Saturday, February 26, 2011

CINEBLOGGO: "14e Arrondissement" (Paris, Je T'Aime)

Alright, so I’ve been trying to launch CINEBLOGGO, a new weekly feature wherein I review movies every Saturday.  It’s seriously taken me forever to get around to this, but today’s the kickoff!  I’m gonna make this happen!  I’m going to broaden my horizons and get out of TV Land (my happy place, not the television network... although I do find Green Acres amusing) and into Movieville!

Now, I’m not a film snob, nor do I profess to have superior taste in movies.  (Seriously.  I own two copies of Titanic.)  CINEBLOGGO will not be the most erudite reflections on capital-F Films.  But I will probably always talk about what worked and what didn’t in the context of the movie, as well as my favorite and least favorite parts.  What’s this blog without a little bit of rhapsodizing and critique?

So, without further ado, I give you the first installment of CINEBLOGGO!  And since I’m sneaky and I never do a cannonball into the pool without sticking a toe in first, I’m cheating and devoting the first review to a short film.  I’ve fooled you, people of Earth!

14e ARRONDISSEMENT (PARIS, JE T’AIME, dir by Alexander Payne)

Paris, Je T’aime, for those unawares, is a feature-length film comprising sixteen short films, all containing different characters and stories, helmed by sixteen different directors, and devoted to each of the sixteen neighborhoods, or arrondissements, of Paris.  Basically, it reads as a love letter to the city. 

"14e Arrondissement," directed by Alexander Payne, finishes the film and tells the story of a rather plain and unassuming American woman, Carol, who comes to Paris and reflects on her experiences through a narration in butchered French.  It’s meant to cement the film’s ode to Paris, with the quiet content of an American falling in love with the city, but I actually love it for being nestled squarely in the genre of tragicomedy.

Tragicomedy’s not a difficult thing to figure out - it’s kind of an awkward mashup of two very straightforward words.  But the use of tragicomedy is actually a delicate construction, and will almost always win my heart in any fictional setting.  It’s the beautiful merging of two opposites to create an overall effect - it’s bittersweet chocolate; it’s making her your heart swell so much it tears at the edges; it’s the pain and content of losing your yesterdays; it’s dipping a french fry in your Wendy’s frosty to mix the salty and the sweet and the hot and the cold.

It might be my favorite thing on this planet.  (I do that french fry thing, by the way.  If you haven’t tried it, you should.  I hope you have a Wendy’s nearby!)

I’m easily getting off track here.  Let’s talk about Carol, shall we?  Carol is the hero of this piece, an awkward American tourist in Paris.  She’s middle-aged, dresses out of style, owns two dogs, wears a fanny pack, and this is her first time in Europe.  She tries to speak French to the locals and they answer in English.  (Which, by the way, has happened to me and it definitely sucks.  And may I please say, with as much humility as possible, that my French accent is way better than Carol’s.)

Basically, Carol is laughable.  The film never lets us forget that, because she narrates the whole thing in perhaps the worst French accent ever spoken.  She mispronounces words left and right, and confuses Simon Bolivar with Simone Beauvoir.  She’s kind of pathetic: a single middle-aged woman traipsing by herself through Paris, the City of Love.

But the wonderful thing about “14e Arrondissement” is that Carol is not just a folly.  She’d be a fool if she weren’t self-aware, but she is.  She tugs at our hearts when she sits alone in a busy restaurant and talks about not having the expectation of falling in love in this city.  She chips away at our hearts when she reflects on the untimely deaths of her sister and mother.  And she flat out breaks us when she stands on the Eiffel Tower and feels like a fool for wanting to share the experience with her ex-boyfriend Dave, who she hasn’t spoken to in 11 years and who is currently married with three children.

Oh, Carol.  By this point in the movie, I just want to hug this lady and never let her go.  This is a woman who technically is a little silly, technically a little sad, but at the end of the day, she chooses to be happy.  Perhaps it’s the limited French skills, but she speaks plainly and clearly about her existence.  She communicates simplicity, and happiness. 

Her face, however, shows us that something is lingering beneath the facade - a longing, perhaps, or a sense of loss.  She is reflective, and self-aware.  We can infer that she’s had her heart broken, and that maybe her life didn’t pan out the way she expected it would.  But she’s happy.  She chooses to be happy.  To go and experience Europe for the first time, even though she’s lonely and this isn’t the ideal way to vacation in Paris.

“14e Arrondissement” concludes with Carol sitting in a public park, surrounded by people and eating a sandwich.  And suddenly, she is overcome with emotion.

Sitting there, alone in a foreign country, far from my job, and all the people I knew, a feeling came over me.  As if I recalled something, something that I had never known and for which I had been waiting.  But I didn’t know what it was.  Maybe it was something I had forgotten.  Or something I had missed my whole life.  I can only tell you that at the same time I felt joy and sadness.  But not a great sadness.  Because I felt alive.  Yes.  Alive.

Much like we do, Carol feels joy, and sadness.  She is the epitome of a tragicomic character, and what’s even better is that she experiences the mixed emotions that come along with it, within the narrative.  In the span of about six minutes, we chuckle at this lady’s external folly, then feel empathy towards her internal sadness, and wind up feeling just as sad and happy and peaceful as she does in that park in Paris.  It’s such a beautiful synchronicity of character, audience, and journey that I challenge you not to love this lady, or this short film, as a result.

Now go try the Frosty Fry.

1 comment:

  1. I know this is three years old, but she was on the skyscraper Tour Montparnasse when she was looking at Paris. She was never on the Eiffel Tower in the short.


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