Paris 36 overloads on the sugar and forgets all about its characters in the process

by Beacon Staff • April 15, 2009

Just like escargot, iParis 36/i is very French and hard to swallow. Instead of reviving French cinema in the USA, Director Christophe Barratier gives us a reason to start ordering freedom fries again at McDonalds.

The movie opens with a scene familiar to those all around the world. Excited towns people count down backwards from 10, until they welcome the year 1936. Paris's working class celebrates by singing familiar songs in the streets, bars and especially the Chansonia, a once great but now vacant theater due to a depression.

This theater had once employed the film's leading man, Pigoil (Geacute;rard Jugnot), a pudgy man with a heart as big as his gut.

Pigoil, on top of being estranged from his wife, is in jeopardy of losing his 12-year-old son due to hard economic times.

iParis 36/i could have been a great story not only because of Pigoil's dilemma, but also because there is something inherently attractive about period pieces set in France. But Barratier couldn't help but add an overdose of camp.

Pigoil and his friends dream of saving the theater and even though they are so poor they can hardly afford to eat, they somehow find the time and money to make the broken down rat whole look like The Majestic Theatre.

In his fight to save the Chansonia is his friend and former stage-hand Milou (Clovis Cornillac), a short-tempered womanizer determined to fight the man, and also Jacky (Kad Merad) an actor who stinks worst than old fromage but is determined to make it into the limelight.

When the beautiful and talented Douce (Nora Arnezeder) walks in for an audition, the Chansonia has found its star, a timid leggy blonde with personal baggage that seems to be relevant when it works in the film's advantage and irrelevant otherwise.

The movie leans on the long side and seems to drag in the middle. As we become interested in the characters' lives and troubles, the audience finds itself wanting more than what they get.

The film is reminiscent of a musical-turned-feature-film, where the complicated plot moves so quickly that if the action and dialogue were just slowed down, we could actually take time to assess what is going on and feel the intended emotions.

Just when we start to feel sad about Pigoil's son having to beg for food in the street-we jump to celebrating people working on the Chansonia, then to Douce crying about her deceased mother, and then to Jacky's comedy routine, to racism issues, to love triangles, to government riots and many sub-plots that are not given sufficient time to resonate with the audience.

An underemphasized feature is the film's lovely depiction of the Parisian landscape. The stunning views of Paris are unfortunately skipped over too much of the time in favor of hyper-active storytelling techniques.

Behind the action of the characters, the quick crossing of a street or a rooftop smoke, the film captures a sad and somewhat gloomy beauty and landscape that makes Paris looks as though it were painting created solely for these characters and their lives.

iParis 36/i is an attempted revival of a 1940's classic style of French cinema, but feels too much like a Moulin Rouge! themed birthday party. It is very much about what cabaret and vaudeville should be like, but fails to capture the spirit and the essence of what makes the classics great.

It is unfortunate that all that shines through iParis 36/i is it's stunning display of faux-Frenchness, for the storyline has the potential to be good. Perhaps there are too many elements that are competing for the audience's attention.

So, if you're into eating croissants, wearing red hats and smoking long cigarettes, you will fit right into the clicheacute;d world of iParis 36/i.