Published on April 16th, 2007 | by Hans Fruck0
Paris Je T’Aime + Sunshine + 300
PARIS JE T’AIME – Madman Cinema; released April 19
Paris Je T’Aime is a short film collection of staggering predictability and unexpected charm. Twenty-one directors were invited to lend their voices to a meditation on love in The City of Light, and like all anthologies of this kind, some parts are better than others.
The brain child of French producers Claude Ossard and Emmanuel Benbihy, the compilation features work by some of the most distinctive talents in contemporary cinema, most of whom are not native to Paris. Each seems to have faced a similar set of problems: how to make their own character heard against the overwhelming and implacable grace of Paris, and how to make a film about love in the City of Love that was not crippled by cliché.
Understandably, almost all of the directors have chosen to interpret love as something other than romance, staving off Paris’ relentless influence towards moonlit canal walks and breadsticks for two in the Latin Quarter. Instead, we see childless mothers, urban violence and adulterous husbands; we see the absence of love as much as the blossom; we see complications and compromise – and in the case of Christopher Doyle’s bizarre contribution, we see surrealist nonsense involving a Chinese dominatrix and a series of non-sequitur jump cuts set to Singapore Airlines theme song.
In the best moments of Paris Je T’Aime, we see the city, but we also see the director. Joel and Ethan Cohen (Fargo), with their uniquely American vision, pit Steve Buschemi as a guileless tourist against a subtitle-free French couple of incomprehensible aggression. His non-confrontational curiosity is his slapstick, their meaningless Europeans passions are theirs. Tom Tykwer’s (Run Lola Run) short sees the entire course of love between a beautiful American student (Natalie Portman) and her blind boyfriend fly past in the dense and frantic frames for which he is known, while Olivier Assayes (Irma Vep) works with routine opacity on the relationship between a visiting American actress (Maggie Gyllenhall) and her drug dealer.
In its more pedestrian moments, Paris Je T’Aime sees simpler artists making simpler films, with uninspiring results, such as Gurinda Chadha’s (Bend It Like Beckham) inter-racial romance, with its customarily corny conclusion, and Wes Craven’s (Nightmare on Elm Street) ghost-inspired graveyard love.
However, the gems, when they come, are well worth the wait. Unafraid of the French idiom, Triplets of Bellville director Sylvain Chomet leaps head first into a hilarious tale of mime love, while Gerard Depardieu and Frederic Auburtin (The Bridge) revel in the Autumn appeal of the sexually mature that is respected in Paris, if nowhere else. Alexander Payne (Sideways) leaves us with perhaps the sweetest, funniest and most poignant dream of Parisian romance, with his American postal worker and her stoic essay (in fluent French, although Midwest accent heavy) on the lonely holiday of her dreams. Despite her many disappointments, she falls in love with Paris – and with this wonderful conclusion, so do we.
SUNSHINE – general release
Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) has turned his talents to science fiction with Sunshine, another collaboration with novelist Alex Garland (The Beach). The plot is simple: the sun is dying and with it all hope of life on Earth. Scientists have devised a desperate plan to reignite the sun with an enormous nuclear bomb. Aboard the inauspiciously named spacecraft Icarus II, a small multinational crew of scientists and astronauts travel toward the sun, where they will deliver their ‘payload’.
The Icarus II is convincingly imagined and the characters well-scripted. Boyle does away with cinematic pieties, foregoing character arcs and backstories for thin-lipped immediacy as humanity’s last best hope hurtles sunward. The film is ravishingly photographed – as the Icarus II closes on its destination, Boyle makes jaw-dropping use of the sun’s incandescent furnace.
Some of the plot turns – the space walk, the abandoned ship, the shipboard tension – will be familiar to anyone with a passing interest in the genre. Yet despite the well-worn parts of the story, director, cast, and cinematographer conjure up an eerie, disquieting mood.
As if the stakes aren’t high enough already, in the last half-hour Boyle ratchets up the tension with an unexpected twist. In purely cinematic terms, it’s carried out with considerable panache. But you can’t help but feel that the thrillerly turn the film takes cheapens the scenario that Boyle and his cast have so compellingly set up. It steers a film that – despite its genre nods – was bracingly strange in a too-familiar direction.
Even so, the film is well-acted, technically brilliant, and unexpectedly mystical. And, oh, the climax to the space walk of the ship’s captain, Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada), is among the most beautiful things you’ll see at the cinema this year.
300 – general release
Based on the real-life 480 BC battle of Thermopylae, 300 has become quite the cultural hot potato. Despite being written years before 9-11 and the inauguration of Bush the Dumber, it’s been seen by many viewers as an allegory for Bush and Iraq or, more generally, the supposed clash of civilisations between the West and Islam. This, and the film’s fascination with suspiciously fascist iconography, has earned it the thumbs down from the cultural elite. Meanwhile, the other 99% of the filmgoing public see in 300 a prettily photographed sword-n-sandal epic, nothing more.
Gerard Butler plays Spartan king Leonidas. The film’s prologue shows how the brutal Spartan system hones Leonidas into a warrior so tough he can say the silliest things without anyone giggling. When emissaries from the invading Persian king Xerxes show up in Sparta demanding that Leonidas submit to him, testosterone peaks at Vesuvian levels. Amid much high-minded rhubarbing about ‘freedom’, Leonidas photogenically tops the Persian emissaries and, undaunted by a mere 3333 to 1 numerical disadvantage, marches off with 300 Spartans to confront Xerxes’ million-man army and flaunt the size of his balls.
Director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) has faithfully adapted 300 from a Frank Miller (Sin City) comic book, and damn, doesn’t it show. Butler, who can’t act but has great abs, bellows lines better suited to speech bubbles than to films – even brainless Hollywood ones. And like so many homages to hyper-masculinity, 300 is a compendium of unintended, and hilarious, homo-eroticism.
Shot almost entirely against green screen, 300 is certainly a wonder to behold. The foundering of the Persian fleet in a storm is gorgeous and meticulously imagined, as is the play of light and wind in the cloaks of the Persian emissaries when they enter the story. Alas, unless the audience share Miller and Snyder’s fixation with chiselled abs, rippling thighs, and artistic sprays of blood, the attraction of all-you-can-eat CGI soon begins to pall. It’s as if having expended all their energy on the ‘look’ of the film, Miller and Snyder have none to spare for anything else.
Unfortunately, it’s only as an aperture into the debates swirling around it that 300 is the least bit interesting.