The producers appear to have gone to great lengths to provide guidelines for the directors and then assemble the each segment in a way that maximises continuity. There was a fairly consistent visual style throughout many of the segments, very much in the naturalistic style often seen in French cinema. Grey/faded blue tones dominated, highlighted throughout with a rich dark yellow - it looks great. In many segments, there were props and wardrobe using the same yellow tone. Despite multiple directors, cinematographers and editors, this continuity owes its success to the use of a single production designer (Bettina von den Steinen), set decorator (Sébastien Monteux-Halleur) and costume designer (Olivier Bériot).
Adding to the continuity was the assembly of the segments in a way that was visually consistent. Segments often started at a time of day that appeared to be around the time that the previous one ended. To maximise the sense of the segments making up one film, transitions were inserted between each segment to smoothly join them. It’s often not clear when one segment has ended and the next has started. And finally, the end brings together many of the characters in an unashamedly sentimental conclusion that was surprisingly moving.
This remarkable tribute to a city was born from an idea by Tristan Carné and developed into a feature film concept by Emmanuel Benbihy (who also filmed the transitions between each segment). Tom Tykwer’s award-winning segment was the first produced (shot in 2002 and completed in 2004) and was used as a proof-of-concept from which the project grew. Fans of Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run) will recognise many devices in common with that film, that perhaps haven’t been used in anything Tykwer has made since.
The Coen brothers were next to come on board followed by the others. By depicting the city of
The segments are each of about five minutes duration, but vary from just over four and a half minutes (for Alfonso Cuarón’s segment which, borrowing from his Children of Men, was filmed in a single take) to nearly seven minutes for the first segment by Bruno Podalydès, in which the director takes the lead role.
In a point of interest, Gena Rowlands appears in the segment she wrote, Wes Craven plays (uncredited) the vampire’s victim in Vincenzo Natali’s segment and Alexander Payne appears as the ghost of Oscar Wilde in Wes Craven’s segment.
There are stories of grief, of love, parental love, conjugal love, unrequited love, failed love. It’s perhaps unfair to single out one, but Christopher Doyle’s absurdist Asian-style comedy was the only segment that didn’t quite fit in for my taste.
As a big fan of French cinema, the segments that appealed most to me were those that had a moving social or emotional message. The highlights were segments by Gurinder Chadha, Walter Salles, Nobuhiro Suwa, Oliver Schmitz and Alexander Payne. I found each of these quietly profound in various ways.
Chadha’s beautifully nuanced segment deals with young love and infatuation, society’s prejudices and stereotyping of Islam.
Salles’ segment uses the wonderful Catalina Sandino Moreno. She has the same wonderful presence she displayed in Maria Full of Grace and Fast Food Nation, displaying irony and melancholy in a role virtually without dialogue.
Suwa has Juliette Binoche portraying a mother grieving the loss of her young son, reminiscent of her role in Kieslowski’s Three Colours: Blue. This was my favourite segment.
Just as powerful was Schmitz’s segment about a paramedic who attends to a scene to find someone she met earlier in the day. When the senior paramedic arrives to see her with tears in her eyes, he assumes she’s new to the job.
Payne’s segment initially seems incongruous, with a frumpy looking Margo Martindale playing the quintessential American tourist speaking clumsy French as voiceover. As her narrative develops, her words combine with the visuals (including an aerial 360° view of the city, perhaps atop the Eiffel Tower) to produce a moving finale and fitting tribute to Paris.
I found virtually all the segments noteworthy, but those mentioned above are the most outstanding. Short films often work like teasers, and it would be interesting to see if any of the segments are further developed into feature length films by their respective directors.
First with the recent French Film Festival, and now with
The following details for each arrondissement, the director, country, a previous work, writer, cast, synopsis and comments.
Written & directed: Bruno Podalydès (France); Cast: Florence Muller, Bruno Podalydès
As a frustrated man wonders why he can’t find love, a passing woman faints by his parked car. An interesting (very) black comedy or wry drama.
Directed: Gurinder Chadha (
François goes to the aid of a Muslim girl when she trips over and wonders whether this is the girl of his dreams. Nuanced social commentary with humanistic perspective.
Written & directed: Gus Van Sant (
An unconventional story of miscommunication and young love. Looks French, looks Van Sant. A strange story. Not among my favourites but added to the overall film.
Written & directed: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen (
Classic Coen brothers bent humour as an American tourist learns Parisian etiquette the hard way. Very enjoyable and clever. Without subtitles, we shared the tourist's confusion, relying on body language to understand the dialogue.
Written & directed: Walter Salles (
A young woman relinquishes her baby to day care in order to take a bus and train across town to care for another woman’s child. Life really can be a struggle and this is portrayed poignantly and virtually without dialogue.
Directed: Christopher Doyle (
An absurdist story about a travelling salesman, a hairdresser and a Buddhist monk. Consistent with the sensibility of Asian cinema with which Doyle has been long-associated with. OK, but my least favourite.
Written & directed: Isabel Coixet (
Written & directed: Nobuhiro Suwa (
A woman seems unable to resolve her grief over the loss of her son. Beautifully framed and photographed with a sublime story. My favourite segment, and a nice contrast to Un couple parfait (screened at MIFF 2006, which I didn't like).
Written & directed: Sylvain Chomet (France, The Triplets of Belleville); Cast: Yolande Moreau, Paul Putner
A sweet story with visual references akin to David Lynch in which a boy explains how his mime parents met. Not overly original, but and interesting take on a known genre using the Eiffel Tower as a gorgeous backdrop.
Written & directed: Alfonso Cuarón (
A heated conversation between an older man and younger woman conceals the nature of their relationship. Cuarón uses some of the skills he picked up on Children of Men to good effect. Nice characterisations.
Written & directed: Olivier Assayas (France, Irma Vep); Cast: Lionel Dray, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Joana Preiss
An actress is disappointed when her drug dealer sends a substitute to deliver a deal. Nicely nuanced and naturalistic.
Written & directed: Oliver Schmitz (
A young man and young woman cross paths for the second time in one day, under tragic circumstances. I found it profoundly moving - one of several segments that could be extended to make a great feature film.
Written & directed: Richard LaGravenese (
A game of cat-and-mouse between an older couple whose relationship may be at the end of the road. Sharp and witty dialogue, ascerbic comedy.
Written & directed: Vincenzo Natali (
A gothic story of love-at-first-bite between a young man and a beautiful vampiress. A horror film with a touch of humour that somehow slips easily into the anthology and adds to the rich overall texture of the film.
Written & directed: Wes Craven (
A change of pace for Craven in a contemporary story of love and conflict as a young couple seek the grave of Oscar Wilde. Subdued and enjoyable observational drama with a slight witty bent.
Written & directed: Tom Tykwer (
A tale of lament as a young blind man recalls how his initially joyful relationship has deteriorated. Seems a little derivative from Run Lola Run, using several devices in common with that film, but moving and enjoyable nonetheless. Nice characterisations (I have a soft spot for Natalie Portman who always looks naturally gorgeous).
Directed: Gérard Depardieu & Frédéric Auburtin (
Sharply written and well-delivered lines as an older couple meet to discuss divorce. A great two-hander from these classy Hollywood veterans.
Written & directed: Alexander Payne (
A lone American tourist finds peace within herself and connectedness to a foreign city in which she struggles with the language. Beautifully brings the film towards a close in a very natural and moving way.