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Olive juice: A review of Paris, Je T'aime 

click to enlarge Just like the train, love in Paris Je TAime passes by every - three minutes or so. But it helps, Ms. Portman, when - youre looking for it.
  • Just like the train, love in Paris Je TAime passes by every three minutes or so. But it helps, Ms. Portman, when youre looking for it.

Paris, Je T'Aime (R)

Kimball's Twin Peak
There's an especially charming moment toward the end of Paris, Je T'Aime, when a mail carrier from Denver finds herself on a bench in Paris, alone and lonely, but, somehow, starting to smile. The corners of her mouth only slightly curl upward, but it's momentous for Carol, a first-time traveler to Europe.

"That was the moment," she tells the audience in her American-accented French voiceover, "I fell in love with Paris, and I felt Paris fell in love with me."

This realization comes at the end of Carol's personal love story, the 18th and final of the love-themed vignettes encapsulated in Paris, Je T'Aime. But by this point, it just comes off as a footnote.

We get it: Love abounds in the City of Love romantic love, love for family, or, in Carol's case, love for the city itself.

That grandiose concept drives this film and it's probably to blame for the unfocused and disconnected way it's delivered. Through three- to five-minute vignettes, we're told stories presented by different directors (or directing teams) and starring different casts. Sure, it sounds intriguing, but it's an idea far better in theory than in practice.

Considering that each short film is set around the same basic premise a love story in Paris the act gets tired quick.

First we're shown a man, driving around in his car, looking for a parking space and also for love. Next comes a teenage boy who learns the difference between love and lust. Third: a chance encounter between two possible soulmates who face the hurdle of a language barrier.

And after that comes another. And another. And another, and another, and so on and so on.

With so many directors attempting to execute their own unique visions, and with little concern given toward the total package, there's no sense of continuity. And even despite a top-notch cast (Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood, Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal and a slew of similarly recognizable faces) and a bevy of heavy-hitting directors (Gus van Sant, the Coen Brothers, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuar'n, among others), Paris Je T'Aime never clicks.

Still, that's not to say the film is completely devoid of engrossing moments. In the Coen Brothers' short, "Tuileries," Buscemi dazzles as an overwhelmed American tourist; Sylvain Chomet's "Tour Eiffel" perfectly and whimsically crafts a tale of two mimes falling in love, as told by their young son; and Cuar'n's "Parc Monceau" is a fantastic, toned-down repackaging of the single shot he so effectively used to critical acclaim in Children of Men.

In fact, most of these shorts are, actually, quite interesting. But they're too quick, too much a moment in time and too detached from their accompanying stories. And though there's an attempt to correct the lack of continuity at the film's conclusion, it doesn't seem believable and if it were, it likely still would be overcome by cheesiness and transparency.

Paris is the star here, just as it is in seemingly every other quasi-mainstream example of French cinema. And, as captured through the lens of each of these directors' eyes (and shown in cityscapes between the vignettes), the City of Love does indeed shine brightly.

But even that shine can't make us look away from the flaws in Paris, Je T'Aime. pete@csindy.com

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