Paris – A Movie by Cédric Klapisch (2008)

I watched this movie as part of Book Bath‘s and Thyme for Tea‘s event Paris in July.

Paris is an absolutely charming movie and I’m sure it will appeal to many people because it combines a good story with interesting character portraits, wonderful pictures of Paris and a great cast (Juliette Binoche, Mélanie Laurent, Fabrice Luchini, Albert Dupontel and Romain Duris). I feel really homesick now.  All the places to which I used to go while I lived in Paris can be seen: La Place de La Sorbonne, the Jardin du Palais Royal, the Bibliothèque Nationale. But we also see Ménilmontant where I used to live briefly after I had finished school.

Paris tells one main story, different smaller side stories branch out from it. The people of the main and the side story are only connected because they live in the same town and their paths cross but they don’t get to know each other. Parallel storylines don’t always work well but in this movie they complete each other and the outcome is nicely rounded. The movie has really only one flaw, a brief “All-you-need-is-love”-moment towards the end of the film. Watching this short part was like biting on a lump of sugar in an otherwise tasty cake.

The central characters are Pierre (Romain Duris) and Élise (Juliette Binoche). Pierre is a professional dancer whose best friend is his older sister Élise, a fortysomething divorcée with two kids. At the beginning of the movie Pierre is diagnosed with a serious heart disease that means his career as a dancer has come to an end. He is condemned to stay in his apartment and watch life go by. This offers a great opportunity to have him observe people, one of them is the beautiful Laetitia (Mélanie Laurent). Whenever Pierre is alone, walking the streets of Paris, mourning his career, contemplating his possible death, his reflections are accompanied by the music of Erik Satie. I liked that touch a lot.

Élise doesn’t belive in love anymore. She has been disappointed, doesn’t want to risk falling in love. When she goes shopping for her brother to the street market, near where he lives, she meets one of the vendors (Albert Dupontel) and there seems, from the beginning, a possibility for something between them.

Roland Verneuil (Fabrice Luchini) is an elderly professor of history. His story was for me the most touching. We learn about it because he falls in love with one of his students, Laetitia who lives in an apartment vis-à-vis of Pierre’s flat and he watches her. Verneuil is insecure but at the same time there is a lot of passion in him that has been stored away for a long time. Falling in love with a student reawakens him and brings out a very different person. There is nothing sleazy in this older man falling in love with a young woman. Unfortunately the beautiful Laetitia is one of those good-looking women who enjoys not only to play with men but who also likes to inflict pain. A nasty piece of work.

I loved the melancholy end of the movie. We  know from the start that there isn’t a lot of hope for Pierre. He needs a transplant and he may or may not survive the surgery. The last scene shows him travel through Paris in a taxi, on his way to the hospital.

Paris is a beautiful and touching movie and a homage to a city. I liked it even better than Paris, Je t’aime which isn’t bad at all either.

Yves Angelo’s Le Colonel Chabert (1994)

I am really glad I have watched this movie. I liked every minute of it. It’s beautifully filmed, the interiors are wonderful, the actors are extremely good.

One of the problems I usually have when a movie is based on a book is that so much I liked has been left out. Le Colonel Chabert is an example of the opposite. Where the book gives us just a few details, the movie elaborates them. The character portraits are much more interesting; the Countess Ferraud and the lawyer Derville, have more depth and complexity and also the Count Ferraud, who is more or less just a distant presence in the book, becomes a real person.

I will not summarize the plot, I have already done this in the review of the novel, I will rather point out a few differences and how the film director managed to put into pictures what has before been put into words.

The movie starts with a view of the battlefield. This isn’t easy to watch. I mentioned somewhere else the problems I had with the movie Waterloo because of the dead horses. The amount of wasted horses is heartbreaking. The scene is very graphic; bodies of men and horses are piled up high and disposed of, just like garbage. There are three instances like this in the movie. They are falshbacks and represent what the Colonel Chabert remembers from the battle of Eylau where he was so severely wounded that he was reported dead.

While the book is rightly called Le Colonel Chabert, the movie could also have been called The Countess Ferraud. There is much more emphasis on her and the role and fate of women in the French society in the 19th century. She is not only greedy and ambitious like the Countess in the novel but she is also a woman who fights for her survival in the society. The movie shows that they are just pawns in a game and that “love” mostly equals lust and where that ends, “love” stops. A woman must constantly fear to be replaced by another one that is either more attractive or more likely to bring a man the social status or wealth he craves or the son he needs. I am not a fan of Fanny Ardant but she is excellent in this movie.

Derville’s role is also much more substantial. I like the way he speaks about his profession and how it made him unvover the ugliest in human society. The avarice, the greed, the fighting over money. Derville is truly a good person. He has seen so many vile acts that it seems to have transformed him into a better human being. There is not much to gain for him, in helping the Colonel, yet he does it anyway. Fabrice Luchini plays this incredibly well. The scene in which he visits the Colonel in his filthy abode is priceless.

Le Colonel Chabert is beautifully filmed. The decor, interiors and costumes are really worth watching. I particularly liked how the lawyer’s chambers were shown and the filthy backyard in which the Colonel lives.

Gerard Depardieu will always be one of my favourite actors no matter how often he parodies himself. I love his voice and he is often great. He is great in period drama but he excels in modern movies. The final scene of  Le Colonel Chabert shows him at his very best. This alone would have made this movie worth watching for me. On the other hand I have to point out that whoever is familiar with French cinema of the 80s and 90s knows that there is one thing to deplore. Whenever there was a big budget movie, it was more than likely he was casted. This makes it occasionally difficult to see the character and not the actor and his former roles. When I saw Chabert I also saw Rodin, the Count of Monte Christo, Cyrano de Bergerac, Vidocq, Vatel, Valjean, Columbus, Maheu, Jean de Florette and Balzac.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a trailer. I attached a few film stills instead.