Paris or Perish (Paris a tout prix): Film Review

A keenly observed though rather conventional cross-cultural comedy.

Actress Reem Kherici makes her directorial debut in this French-Moroccan comedy, which also stars Cecile Cassel and Tarek Boudali.

PARIS -- A Moroccan-born fashionista finds herself in a situation of Paris or Perish (Paris a tout prix) in actress-turned-filmmaker Reem Kherici’s endearing freshman comedy. Like a Louboutin-wearing companion to the recent, Algeria-set Homeland (Ne quelque part), this story of a rambunctious Parisian deported back to Marrakesh offers up a well-observed portrait of clashes both cultural and vestimentary, even if it tosses out few genuine surprises. A minor summer hit at the French box office, the Gaumont title has seen brisk foreign sales but may be a tad too broad for U.S. art house tastes.

Making her directing debut after various TV stints and a role opposite Jean Dujardin in the 2009 spoof OSS 117: Lost in Rio, Kherici stars as a bling-flinging fashion designer named Maya—a girl obsessed with style and standing whose North African roots have been buried under piles of pricey shoes and layers of black eyeliner.

But that all changes drastically when she’s pulled over for a routine traffic infraction and, due to an expired visa, is whisked away on a plane to Morocco, where she lands back in the spartan country home she left twenty years earlier. Confronted by an overzealous grandmother (Fatima Naji), a grunge-bearing father (Mohammed Bastaoui) and a younger brother (Tarek Boudali) whose daily pranks keep her mildly enraged, Maya tries by any means necessary to make it back to Paris, where she hopes to nab a full-time work contract that could keep her in France for good.

Of course, the task is far from simple, and screenwriters Kherici, Morgan Spillemaecker and Philippe Lacheau get decent mileage out of the film’s midsection, in which Maya resists a Moroccan culture she’s all but forgotten, all the while slowly opening up to its many charms. Such scenes are highlighted by her bro’s practical jokes and her rather feckless dealings with the locals, whom she treats in ways both rude and disdainful--that is to say, like a true Parisian.

But those cleverly conceived moments soon give way to the plot in which Maya tries to make it back for her company’s big fashion show, where she hopes to win over the tyrannical Nicolas (Stephane Rousseau), a flamboyant a-hole who treats his dog way better than the rest of his staff. Yet, rather than resisting such a world with her newfound take on life, Maya ultimately remains hell-bent on joining its ranks, and Paris or Perish winds up compromising its message in a third act where situations effortlessly work themselves out and the status quo is never truly thrown into question.

Despite the flawed resolution, Kherici injects plenty of energy into the proceedings, portraying Maya as a bitchy fashion junky who gets the comeuppance she deserves, even if the film tends to let her off all too easily. Boudali (Heartbreaker) is particularly engaging as a hometown boy who’s more resourceful than he appears, while co-stars Cecile Cassel and Philippe Lacheau do what they can as side characters whose amorous antics are meant to provide chuckles along the way.

Tech contributions are polished, with cinematographer Nicolas Massart (Home Sweet Home) contrasting the glitz of Paris with the rough-and-tumble Marrakesh settings.

Production companies: Mandarin Cinema, Gaumont

Cast: Reem Kherici, Cecile Cassel, Tarek Boudali, Philippe Lacheau, Shirley Bousquet

Director: Reem Kherici

Screenwriters: Reem Kherici, Morgan Spillemaecker, Philippe Lacheau

Producers: Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer

Director of photography: Nicolas Massart

Production designer: Yves Fournier

Costume designer: Aurore Pierre

Music: Laurent Aknin

Editor: Veronique Parnet

Sales Agent: Gaumont

No rating, 92 minutes