Monday, 14 November 2011
Pierre (Roman Duris) is a professional dancer who develops a heart condition that ends his career. His only certainty of beating the disease is a transplant - but the doctors don't know if a donor can be found before it's too late. Upon hearing the news, his sister Élise (Juliette Binoche) immediately moves into Pierre's flat with her three children to look after him. As Pierre awaits an uncertain future, he spends his days surveying the Parisian skyline from his sixth-floor balcony whilst focussing his detailed attention on a beautiful girl living in a an apartment opposite and a girl in the local bakery. Pierre's reflections serve as a springboard for the film to reflect on the diversity, vibrancy, fulfilment and disappointment of some of the individuals that make up the Parisian populace. It is as though we are offered views of these people as being representatives of the wider population.
The story opens with a threat to the vitality of Pierre as he is faced with a stark and unwelcome reality. As he reflects on this through the life of the bustling metropolis, a picture filled with nuanced and intricate detail is painted for us as the lives of the characters interact and play out. The characters represent a sweep of Parisian society: a Professor, a promiscuous student, an architect, a social worker, a dancer, market traders and Benoît who, throughout the story, journeys from the poverty of rural Cameroon to the promised land and prosperity of Paris as an illegal.
As Pierre awaits the seemingly inevitable he begins to put his affairs in order by trying to make sense of his life. All around him the other characters live out similar processes with varying degrees of awareness. The death of the Professor's father triggers a mid-life crisis as he chases after one of his students. His brother, the architect, struggles with his own demons and new life comes as his wife gives birth to their first-born. The market traders who work hard and play hard are shown to be shallow yet at the same time honourable and respectful. Together they face the pain of separation, the longing of desire, guilt, grief and the enticement of a brief intimate encounter with a group of girls. Élise is shown to work in the female dominated world of social work where the case workers are women and the manager a man. Their collective meetings having the feel of socialist egalitarianism reminiscent of the Revolution era. Meanwhile the backdrop to all this is the Professor who is lured away from the Academy by the lucrative offer to narrate a TV documentary about the history of Paris and thereby the history of France. Meanwhile Benoît continues on his northerly pilgrimage.
This film delivers an engaging exposé of life at different levels of French society. It also underlines the need for inter-dependence as the characters lives become increasingly, but unknowingly intertwined. The characterisations are warm and compelling. The sub-titling is helpful and non-intrusive. Paris always presents a magnificent canvas on which to paint - even under fittingly watery autumnal skies. This is a film about life, about contemplating death, about loss, guilt, grief, love, intimacy, story, fulfilment, rebirth, families and about our innate need of community.
Well worth the investment of a couple of hours - particularly with Juliette Binoche and Mélanie Laurent in the cast! I'll give it 7.5/10.