Starring: Juliette Binoche, Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini
Director: Cedric Klapisch
CITIES such as Paris live as vividly in our imagination as in reality.
In this film, Cedric Klapisch, directs a love letter to a Paris which continues to shape his imagination.
His penchant for dizzying sky shots, seen already in The Spanish Apartment, is taken to new heights, as the film opens, and the camera shot radiates from high on the pinnacle of the Arc de Triomphe.
Below us emerges a kaleidoscope of avenues and rooftops, all spiralling geometrically, just as Baron Von Haussmann had in mind.
The mapping remains the leitmotif of the film, whether from the balcony of Pierre’s (Romain Duris), apartment or from the perspective of cars or motorcycles as they wend their way through the streets at ground level.
What is unveiled is a shapely, patterned and dizzyingly human Paris.
At the centre of the film is its pensive protagonist Pierre, him of the faulty heart.
Pierre has been told that he is unlikely to survive a transplant, so he occupies himself observing the tapestry of life from his apartment window.
He notes the beautiful girl from the apartment opposite, (Melanie Laurent); the men who do the garbage; the insufferable woman in charge of the Boulangerie and her hapless helpers.
The little stories of these people keep him going, he says. Romain Duris, finely expressive with that steadfast observant gaze, is rivetting as a young man tenderly aware that his life is about to end. And he is in love with life!
It is with reason he is one of Klapisch’s favourite actors.
It seems hearts are faltering all around Pierre.
His sister Élise (Juliette Binoche) comes to look after him with her three children.
She has given up on men and, pretty much, on her harried and seemingly thankless job as a social worker.
She struggles joylessly through her days; more tough than tender. Even so, the camera hardly ever gets her wrong, even on bad-hair days.
Then there is Fabrice Luchini who plays the pompous but deluded historian Roland.
On the one hand, the middle-aged Professor Roland is a hit with his students as he pontificates floridly in his lectures on the culture and history of Paris, but on the other hand, when it comes to his heart, he is a mess.
He finds himself, a month after his father’s death – a death which apparently barely touched him – secretly texting lurid love poetry to a beautiful girl (Melanie Laurent) in his class.
As in Moliére, Luchini is mesmerising as the fool with his bumbling self-importance and his penchant to take himself seriously when no one else can.
He provides a foil for Pierre’s genuine warmth and self awareness.
Down in the daily market we encounter more of the walking wounded of Paris. The bravado and bonhommie of the stallholders as they joust with each other and jest and cajole their customers, barely hides the heaviness of their hearts.
There is plenty of the Gallic charm as they flirt and drink in the local Brasserie, but things easily tip out of control. Chaos and loss loom.
Hearts are sore and life is tough.
The many stories of the script, possibly too many, also take us to Cameroon and into the life of the luckless African refugees who also desire this city, though they, like most of the other characters, barely know what they want to achieve with it. Desire is like that.
The story always returns to Pierre, and strength bred from weakness; the ability to find life beautiful. He has the capacity to touch the truth into other people.
He brings back the magic of Christmas for Élise’s children; he smiles into the heart of Khadija (Sabrina Ouazani), the North African employee in the Boulangerie, and makes her happy; he jostles his sister into giving romance a go. At the end he throws a party and dances in brave celebration of living.
Pierre is literally and figuratively the beating heart of the film – a film which is funny and whimsical as well as dark, enigmatic, even melancholy in parts, but always confident of life’s transcendent beauty and purpose.