PARIS, JE T'AIME directed by Olivier Assayas, Ethan and Joel Coen, Alexander Payne, Wes Craven, Walter Salles, Gus Van Sant, Tom Tykwer and others, with Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Juliette Binoche and others. A Maple release. 116 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (May 18). For venues and times, see Movies, page 113. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Most anthology films are a mixed bag. You like a few, hate some, feel ambivalent about the rest.
In Paris, Je T'Aime, a series of some 20-odd films about the City of Light, the works are so short - five minutes or so - that the weakest ends quickly and the strongest ones linger on.
The directors come from all over the globe, presumably reflecting the diversity of the city itself, and they provide a refreshing mix of genres. There's romance, bien sûr, but there's also horror, comedy, dark satire and one uncategorizable parody of bad mime. Each film takes its title from one of the city's neighbourhoods.
Given the length, you don't have time for depth, so you'd better suggest a lot. Catalina Sandino Moreno burns in the mind as a foreign nanny who shuttles between her own child and the one she's looking after, while Steve Buscemi plays the most unfortunate tourist ever in the Coen Brothers' sequence, set in the Paris Métro.
Other stand-out scenarios include Maggie Gyllenhaal as an actor in a costume drama who's trying to score drugs, Natalie Portman and Melchior Beslon as a couple who break up in a technically amazing sequence directed by Tom Tykwer, and Juliette Binoche as a mother who's grieving her dead child. Seeing Cassavettes regulars Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara reunite in a poignant short by Frédéric Auburtin is a cineaste's dream.
The end, by Alexander Payne, is pure genius. The cheerfully ordinary Margo Martindale plays a middle-American postal worker who recounts her trip to Paris in a letter that she reads aloud in a so-funny-it'll-hurt-your-stomach accent.
For all its humour, the short is surprisingly humane, and it wraps up many of the film's threads with panache.