humane and realistic testimony of our everyday life. No doubt that at some points, you will identify yourself with one of the stories (if not many), where you could very easily find yourself in one or another of the situations portrayed in the film.

This is particularly relevant in the Coen Brothers' short (Tuileries), which presents the common cliché about Paris as the city of lovers. The story is simple, amazingly funny and witty enough to make one sequence or two become cult scenes. An American tourist (Steve Buscemi) is reading his guidebook and is waiting on the platform of the Tuileries Metro Station. Meanwhile, he discovers in his precious book the only too appropriate instruction about Metro behaviour. Thinking that it is just what he needs, but at that very moment, he is getting mixed up into an incredible mish-mash for having disregarded the guidebook’s recommendations.

faubourg-saint-denis-tom-tykwer.jpgFaubourg Saint-Denis (Tom Tykwer)

In the neighbourhood of Faubourg Saint-Denis, another story of love is playing. Originally made in 2002, by the German director Tom Tykwer, we are told the story (Faubourg Saint-Denis) of Francine (Natalie Portman) -- dreaming of becoming an actress -- who is telephoning her blind boyfriend Thomas (Melchior Beslon) to tell him their relationship is over. Suddenly we are plunged into a series of flashbacks, as memories and strong images play through Thomas’s mind while he remembers their first encounter. Beautifully directed, this is a touching portrait of young lovers that admirers of romantic love might find simply enchanting.

At first, the idea of gathering a great number of shorts into a single film could have appeared a bit awkward, but surprisingly the whole film’s strength is based on this diversity of original plots and representative stories, added to a fluid and coherent montage. Furthermore, the film is not only a pure celebration of the city of Paris, but more a reflection on how people live within society, and more particularly, about these different characters that you might encounter in a romantic capital with all the good and the bad that it implies.


In short, the magic ofParis, Je t’aime simply relies on this romanticism present throughout the film and which is so characteristic of Paris. Of course, you might feel a bit disorientated and frustrated sometimes, wishing that the shorts would last longer than their short few minutes and enable you to know a little more about the story. However, Paris, Je t’aime works very well as a whole film thanks to its continuity and remarkable novelty. As producer Claudie Ossard suggested that thanks to its fresh look at Paris, this film has a great chance to ‘become the new ambassador of Paris abroad’.

Paris, Je t’aime was screened at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival for the opening of the selection ‘Un Certain Regard’. It will be released nationally on June 29.

Louise Hurtel is French and a former resident of Paris. She is currently studying for an MA in History of Film and Visual Media in London.