- Movie Rating -

Paris, 13th District (2021)

| April 15, 2022

I saw Jacques Audiard’s Paris, 13th District on a day when I saw five other movies.  It was the only free day that I had in the week so I was cramming, therefore I didn’t have a lot of time to ruminate before whisking off to the next movie.  Yet, out of the sextet of movies that I saw that day, this one kept coming back to me.  Something about its tapestry of people who connect either romantically or sexually or both within the whirling maelstrom of 21st century digital communication stuck with me.  When my brain had time to breathe, it was the first film that I wanted to write about.

I am unfamiliar with the works that inspired this film, the short comic series by American cartoonist Adriane Tomine but I am to understand that they are very internal.  What is notable about Paris, 13th District is that this approach translates to Aulaird’s film without feeling like a distraction.  Things aren’t gummed up with a lot of flashbacks, or auditory monologues.  We see what the characters are thinking through their expressions and their body language.

The film is an anthology of sorts about various young people living in Les Olympiades, a series of residential towers in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, France.  Aulaird’s camera is in love with this district, photographed in luscious black and white by Paul Gilhaume.  We see it in the backgrounds with it’s vast windows and sense that within those apartments, there are a thousand lives being led and a thousand stories to be told.  The few people that we meet intersect in very interesting ways.

As the movie opens we meet Émilie (Lucie Zhang) as she sits on the couch naked and lazily practices karaoke into a microphone.  She is not exactly a go-getter, but that doesn’t mean that the opportunities aren’t at her fingertips, she just lacks the ambition to put them into motion.  She works dead-end jobs at a call-center and waitressing and lives in an apartment owned by her grandmother who is currently suffering from dementia in a nursing home, and whom she is chided by her mother for never visiting.

Émilie is, we soon learn, in a full-blown sexual relationship with Camille (Makita Samba), a man who became her roommate when she responded to her ad and whom she assumed, based on his name, that he was a girl.  Either way, she allowed him to take the room, but very soon things moved to her bed.  The emotional conflict came from the fact that she was very slowly beginning to fall in love with him, but he wasn’t interested.  Undaunted, she joined a dating app with which she developed a near-addiction.

Couple that with the story based on Tomine’s “Amber Sweet”, about a thirty-something student named Nora (Noémie Merlant, who bears a strange resemblance to Emma Watson) whose personal life becomes a nightmare when she goes to a nightclub in a blonde wig and is then mistaken by her fellow students for Amber Sweet, a popular online porn star.  Night and day she is slut-shamed on her phone and in person.  What happens is not what we expect.  Most screenwriters would mine this scenario for comedy but Tomine was interested more in the human element.  Nora actually calls “Amber” (Jenney Beth) and what develops is really interesting.  

The whole movie is like that.  The stories are not so much about what happens but about how the characters respond to them and how they all connect, disconnect and reconnect via digital technology, which seems to exist in their personal space as personal space.  But, the heavier work is done by the actors whose body language and facial expressions speak volumes in ways that gobs of overstated dialogue could not.  I liked that about it.  I liked living with this people for a short time.  I liked learning about their lives and seeing how their flaws get them through, how it connects them and changes them as people.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2021) View IMDB Filed in: Foreign