Monthly Archives: December 2011

Paris Je T’Aime (2006)

Paris has been called many things. A little fiddling with Google search yields three immediate results: city of lights, city of art, city of love. The last is the most tenuous. Michael Schürmann (author of the travel guide Paris Movie Walks) says, “First of all, it is important that we agree on the sheer absurdity of the notion. Love is not something to which any city could or should stake an exclusive claim. There can be a ‘city of love’ as much as there can be a ‘city of indigestion’ or a ‘city of nosebleed’…” Indeed, Google “city of love” plus any beautiful city, and the search results are bound to be staggering (although you won’t find anything to top Paris’ 192,000,000 results). But no logic can ever stop international romantics from imagining that perfect Eiffel Tower picture with their beau. I imagine this sentiment is probably what sparked the concept behind Paris Je T’Aime.

I first encountered this movie in Under the Stars 2008. Wide fields and a black sky constitute a romantic evening, but scattered sound does not encourage an attentive audience, so I only really watched it this week with Maki. Paris Je T’Aime consists of eighteen short films set in the various arrondissements of Paris. Alongside an international ensemble cast (that I will not attempt to list here), the film also throws in entire sequences with mimes, vampires, and even the ghost of Oscar Wilde. I wanted to ask the directors: What were you smoking? (Incidentally, hashish also features prominently in one the shorts.)

This is not the kind of film you can extract a clear synopsis from. The lives we see here are very diverse, yet at the same time it feels as if we’re just watching one stream of activity—representative pulses of Parisian life. Paris Je T’Aime offers a lightheartedness not often found in other romantic dramas. It also contains drama, but somehow even that feels light. Here, everything is simpler than we make it out to be: people go through everything with a smile or tears and in the end it’s all the same—we are merely passing through. Not flippant, but open to the endless possibilities of life. In the face of such levity, nothing is too heavy a burden—not even loneliness, divorce, death, falling in and out of love. In the end all we have is nostalgia.

‘Sitting there, alone in a foreign country, far from my job and everyone I know, a feeling came over me. It was like remembering something I’d never known before or had always been waiting for, but I didn’t know what. Maybe it was something I’d forgotten or something I’ve been missing all my life. All I can say is that I felt, at the same time, joy and sadness. But not too much sadness, because I felt alive. Yes, alive. That was the moment I fell in love with Paris. And I felt Paris fall in love with me.’

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The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

Is it just me, or are Hollywood movies getting better with their plot lines these days? Since Inception, more and more directors are dipping their fingers into science fiction. In 2011 alone, we have popular films like Source Code, Contagion, and In Time all with sci-fi elements serving as premises to fuel the story. In The Adjustment Bureau, fate is a book that you hold in your hand, and chance is a man in a fedora hat setting up your every choice.

On election eve, Senate candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) meets beautiful, impulsive Elise (Emily Blunt). Fate dictates that they never see each other again, but chance intervenes and sets in motion a problem for the agents of destiny. Harry (Anthony Mackie), a jaded member of the Adjustment Bureau, makes a slip-up that allows the two to meet again, and this time the attraction is strong enough to reshape their lives. The Bureau does not respond kindly to deviance, so in order to stay together, David and Elise must overcome forces they never knew existed and fight against fate itself.

“The guy rides the same bus every day for three years. Who does that?” Romantic movie heroes, that’s who. It’s easy to imagine the same scenario with Ryan Gosling, dutifully waiting for that moment he chances upon Elise again. But Matt Damon, really? Because we saw so much running from him in the Bourne series? For a movie centering on love, the romance falls flat in this film, partly because Matt Damon fails to convince. The script had some winning lines, but it also contained too many cheesy scenes. I prefer Source Code, where the focus is more on the action and the implications of the setup than the romance. Here, all I see is a sci-fi love-conquers-all drama.

Maki agrees with me: The Adjustment Bureau has a promising concept, but unfortunately it came out half-baked. Somehow it feels like the people behind it didn’t think their premise through because they were too busy trying to make it appealing. If God watched this, I’m sure he would feel offended. The Chairman is a whimsical God: he intertwines David and Elise’s fate from birth, then one day rewrites everything. Later on, he again changes his mind. Really, God? That’s the plan, impulsive revision? Plus the hat thing is just hilarious. What God would do that?

‘You ruined me. I didn’t want to settle for less.’

‘You don’t have free will, David. You have the appearance of free will.’

‘All I have are the choices I make.’

‘I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Even if it’s only a little while.’

Free will is a gift that you’ll never know how to use until you fight for it.

A Quiet Life (2010)

Among the many titles for this year’s Italian Film Festival, A Quiet Life is one of the least appealing. Predictable action movie, I judged after looking at the synopsis and its accompanying screenshot, and crossed it off our itinerary. Maki and I wanted to watch Vincere, but the organizers altered the schedule and replaced that afternoon screening with A Quiet Life. I felt cheated.

Rosario (Toni Servillo) is an Italian ex-gangster who flees to Germany to start a new life. He opens a restaurant, remarries, and has a son with his new wife Renate (Juliane Köhler). Then one day Diego (Marco D’Amore) shows up at his restaurant, upsetting the balance of his life. Faced with his grown son from a previous life, Rosario struggles to again escape his dark past.

I had expected this to be an action film, fast-paced and suspenseful, but it was almost exactly the opposite. The opening captured my attention, and still remains strong in my memory, but after that nothing much happens for the first hour or so. We see tension escalating between Rosario and Diego, but it remains suspended for most of the film. It only picks up again towards the end, when both Rosario’s sons become caught up in danger and the stakes are raised higher.

A Quiet Life is shot entirely in black-and-white, a stylistic choice that somehow works here. The use of contrast—the glaring brightness of white standing out against sharp black—creates a visual rendering in keeping with the film’s heavy plot. Rosario is a man with a long history of sins, a litany of names murdered and erased. He has thrown away the past, but life does not seem too ready to forgive him. Rosario himself doesn’t seem very successful in shrugging off his old identity, for he still deals with problems the same way he did in the past. Perhaps that is why, by the time the movie closes, he ends up doing the exact same thing he did years ago, this time twice beaten by the same fate.

Here’s the uneloquent truth: I can’t really point out what’s wrong with this movie, why for me it seems flat and not striking enough. All I know is that it’s not memorable, I barely enjoyed it, and because of that I delayed reviewing it for as long as I could. I am sure I would have preferred Vincere.

‘She makes me laugh, because I don’t understand her.’

‘I stayed hidden for 15 years, He gave me a new life. You have to ask Him why He’s come to take it back. Ask Him that. I already know why anyway. He doesn’t give a fuck about helping people.’