In the opening minutes of Christophe Honoré's boldly earnest Dans Paris, Louis Garrel asks "Is it really possible for a love story to make us jump off a bridge?" Garrel says this directly into the camera, after first apologizing for stooping to such a cheap cinematic trick, and reassuring us that as soon as he's done talking, "I'll turn back into a character that doesn't know you or know the plot." Garrel's monologue is meant to prepare the audience for Dans Paris' desperate romanticism, but it also sets a playful tone that writer-director Honoré spends the next 20 minutes defying, in what amounts to a second prologue. Honoré introduces Garrel's brother Duris, and conveys his crushing depression and problematic relationship with his girlfriend in an extended montage of bad behavior.
After the dual intros, Dans Paris settles into the story of a single day in the life of Garrel and Duris, both living at home with their sad-sack divorced father, and both approaching the coming Christmas holiday differently. Duris stays in bed, either sleeping or staring dolefully at the ceiling, while Garrel dashes headlong through the city, meeting and sleeping with three separate women during the course of the day, and calling Duris' cell phone periodically with updates on his rake's progress. Throughout, Honoré fills the soundtrack with Alex Beaupain's sprightly jazz score, and breaks periodically for sweetly shticky sequences like Duris' wistful musical duet over the phone with his ex, and Garrel's fast-motion dance in front of Notre Dame.
Besides the restless style, Dans Paris is remarkable for being more about familial bonds than French cinema tends to be. (It's hard to think of too many major French films that aren't about individuals or institutions.) It starts with Duris slipping out of control: photographing himself with a handful of pills in his mouth in order to gain pity from his girlfriend, and ruining a playful, sexy moment with her by thrusting his crotch in her face and grunting, "Is that what you want?" So Garrel, charmingly puppyish, takes it upon himself to snap his brother out of his stupor by reminding him that life is to be savored. When they meet up again at the end of the day, Garrel tells Duris that while he was having sex with three different women, "I believed I was saving my brother's soul." In Dans Paris' own crazy way, that makes sense.