'Lost in Paris': Telluride Review

Courtesy of Oscilloscope Pictures
Unique physical comedy unlike anything else around now.

Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel star in this small-scale comedy evocative of the comic traditions of Buster Keaton.

It’s unclear whether whimsy is ever exactly in fashion, but it has probably never been as out of fashion as it is right now in a world media dominated by vulgarity, violence and bombast. In this atmosphere, the determinedly delicate goofiness and miniaturist preoccupations of something like Lost in Paris make it seem like a product of a different, more innocent time. Created and performed by the team of Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel, this always inventive and occasionally hilarious small-scale comedy follows the couple's previous features L’Iceberg (2005), Rumba (2008) and The Fairy (2011) in its homemade feel and its dedication to the comic traditions of Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati, with stylistic dashes courtesy surrealist artists and perhaps choreographer Pina Bausch. Oscilloscope has acquired distribution rights for the U.S., where the couple’s work is essentially unknown and, while commercial prospects remain small, a real effort should at last be made to at least put these idiosyncratic artists on the North American cultural map.

Defiantly marching to a different drummer than anyone else at the moment, Gordon and Abel are Brussels-based practitioners of highly controlled body movement used to comic effect. Like most of the great silent screen comics, they play relative innocents in a mercenary and often mean-spirited world. And yet most of the time, things somehow turn out alright.

Fiona (Gordon) is gawky, gangly, bespectacled Canadian librarian who sets off for Paris to help out her ancient Aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva!), who really ought not be living alone at this point (she makes out with a hapless guy half her age and puts garbage in the mailbox). The haplessly dorky Fiona traipses all over Paris wearing a backpack with a Canadian flag sticking out of it and, instead of locating Martha, who has disappeared, she encounters Dom (Abel), a homeless guy without a care in the world who believes in instant gratification no matter how dubious the prospects.

The storyline is a mere pretext for the sorts of sight gags, brilliantly timed pranks and pratfalls and physical comedy that depend entirely on timing and far-fetched coincidences that haven’t been so heavily deployed since the days of Tati more than a half-century ago, and by the silent comics before that.

Much of the action takes place along the Seine, a fine bit of it on a Maxim’s floating restaurant, several times with characters falling into the water and, in the climax, climbing up the Eiffel Tower at night, all in the hopes of finding the addled Martha, who has been mistaken for dead now for some time. In addition to Riva, veteran French Pierre Richard also makes a brief but amusing appearance.

It may be a specialist’s rarified sort of work now, but Gordon and Abel really know what they’re doing. It’s gentle and admittedly closer to a divertissement than a full-course comic meal. But no one else is doing anything like this at the moment.

Venue: Telluride Film Festival
Distributor: Oscilloscope
Production companies: CG Cinema, Moteur S’il Vous Plait Productions, Courage Mon Amour

Cast: Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, Emmanuelle Riva, Pierre Richard
Directors-screenwriters: Gordon and Abel (Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel)
Executive producer: Charles Gilbert
Directors of photography: Claire Childeric, Jean-Christophe Leforestier
Production designer: Nicolas Girault
Costume designer: Claire Dubien
Editor: Sandrine Deegen

Not rated, 85 minutes

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