- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

“Paris” is not the definitive movie about the titular French capital — but it’s a masterful one.

It’s an intensely moving film that gets its emotional impact by showcasing the beauty not of the ancient glories of the city but of the complicated lives of its contemporary residents.

French writer-director Cedric Klapisch gives us an idea of the great variety of the great city by offering a collection of intertwined tales centered around Pierre (Romain Duris), a dancer waiting for a heart transplant. With little to do but reflect on his possibly impending mortality, he watches through his window as other people live their lives. “They become the heroes of my little stories,” he tells his sister Elise (an appealingly tough and vulnerable Juliette Binoche). “It’s not much, but frankly, it keeps me going.”

Elise, a social worker who tries to solve clients’ problems while keeping her own to herself, moves in with her three children to take care of Pierre. She’s single, seemingly not by choice — but at 40, she finds it difficult to start fresh. She likes the sweet-faced Jean (Albert Dupontel), who sells vegetables at the market, but he still has a thing for his flirtatious ex-wife (Julie Ferrier).

Pierre is particularly taken by Laetitia (Melanie Laurent), a striking student across the way — but so is a fellow student and one of her professors, Roland (Fabrice Luchini).

Roland is the highlight of a film filled with many of them, a man who lectures admiringly of the changing city while struggling to make sense of the shifts in his own life. His father dies, but he seems to take it in stride, unlike his brother Philippe (Francois Cluzet). He throws himself into a love affair and a new high-profile job popularizing the city’s history on television. (His principles precluded him from taking it until he found out the pay — then he magnanimously toasts a group of tourists he sees, telling them “Everything I know shall be yours.”)

Mr. Luchini showed American audiences he’s a great comic actor in the recent import “Moliere.” He’s hilarious here, too, telling a psychoanalyst he doesn’t believe in his work and then breaking down crying, saying, “You’re good! You won!” He might worry about being the cliched professor who sleeps with a student, but he shocks her — and us — with a youthful, sexy impromptu dance.

Mr. Duris was a revelation as the title character in “Moliere”; here he’s more restrained, reflective. To the haunting strains of Erik Satie, he stares out at the city he loves and wonders if its residents appreciate the life they still have. He doesn’t know their lives, of course, just as they don’t know his. This makes for some pungent miscommunication — as when an elderly woman passing him up the stairs comments on the younger generation’s laziness, not realizing this young man might be close to death.

There’s also a Cameroonian trying to immigrate to Paris, whose story seems set aside by the end. But perhaps that’s simply a commentary on the state of things in Paris itself. The realities of city life are explored intelligently here, but never pedantically.

“Paris” is a fitting tribute to the dynamic people who populate one of the greatest cities on earth.

★★★½

TITLE: “Paris”

RATING: R (language and some sexual references)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Cedric Klapisch (in French with English subtitles)

RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes

WEB SITE: ifcfilms.com/films/paris

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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