Paris, je t’aime is about the plurality of cinema in one mythic location: Paris, the City of Love. Twenty filmmakers have five minutes each; the audience must weave a single narrative out of twenty moments. The 20 moments are fused by transitional interstitial sequences and also via the introduction and epilogue. Each transition begins with the last shot of the previous film and ends with the first shot of the following film, extending the enchantment and the emotion of the previous segment, preparing the audience for a surprise, and providing a cohesive atmosphere. There’s a reappearing mysterious character who is a witness to the Parisian life. A common theme of Paris and love fuses all.
“Montmartre” Directed by Bruno Podalydes.
It begins with a man [Bruno Podalydes] driving around the narrow streets of Montmartre. He’s trying to find a parking space, but can’t, and is getting increasingly frustrated. He finally finds a spot, which turns out to be a little too small, but in a funny sequence he crams his car in anyway. He sits in his car, watching couple after couple pass, wondering why he doesn’t have a partner. He finally sees a woman [Florence Muller] by herself walking past, and by chance she happens to faint right next to his vehicle. He jumps out to help her as a small crowd gathers. He lays her in the back seat to rest, and then gets back behind the wheel to wait. She eventually awakes, and they chat. There is a spark between them. She says she’s on her way to an appointment with her tobacconist. He offers to drive her there and even wait until she’s done. They’re both very happy with this and it ends there.
“Quais des Seine” Directed by Gurinder Chadha.
It begins along the Seine riverfront with three teenage boys yelling catcalls at passing women. One of the boys, Francois [Cyril Descours], makes eye contact with a Arab Muslim girl named Zarka [Leila Bekhti], and they smile at each other. This causes her to trip because she’s not looking where she’s going. He runs over to help her up. They chat a moment, and Zarka tells Francois that he and his friends are being dumb because they’ll never pick up girls by shouting lewd things at them. She says she’s on her way to the mosque and hurries off. A moment later, Francois takes off after her. As he nears the mosque, Zarka walks out and is pleasantly surprised to see him. An older man [her grandfather] exits as well. They cross the street and she introduces Francois to him. As the older man and Zarka walk off, they invite Francois to join them. The short ends with the three of them walking down the sidewalk, talking.
“Le Marais” Directed by Gus Van Sant.
It starts with an American woman and her young male French assistant Gaspard [Gaspard Ulliel] entering a small printing company. As the woman and the shop owner head to the back to discuss business, Gaspard waits and chats to the shop owner’s assistant, named Elie [Elias McConnell], another male about the same age. Gaspard, clearly smitten, talks almost non-stop but Elie hardly says a word. The woman and the shop owner return, and she and Gaspard take off. The shop owner asks Elie what he and Gaspard were talking about. It turns out Elie hardly speaks French, and couldn’t understand what Gaspard was saying. The shop owner hands Elie the woman’s business card and Elie takes off running down the street after them.
“Tuileries” Directed by the Coen brothers.
A nameless American tourist [Steve Buscemi] is waiting at an underground Metro subway station for his train. He’s reading a guidebook on the city, and one of the things he reads warns him not to make direct eye contact with the locals. Foolishly, he looks around and spots a young local couple having a heated argument on the other side of the tracks. He makes direct eye contact with the woman [Julie Bataille]. Before he knows it, she’s sitting beside him. The jealous boyfriend [Axel Kiener], still on the opposite side, has a fit. The girl grabs the Tourist and gives him a long, passionate kiss. The boyfriend immediately is upon them, pulling him off her. He gives the Tourist a good pummeling, and then dumps a bag of souvenirs over him. The twisted and deranged girl and her equally deranged boyfriend walk off, a couple again, and laugh about the incident.
“Loin du 16eme” Directed by Daniela Thomas.
It begins in an apartment in a working class neighborhood outside the city, as Ana [Catalina Sandino Moreno] drops her baby off at daycare. As the baby lies in his crib, she sings him a sweet lullaby. She leaves, obviously sad to go, and takes a long trip by train and by bus to a rich part of the city. As she enters her employers apartment, the lady of the house asks if Ana can work a few extra hours because they have plans for the evening. Ana is not happy, but says yes anyway. As the woman leaves, Ana goes to a crib and sings the same sweet lullaby to her employer’s baby.
“Porte de Choisy” Directed by Christopher Doyle.
It begins with Monsieur Henri [Barbet Schroeder], a traveling hair products salesman, trying to find a certain store in Paris’ Chinatown. When he gets there, he’s greeted by the owner, Madame Li [Li Xin] punching through a window at his face. Unfazed, he goes inside and gives his pitch, which doesn’t impress her. He leaves and goes to a Buddhist temple, where a monk confiscates his cell phone. Shortly after, the monk gets a call for Monsieur Henri from Madame Li. Monsieur Henri returns to the salon. It turns out Madame Li was impressed by the products Monsieur Henri had left behind, and together they proceed to give a whole series of makeovers [including one to Madame Li]. It concludes with Madame Li and Monsieur Henri having a semi-tender moment together where he compliments her new look, before he takes his suitcase and resumes his travel.
“Bastille” Directed by Isabelle Coixet.
This segment is entirely narrated by an unknown Frenchman. It starts with a husband [Sergio Castellitto] waiting at a café, thinking over all his wife’s [Miranda Richardson] quirks and habits, and wondering how hes going to break up with her [he’s cheating with a hot, young woman]. She walks in, and before he can begin she hands him a note from the doctor she has terminal cancer and doesn’t have long to live. She breaks down, and he decides to do the honorable thing and stay with her. As he does, and time goes on, he finds himself falling in love with her all over again. He dumps his mistress by text message. One day, the wife finally passes and he’s devastated. Several years go by. He’s wandering around a market, when he double-takes on a woman in a bright red raincoat. He says he still finds himself looking anxiously at every woman in a red coat [his wife’s favorite], wondering if he’ll ever recover.
“Place des Victoires” Directed by Nobuhiro Suwa.
It starts in a small apartment, where Suzanne [Juliette Binoche] sits in the room of a little boy, crying. There are cowboy and other Western themed toys and posters all over the room. Her husband [Hippolyte Girardot] comes to console her, and it becomes obvious that the little boy was their son, and he’s recently passed away. Suzanne cries out that she doesn’t believe in God anymore, because her son is dead and she feels only misery. Later, as they’re sleeping, Suzanne hears her sons voice. She follows it outside into a deserted street, where a Cowboy [Willem Dafoe] rides up on his horse. He asks her if she wants to see her son again. She says yes. He asks if she’s sure. She says “yes”. Suddenly, its daytime and little children are playing all around. Among them is Suzanne’s son, and he runs to his mother. She hugs him and holds him tight. The son says he has to follow the Cowboy, but Suzanne cant bring herself to let go. Finally, she does, and she watches as the Cowboy guides her son away. It’s night again, and the husband comes running up. He asks Suzanne what happened. She answers that she saw their son, and she believes in God again.
“Tour Eiffel” Directed by Sylvain Chomet.
It begins with a funny looking little boy with oversized glasses and a huge suitcase on his back, being told by his unseen father how he and his mother met. Next we see the father [Paul Putner], who turns out to be a mime. He lives alone in a small house crammed between two large buildings. He begins his day eating alone, and then gets into his imaginary car to drive around the city [funny Flintstones-like sequence]. He makes a couple of stops, eventually ending up at the base of the Eiffel Tower. In mime fashion, he makes fun of the tourists walking around. One family of tourists takes offense, and a man chases him. Next time we see the mime, he’s in jail. Also with him is a female mime [Yolande Moreau]. It’s love at first sight. Upon release, he takes her for a romantic drive around the Eiffel Tower in his imaginary car. It then flashes forward again to the little boy, as his parents wave goodbye to him. Some bigger boys run past and knock the little boy down, but his father shows him how, in mime fashion, to turn his frown into a happy face. The little boy picks himself up and runs off, presumably to school.
“Parc Monceau” Directed by Alfonso Cuaron.
It begins with Vincent [Nick Nolte] rushing to keep an appointment with Clare [Ludivine Sagnier]. [Note: The entire short is taken in one long, continuous tracking shot as they walk along the sidewalk.] Clare is worried about Gaspard and says she can’t be late because he’ll get upset. Vincent tells her to relax, that everything will work out fine. It goes back and forth like this for a few minutes, with Clare anxious and Vincent reassuring that its okay, and just when you think its about a May-December affair, they come upon a baby carriage being attended to by Clare’s friend Sarah. It turns out that Vincent is Clare’s father, and he is babysitting Gaspard while Clare and her friend Sarah go for a night out.
“Quartier des Enfants Rouge” Directed by Olivier Assayas and Frederic Auburtin.
It begins with Ken [Lionel Dray], a small time drug dealer, making a delivery to Liz [Maggie Gyllenhaal], an American actress in town to shoot a movie during a party she is having in her apartment. Liz doesn’t have any money on her, so they go to a nearby bank machine. As Liz waits at the machine, it becomes obvious that Ken has a thing for her. He reaches out, almost touching her hair. As a ruse to spend more time together, he says he can’t make change and they have to go into a bar. They chat a bit, and Liz invites Ken to visit her on the set, and gives her phone number. Then she goes back to her apartment and parties with the drugs he gave her. A few days later, she’s waiting in her trailer on the film set, and decides to call Ken for another delivery [and its implied, possibly more]. Someone knocks on the door, and Liz is disappointed to find out its not Ken. The new guy explains that something came up and Ken couldn’t make it. The short ends with the new guy sneaking a souvenir from her dresser and riding away on his motorcycle.
“Place des Fetes” Directed by Oliver Schmitz.
It begins with Hassan [Seydou Boro], a young African immigrant, laying beside a statue as Sophie [Aissa Maiga], a young local black woman, approaches. Hassan’s been injured, and Sophie is an EMT. As she tends to his wounds, he recognizes her and asks if she finally wants to get coffee. She’s confused, so he tells her how he knows her. It flashes back to Hassan working in an underground parking lot as Sophie drives in and parks her car. They chat briefly, and Hassan is immediately smitten. He asks her to join him for coffee, but even though she’s charmed she declines saying she doesn’t have time. Hassan can’t forget her though, and dreams and sings love songs, and even approaches women on the street when he thinks it might be her. After one such encounter, a group of thugs hassle Hassan and grab his guitar. As Hassan tries to take it back, one of them stabs him. It flashes forward to Hassan lying next to the statue with Sophie. She’s touched by his story, and asks a bystander to run and get them some coffees. The ambulance arrives as the bystander returns with the coffees. The cups shake in Sophie’s hand as she watches Hassan, close to death if not dead already, being loaded into the back of the ambulance.
“Pigalle” Directed by Richard LaGravenese.
It begins with Bob [Bob Hoskins], a British businessman, walking into a strip club bar, where he meets a woman named Fanny [Fanny Ardant]. They flirt a moment before Bob walks into a booth for a private show. Fanny stays at the bar and asks the bartender to put on her favorite song. In the booth, Bob’s watching the stripper when Fanny suddenly bursts in. They argue, and its revealed they know and are involved with each other and the charade is a little game to spice up their love life. Fanny doesn’t like it, so she slaps Bob and storms off. Bob chases after her and catches her on the street. She accuses him of being insensitive. He apologizes, and reveals a small band on the sidewalk that plays her favorite song. They make up. As they walk off together, they pass a billboard revealing they’re an acting duo, and the subtitle reads ‘closing soon’.
“Quartier de la Madeleine” Directed by Vincenzo Natali.
This short is the most different from the bunch, shot in almost black-and-white and with a very old-school horror feel. It begins with another nameless American tourist [Elijah Wood] wandering the streets at night, lost. He comes to an overpass and notices blood on the ground. Suddenly, he spots a female vampire [Olga Kurylenko] draining a victim. He tries hiding, but the Vampire notices him. As it closes in, the Vampire’s expression changes from anger to fascination. Seeing as the Vampire is a beautiful young woman, the Tourist’s expression also changes from fear to almost love-struck. The Vampire decides to spare him, and leaves. The Tourist is upset to see her go so he breaks a nearby bottle and slashes his wrist. The Vampire doesn’t turn back. The blood loss weakens the Tourist and he falls down the stairs of the overpass, eventually cracking his head open at the bottom. As he lies there bleeding to death, the Vampire comes back and saves him by turning him into a vampire as well. Elijah stands, reborn, and just when you think he’s about to kiss the female Vampire he bites her in the neck. She’s stunned momentarily, and then she smiles and bites him in the neck in return.
“Pere Lachaise” Directed by Wes Craven.
William and Frances [Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer] are a British couple staying in Paris on their honeymoon [although they’ve yet to marry]. As they wander around the Pere Lachaise graveyard, she half-jokes that William is always so serious and doesn’t have any sense of humor or romance. He asks her why shes agreed to marry him, then. They come upon Oscar Wilde’s grave. Frances is enthralled, but Williams unimpressed, calling the monument ugly. She gets upset and storms away. William gives chase, but trips and smacks him head against the gravestone. Suddenly, the ghost of Oscar Wilde [Alexander Payne] appears behind him. Oscar gives William some poetic advice about the meaning of love and loss. William, inspired, chases after France, apologizes and wins her back. He offers to take her back to his apartment and make love to her. She agrees and they leave the cemetery arm-in-arm.
“Faubourg Saint-Denis” Directed by Tom Tykwer.
It begins with a blind student named Thomas [Melchior Beslon] doing homework at his computer. He gets a call from his American girlfriend Francine [Natalie Portman]. She gives an eloquent speech comparing their love affair to the seasons, and says they’ve entered winter. Basically, she’s dumping him. As he hangs up, he thinks back on their relationship. They met when he was wandering down the street and overheard her crying. It turned out she was an actress, and was running late for an audition. He offered to show her a shortcut, and even though he’s blind they took off running. She made it to the audition in time and was impressed. The rest of their relationship is played in fast-motion him introducing her to his parents, them at the train station, them at other places around the city, them in their apartment. It goes faster and faster, Thomas narrating the entire time, and it becomes obvious they’re becoming more and more distant because he’s concentrating so much on school. Finally it ends up with Thomas at his computer again, just after hanging up. He gets another call. Its Frances again. She asks how it was. It turns out the speech was just some dialogue she was practicing. He smiles, relieved.
“Quartier Latin” Directed by Gerard Depardieu.
It starts with an elderly American man named Ben [Ben Gazzara] stepping out of a cab and entering a café to meet his wife Gena [Gena Rowlands]. After the café owner [Gerard Depardieu] shows them to a table and brings some wine, Ben and Gena talk. It’s the night before they have to sign their divorce papers, and they’re trying to end the marriage amicably. They thank each other for not bringing their lawyers along. They reflect back on their relationship, and its obvious they’re both a little sad its over, but nothing can be done. She’s taken on a younger lover, and so has he [he’s expecting a new baby]. Their conversation goes from pleasant to somewhat confrontational. Some mild accusations fly, and Gena decides to go. She blows Ben a kiss, and he replies by smiling and calling her bitch [half-jokingly]. Ben goes to the bar to pay, but the owner says their drinks are on the house.
“14th arrondissement” Directed by Alexander Payne.
It begins over a black screen, as we hear Carol [Margo Martindale] get called up to the front of her French class to talk about her recent trip to Paris, which was one of her life-long dreams. The rest of the short is narrated by Carol in her really poor [pronunciation-wise] French. Carol wakes up in her Paris hotel. She discusses the food some of it good, some not so good. She wanders around the city by herself. She takes in all the usual sights, and we get the feeling its more out of obligation than anything else as she doesn’t seem to get overly-excited by anything. She likes what she sees, but seems a little disappointed to not be more impressed. She finally ends up at a park to eat her lunch. As she sits there and watches couples walking past and the children playing, she’s suddenly overcome with emotion. On the verge of tears, she says that this is the moment she fell in love with Paris, and felt Paris fall in love with her.
The film concludes with a short montage of the characters [Bob and Ben greeting each other at a café, Elijah partying at Liz’s apartment, Thomas and Francine walking happily down the street, Suzanne and Gena toasting each other through their neighboring apartment windows, the Montmartre man and woman now a couple, Zarka meeting her sister, who happens to be Ana, and going to a music concert with Francois tagging along, etc.] played over that cheery waltz from the trailer.
The final shot of the film is the city at night, fireworks exploding over the Seine and the Eiffel Tower sparking with lights.