Nothing adds gravity to an otherwise featherweight trifle quite like terminal illness: In film, as in life, it’s all fun and games until somebody dies a tragic, early death. Paris prominently features a freak death, a handsome young dancer (Romain Duris) who might perish if he can’t get a heart transplant, and a running time that tops two hours. Yet When The Cat’s Away/The Spanish Apartment writer-director Cédric Klapisch never threatens to turn his bemused look at a broad cross-section of Parisians seeking deep meaningful emotional connections—or at least casual sex—into anything more than a pleasant diversion.
Juliette Binoche leads a large ensemble cast as Duris’ sister, a tough-minded 40-year-old single mother who moves in with Duris after he becomes sick. From his window, Duris gazes adoringly at a heartbreakingly beautiful young student (Mélanie Laurent, the ferocious Jewish avenger of Inglourious Basterds) and develops a painful crush. Laurent’s ethereal beauty also attracts the attention of one of her professors, (Fabrice Luchini), an anxious depressive in the midst of a hellacious midlife crisis. In an Olympian fit of bad judgment, he sends Laurent asinine text messages leading to an intergenerational affair that means much more to one party than the other.
As befits a film about a dancer staring down death, Paris roots its best moments in movement rather than dialogue. Luchini has a wonderful scene where he casts off the drudgery of middle age and dances ecstatically to Wilson Pickett’s “Land Of 1000 Dances” for a delighted Laurent. Binoche has a similarly revelatory moment when she favors a new lover with an ingratiatingly amateurish striptease. Paris flits from story to story and character to character without doing justice to any of them, in spite of a running time that seems wildly excessive, given the film’s modest ambition. As its title suggests, Paris emerges as a major character in its own right. Alas, the City Of Lights is no better developed than any of the other one-dimensional searchers in this agreeable but highly forgettable comedy-drama.