After a perfectly fine but very long week, it was time to go to the movies. Paris, Je T’aime recommended itself as one a) that I probably wouldn’t need to write a column about and 2) set in Paris. It’s a collection of eighteen 5-minute films from a range of directors (the Coen brothers, Gus Van Sant, Wes Craven, Alexander Payne, Isabel Coixet, Alfonso Cuaron — a total all-star list) and starring a range of actors from around the world.
Now, I love to read anthologies (so much that now I’m editing one!). The first that really made an impact on me was Twenty Under Thirty, edited by Debra Spark (which I read when I was, in fact, under thirty). This is the book that introduced me to Lorrie Moore; I read her story “Amahl and the Night Visitors: A Guide to the Tenor of Love” over and over (I can still quote it) and tried (unsuccessfully) to steal from it in a recent essay (ah, she’s still the master). Lately, there’s been a fabulous run of parenting anthologies, from the excellent Toddler to It’s A Boy, and of course the Literary Mama anthology. Then there are the food anthologies, the Best Food Writing books and my new favorite (which is really too heavy to read in bed but I do anyway), Molly O’Neill’s American Food Writing (an anthology with recipes; my dream come true!)
The appeal of the literary anthology, of course, is the range of voices. But it works, for me, because you can put it down. Pick it up, read a selection, put it down, reflect. Lovely. Perfect for bedtime reading. But you know, the anthology of movies, it’s a tricky thing. The putting down and reflecting moment isn’t available to the viewer, you just have to let the whole thing wash over you and hope that you retain something when it’s over.
So while on the one hand, you could just let Paris Je T’aime wash over you — it’s a series of love stories set in Paris, after all — a couple of the stories are just trying so hard that they’re irritating. And then they start to blend together a bit. After the sixth, I confess, I checked my watch, because that one had been so annoying (and the fifth one so perfect) that I wanted to leave and just remember the beautifully sad face of Catalina Sandino Moreno singing to her baby in the fifth story, Loin du 16e. But I stuck it out to the end (because I’m optimistic enough to rarely walk out on a movie; Scoop and Wild at Heart are the only two I can remember every leaving) and I’m glad I did, because Alexander Payne’s contribution, 14e arrondissement is also perfect. (Hmm, the two I really liked feature a single actress and hardly any direct dialogue.) So 2 for 18 is not great, perhaps, but only two were truly annoying, and the rest, like most movies, were just fine.