Even the most Francophobic Yank will find something to enjoy in Paris, Je T'aime, a collage of cinematic flash fiction that caters more to an audience's taste for sample platters than its hunger for French fare.
Featuring 18 vignettes directed by such filmmaking luminaries as Gus Van Sant, the Coen brothers, Alexander Payne, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, and Tom Tykwer, Paris, Je T'aime avoids the travelogue trap of savoring the landscape while forgetting the plot (Under the Tuscan Sun, anyone?) by focusing on people instead of place.
Shuttling between neighborhoods and an impressive cast of stars including Juliette Binoche, Steve Buscemi, Nick Nolte, Natalie Portman, Rufus Sewell, Elijah Wood, Gena Rowlands and many others Paris becomes a universal nexus for racism, class struggle, lust, loneliness, grief, comic mishap, tourism and, of course, love. There's even a little vampirism and undead marital counseling to liven things up.
While some of the shorts are better than others, there isn't a stinker in the bunch. Each all-too-brief story delivers 4-5 minute bursts of emotion, comedy, drama and whimsy before fading into the next beautifully shot story. After two hours you may feel a bit worn out but never less than engaged.
The standouts include Loin du 16eme, Walter Salles' (The Motorcycle Diaries) quietly heartbreaking depiction of motherhood undermined by economics, Alexander Payne's (Election, Sideways) sentimentally snarky examination of loneliness in 14th Arrondissement, Richard LaGravanese's (The Fisher King) twisty sex comedy, Pigalle, a bit of world-class mime from Sylvain Chomet (The Triplettes of Belleville) and Wes Craven's surprisingly clever graveyard fantasy, Pere-Lachaise.
Most haunting is Oliver Schmitz' Place des Fêtes. Opening on an African immigrant dying in a plaza after being stabbed, the director finds both beauty and great sadness as the victim gently sings to the young medic who struggles to save his life.
Paris, Je T'aime is an exquisitely crafted two-hour tour of humanity that, unfortunately, never adds up to anything significant. Excellent as they are, the short films are disconnected and underdeveloped, often revealing more about their director's fetishes than mettle of the human soul. If there is an underlying point to the film, it's that life goes on and no matter how great our love, sorrow, anger, disappointment or frustration, we are all just repeating the same damn story.
Like those tasty little hors-devours that circle an upscale cocktail party, Paris, Je T'aime teases and delights the senses but leaves you hankerin' for more.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.