EmptyToronto International Film Festival
Those who admired French director Barratier's previous outing, "The Chorus" (most ticket-buying viewers), which also headlined veteran comic actor Gerard Jugnot, will surely admire "Paris 36," another heartwarming tale of a determined man overcoming great odds to triumph in the end, though the admiration might be a bit more tepid this time around.
Those who thought the earlier film was trite and sentimental (most critics) won't like the new one at all. Sony Pictures Classics, who is releasing the film in the U.S. should see moderate box-office from viewers who love all things French. Festivals should definitely give it a look for its rousing finale.
One of the most interesting things about "Paris 36" is that it's set during the leftist Popular Front government of the mid-1930's, when the Jewish politician Léon Blum was prime minister.
This fascinating period of militant labor unrest is rarely used as a historical backdrop for any French films and here, predictably, it serves as little more than a way to provide a Commies vs. Fascists sub-plot that is occasionally juiced up by an obnoxious anti-Semitic remark or satirical skit.
Jugnot plays a stage-hand who works in a small music-hall called the Chansonia, located in an unspecified working-class district of Paris. When it goes out of business, leaving him and a couple of his friends out of work, they attempt to get the music-hall going again, but fail miserably.
After that, the plot thickens considerably, including a child kept from his father by a scheming mother, a gorgeous young chanteuse-in-the-rough almost kept from her true love, a Communist union organizer, by the machinations of the mustache-twisting, fascist villain, a talentless but warm-hearted performer who does terrible imitations, a secret that comes out about an old man who refuses to leave his house, preferring to listen to the radio, and on and on.
In fact, the plot is trying so hard to go in so many different directions at once, that it is difficult to get involved in the overall film. Nora Arnezeder as the chanteuse is charming and beautiful, but seems mismatched with the less-than-incandescent leading man played Clovis Cornillac, almost making you root for the middle-aged, fascist seducer, who at least has a little pizzazz.
Many stale plot devices are recycled, such as letters from a devoted father which are kept from his loving son. Much of the film also recalls the can-do spirit of Mickey Rooney's "Hey, kids, let's put on a show," and seems deeply predictable and even worse, simply flat. It's hard to show a string of bad performances, of course, without running the risk of turning off the movie audience as well.
Action is always swift, the camera never stops zooming and swooping and pirouetting, and the editing would make MTV cutters envious, but all of the technical fireworks (a la "Moulin Rouge," a much better film) seems engineered to keep viewers' minds off the sad fact that there's really not much going on here.
The movie is almost rescued by the wonderful 1930's style songs (written by Reinhardt Wanger and Frank Thomas) that populate its final act, matched by the fantastically choreographed show that the kids, in fact, do ultimately manage to put on.
Production Companies: Galatee Films, Pathe Production, Constantin Film, France 2 Cinema, France 3 Cinema, Logline Studios, Novo Arturo Films, Blue Screen Productions
Cast: Gerard Jugnot, Clos Cornillac, Kad Merad, Nora Arnezeder, Pierre Richard, Bernard-Pierre Donnnadieu, Maxence Perrin
Director: Christophe Barratier
Screenwriter: Christophe Barratier
Producers: Jacques Perrin and Nicholas Mauvernay
Director of photography: Tom Stern
Production designer: Jean Rabasse
Editor: Yves Deschamps
Sales: Pathe International
No rating, 120 minutes