I like films. A surprising revelation I’m sure for the people reading a film blog by choice. I say this because I like film for everything it has to offer, not just one aspect. If I liked the cinematography of films I would write a blog praising the work of cinematographers and admiring the films of Terrence Malick above all else. Sadly however I am a film critic, or an aspiring one at least. That makes enjoying Paris is Us impossible. It might be one of the prettiest films ever made, it might have an ethereal feel that doesn’t quit but it all amounts to nothing because this is a picture show, a slide show of a people that serves no purpose.
Paris Is Us loosely follows Anna (Noémie Schmidt), a listless twenty something who re-evaluates her relationship with Greg (Grégoire Isvarine) when a plane she was supposed to get on to meet him in Barcelona crashes and she is forced to look back at her life and also all the hypothetical scenarios that could have been if she had just tried more. Or it isn’t about those things, it might just all be in her head. You decide.
That is probably the best way I can begin to describe Elisabeth Vogler’s dreamlike thought experiment of a film. A filming revelation in how it shoots its characters, uses real life events and places to add to the out there feeling of not belonging. Similar to Malick’s To The Wonder in style, here the close up airy feel to how the camera moves serves a grander purpose. The camera is like an insight into french society, a snapshot of a people at different times and places. The real life footage of the Charlie Hebdo riots and the memorials following the Nov 13th terror attacks in 2015 doesn’t just link Anna to the city but also to an idea of a people. It might just be the only thing that works.
The look, the way things are displayed are vital to your enjoyment of Paris Is Us. Without a connection to the visuals you might be adrift for 90 long minutes because the rest of the film is absent of story, emotion or anything else that makes it seem like a conventional film. This isn’t conventional but by the end you might just wished you had watched something that was.
Shooting for a film where you input your own ideas/imagination into Anna’s fever dream, Vogler can’t quite build enough of a character worthy of following through a whole film. While films can act as a template for your own vision it has to establish a set of understandable rules, a world that can function, no matter how out there. Paris Is Us has no grasp on what is real and what meaning is. Greg and Anna aren’t human, their arguments are accompanied by faux philosophical dialogue and voice overs that mean nothing, add nothing and feel like padding.
Vogler wants us to question Anna’s reality, what is real, why her life or idea of life is important. The questions here are so loose. Do these two mean anything to each other, what happened in reality, what didn’t? However the question that comes up more often than not unfortunately is why, as an audience, should we care? A perfectly serviceable meet cute in a night club doesn’t justify another 75 minutes of aimless drifting.
The film plays on the notion of Anna rewriting the history of a relationship that ended but meant a great deal to her. That is all well and good. Tell that story. Don’t make something simple so complex, so confusing that breaking into Anna’s mind is like completing an impossible labyrinth. Not only is she not interesting enough due to a bare bones, gibberish script but her relationship is a long list of inane arguments put to soft, relaxed tones that make you more hungry for a nap than answers.
It all surmounts to a very nice firework show. A nonsensical one that doesn’t satisfy. Personally I want to be pushed by my films, I want them to play to all my senses so I can lose myself in a world I hadn’t explored yet. If I wanted a pretty 90 minutes I’d go for a walk.