In Paris, a city rich in culture and romance, Pierre (Romain Duris, “Exils”) struggles with the possibility of death and expectantly awaits a replacement for his ailing heart. Each night he gazes wistfully at the apartment across the street, yearning for the affections of the beautiful woman in the window. The woman entertains the romantic advances of two men, one of whom is her professor and the star of a lucrative historical documentary. Pierre’s sister Elise (Juliette Binoche, “Dan in Real Life”) tends to her brother’s ailments while also striking up a sexual relationship with a local fruit vendor after his friend (and co-worker) is killed in a tragic accident.

“Paris”

At the Michigan
IFC

All of these people and their collective experiences form the emotional infrastructure of Paris, a city that lives and breathes in the same vein as its inhabitants.

The presentation of “Paris” is plagued with a few notable problems, the most prominent being its ineptness in developing characters equally within its two-hour time frame. Examining the lives of fewer characters — specifically those of Pierre, his sister and the history professor — could have easily solved this problem by freeing up valuable screen time.

The storyline explores the struggles of an illegal immigrant from Cameroon, but it touches upon him so briefly that his very existence in the plot is inconsequential. Juxtaposing this brief exploration with long, drawn-out scenes delineating trivial moments in the lives of the movie’s more prominent subjects, the whole composition of the film feels off-balance and out of focus.

It would be foolish, however, to ignore the beautiful depiction of the city of Paris offered by the lush cinematography, smooth transitions and skillful acting the movie exudes. This triumph in artistry, while impressive in scale, is superseded by the philosophical point made in the film: namely, the marked difference between the objective and the subjective realities of human beings. For example, though Pierre’s suffering is the most profound experience in his own recent life, his trials are viewed as routine and insubstantial through his peers’ lens of objectivity.

This characteristic of the human condition is the reason for our selfishness, and its only solution is a deeper connection with those other than ourselves. And even those who have labeled “Paris” as a light-hearted travelogue can’t deny that it’s downright gorgeous (though they have most certainly underestimated its potential).

The basic yet beautiful essence of “Paris” is its analysis of individual experience from the perspectives of both those experiencing and those watching. After all, the catharsis felt in the tragedy of loss or the joy of victory is rarely viewed in the same light by those watching the competition as it is by the competitors.

“Paris” sets out to illustrate our misconceived notions about our fellow man, and it proves its point effectively. If only it had bothered to explore its most relevant characters further, we may have felt their joys and sorrows with the same breadth of emotion as they did.

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