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PARIS

film_parisFrench filmmaker Cedric Klapisch is best-known for his beloved L'Auberge Espagnole, a buoyant look at international students sharing a flat in Barcelona. In his new ensemble piece, Paris, he attempts a similar intersection of viewpoints, cultures, and sexual adventures, but with less success. Too few of the characters are truly compelling, some are outright irritating, and their puny actions tend to pale next to the magic and magnitude of one of the most beguiling cities on Earth. Romain Duris stars as Pierre, a professional dancer sidelined by a heart defect, awaiting a donor heart. His sister, Elise (Juliette Binoche), a divorced, no-nonsense social worker, troops over every day to check up on him. Theirs is the most touching relationship in the film, as they squabble, tease each other, and trade romantic advice. (At 40, Elise believes that "Men don't like women like me. Women who talk back scare them."). Their pragmatic, yet tender sibling alliance (Elise loyally hunts up date material when Pierre fears he'll never make love again) is their defense against the looming possibility of having to say goodbye.

Fabrice Luchini plays an aging history professor hosting a TV documentary on Paris—when he's not sending erotic texts to a young coed (Melanie Laurent); that he quotes Baudelaire in his texts doesn't make his stalking any less odious. Francois Cluzet is more engaging as Luchini's architect brother. But a subplot on the plight of Cameroon immigrants never jells. And while the nightworld where vendors and truckers prepare for the Parisian fresh produce markets is fascinating, too much time is wasted on sexual hijinks among the workers. (A recurring motif of women humiliated or stalked, who then take their tormentors to bed, is a bit creepy.) But Paris enchants throughout, from panoramic rooftop vistas to eerie catacombs below; from venerable streets, monuments and cathedrals to a sunny, modern boulangerie whose chirpy proprietress bullies her long-suffering staff. Facing his own mortality, Pierre notes that angsty Parisians caught up in their own petty dramas, "don't know how lucky they are." Which may be Klapisch's most valid point in this ambitious, but ragged film. Rated R. 130 minutes. In French, with English subtitles.

(★★1/2) Watch movie trailer >>>

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