(No longer in theaters)
Nicolas Mauvernay, Jacques Perrin
Apr 3, 2009
The lush, cornball French melodrama Paris 36 has the kind of impact Baz Luhrmann went for in Moulin Rouge but missed by miles because he couldn’t stop layering one synthetic period element on top of another—whereas the director here, Christophe Barratier, has the taste to stick to one synthetic element at a time. The film is a self-conscious throwback, rich in Frenchy accordion music (there’s a moppet who’s an accordion prodigy) and limpid tracking shots through color-saturated, cobbled streets. It’s 1936 in a working-class district of Paris, where an anti-Semitic gangster with ties to the Fascist front seizes a grand old music hall, and a band of would-be performers—led by middle-aged sad-sack stagehand Pigoil (Gérard Jugnot), womanizing Commie electrician Milou (Clovis Cornillac), and sandwich-man turned terrible impressionist Jacky (Kad Merad)—pleads for a chance to keep the theater from being razed. They’ll put on a show! Hopelessly amateurish, the troupe is saved by a remarkably pretty young blonde called Douce with a sweet soprano to match her angel face. The gifted, unknown actress-singer who plays her, Nora Arnezeder, also saves the movie, which would otherwise blur into a mass of droopy, mustached, big-honkered Gallic character actors. My tolerance for French kitsch is low and French accordion music lower, so that I stayed in my seat bodes well for the film’s commercial prospects. The nostalgia isn’t for the period in which Paris 36 is set, but for the petit bourgeois mind-set that settles for its bogus comforts.