Everyday stories compose a dynamic mosaic in Cédric Klapisch’s film Paris. Set in the contemporary French capital, this film grapples with the social issues of the ordinary citizens who ultimately define the city.
Klapisch explores several motifs that contribute to an overarching question: What does it mean to be truly alive? These motifs are present in juxtapositions such as tension between the new and the old, or the struggle between mere existence and exuberant life.
Paris follows the life of a washed-up, professional dancer Pierre, while interweaving a variety of subplots. Pierre, played by Romain Duris, was once a vibrant, talented dancer, but now his heart suffers both physically and emotionally. This hardship and degeneration parallel that which the film also portrays in the city of Paris.
As he awaits a heart transplant, Pierre views the streets of Paris from his apartment window, observing its movement and its expression as an improvised dance. This dance comprises several participants including Pierre’s older sister Elise, played by Juliette Binoche; an aging professor; several market vendors, and a beautiful young student with whom he is infatuated.
Elise, both a single mother of three and a social worker, moves in with Pierre to care for him as his death approaches. Binoche brings a strong sense of bitter surrender to her character Elise, communicating that she has already given up on life. Ironically, her career consists of helping others live, but she concentrates on simply existing. When she and her children move in with Pierre, however, she begins to transform.
Klapisch captures the many faces of Paris, emphasizing that, among other things, everyone’s story does not occur in isolation. In fact, the stories are intimately connected and help tell the overall story of Paris, whose vitality depends on its citizens, their choices, and their challenges.
Though this theme is somewhat unoriginal, Klapisch succeeds in conveying the way in which individual minutiae relate to and indeed form society. We seldom recognize, let alone reflect on, that every person we cross has a story, and that our stories combine and contribute to something much larger.
Our stories and the ways in which they are connected often present social tensions that affect society in its entirety, a theme which Klapisch demonstrates through the relationship between an aging professor and his youthful student. Their interactions present the conflict between the new and the old, an important struggle in contemporary Paris.
Fearing that he and the Paris of his youth are becoming obsolete, the aging history professor faces a crisis. He refuses to surrender to the consequences of time, holding onto his fleeting youth through an illicit affair with a young, beautiful student. This begs the question: will the old and new complement each other, or will they clash, forcing one to surrender?
Klapisch does not specifically answer this query, nor does he really answer any of the questions he poses to his audience. While this makes for an entertaining experience and presents the audience with interesting material for discussion, Paris lacks the controversial perspective that can make a work of art a masterpiece. It is well made and good enough to spend two hours watching, but it is not brave enough to make history.
Helena Birdsell is a sophomore who loves fall festivities, including the Badin Art Show. Contact her at hbirdsel-at-nd.edu.