Monday, June 18, 2007

14th Arrondissement

About a week ago, I saw Paris, Je T'aime, which despite its title and the odd segments involving mimes or vampires managed to make me reminisce fondly about a city that I have only spent a few days in. I like the idea of directors of different nationalities taking on the districts of a city many of them do not live in and proving that, in each, people live beautiful, complex lives. I'm happy to report that the end product works well rather than being the uneven mishmash such collaborative projects often turn out to be. Clearly, the inclusion of top-notch directors has made all the difference. While Gurinder Chadha's segment ranks a close second, Alexander Payne's take on the 14th arrondissement both concluded and stole the show.

Happily, I can report that it's posted in its entirety on YouTube — and below this paragraph as well. Watch it now, before the gods and demons of YouTube yank it into nonexistence.

The adult education accent, the overall cluelessness, the fact that the narrator has left only her dogs behind in order to walk the streets of Paris alone — Payne had nailed the dopiness of the American abroad, or at least how some foreigners view us and how some of us fear we might be viewed. The narrator — capably played by Margo Martindale — almost elicits the viewer's pity, but then Payne benevolently allows her that moment of realization at the end and makes her real and sympathetic. Dopey though she may be, she understands the reason why and beauty of traveling. It's perhaps all the better that she states it in the limited vocabulary of someone who has only newly learned the language because, to me, she's getting at a very basic, very fundamental human feeling that does not translate easily into words and perhaps has not ever been so beautifully rendered on film.

On a less serious note, seeing Paris, Je T'aime has given me the notion that a similar film must be made about Santa Barbara. I see it as a collection of vignettes detailing apathy and anomie called Santa Barbara? Meh... So who all wants dibs on different neighborhoods. I call Isla Vista and Montecito, as I think they'd be the most fun.


  1. I guess I have to do San Roque...I think it would just be time-lapse photography of a homeowner reading for sale ads watching the value of his house rise insanely. Could match it with looks like the ones Keri Russell makes as she starts her affiar in Waitress.

    That Payne short is wonderful, yes. Walks the edge of cruel and then makes you realize we can't afford to condescend to anyone. Especially if we always have Paris.

  2. I did quite love the Payne one, as it enforced the idea that she still spoke better French than me, and I was an exchange student there back in high school. It wasn't my favorite, though.

    2nd place for me goes to the Richard LaGravenese one with Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardant, as it reminded me of about 30 plays I've seen.

    My favorite, though, was Sylvain Chomet's first foray (that I know of) into live-action, what with the mimes-in-love. I'd watch a movie of that. Well, kind of have, loosely, in Tuvalu.