We don't see a lot of anthology films anymore, and seldom do we see one as sprawling and ambitious as Paris, Je T'Aime, which is comprised of 18 short films by a crew of internally renowned directors (including Alexander Payne, Alfonso Cuaron, the Coen brothers, Tom Tykwer, and Gus Van Sant) and actors (including Catalina Sando Moreno, Nick Nolte, Juliette Binoche, Natalie Portman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Elijah Wood, Bob Hoskins, Steve Buscemi, Ben Gazarra, and Gena Rowlands). The stories are loosely connected by the title city and the theme of love; each director takes seven or eight minutes to tell their tale, with each one taking place in a different area of the city.
With any kind of anthology film, there's always a chance that the quality will vary wildly from short to short (Four Rooms leaps to mind), but that's not really the case with Paris, Je T'Aime. There are, to be sure, a couple of standouts--the Coens' segment with Buscemi is terrific, and Alexander Payne's film (which is smartly placed at the end) somehow distills everything great about his work, and this film, in a very short span of time (while also showcasing the marvelous character actress Margo Martindale, who gives perhaps the film's finest performance). Likewise, a couple of segments don't work at all; Sylvian Chomet's story about Eiffel mimes is just insufferable, and Vincenzo Natali's faux-horror piece is kind of interesting, but ultimately unsuccessful, particularly for being so far out of tone with the rest of the picture.
But for the most part, the film maintains a very solid standard. It might be a little too busy, and a couple of the films end just as they're getting started (particularly Cuaron's scene, which has a wonderful Nick Nolte performance and some neat visual and narrative tricks) while others (like Van Sant's) are little more than throwaways.
Ultimately, it's a film full of small pleasures--the soulful performances of Portman and Gyllenhaal, the little song that Moreno sings her baby, the lovely narration of Isabel Coixet's section, and the joy of watching Casavettes rep company members Gazarra and Rowlands as an old couple. It's mostly for cinephiles, but it's a rich treat for its intended audience.
First Look originally released Paris Je T'Aime on DVD in late 2007 in two versions: a single-disc regular edition, and a two-disc special edition, featuring the single-disc version as Disc One and a second disc of bonus features. That two-disc version is now being re-released in a sturdy steelbook case, perhaps to coincide with the upcoming spin-off film New York, I Love You (though that film has a much less stellar directors roster, what with the inclusion of Brett Ratner and all).
Video quality is consistent throughout, with a perfectly acceptable (if not exceptional) anamorphic image showing a minor bit of grain but an overall decent transfer. The exception is Natali's effects-heavy, graphic novel-style piece, which uses a monochromatic color scheme combined with emphasis items (like blood) that really pop.
The choices here are 2.0, 5.1 DTS, and 5.1 DD. All sound pretty good, though the front and center channels certainly get the most use (as most of the film is chatty and dialogue-driven). Again, the exception is the Natali short, which makes good use of all channels with its scare sound effects and intense orchestration.
The special features begin on Disc One, where the film itself shares space with the featurette At The Heart of Paris, Je T'Aime (25:45). This behind-the-scenes look at the film features interviews with all of the major players, some on-set footage, and clips from the film. While it's nice to hear from everyone (and see some of the directors), it's pretty standard EPK-style stuff, and the full-frame video image is on the shoddy side. Disc One's special features menu is rounded out by More From First Look, a collection of nine trailers from the distributor.
The bulk of the extras are on the bonus disc, most in full frame. First up we have The Making Of Paris, Je T'Aime, which is actually a selection of 18 making-of featurettes, one for each short film. The featurettes each run about the same 7 or 8 minutes as the shorts in the feature, so what we've basically got here is a feature-length version of the making-of featurette on Disc One. However, the length allows a bit more depth, and the choice here to showcase one film at a time (instead of jumping around, as in the featurette) gives it a bit more focus. That said, there is some repetition between the two (they were apparently drawn from the same interviews), and a "play all" option would have been nice (especially if it eliminated the shared introduction to each segment, which gets a bit tiresome after a while).
Next up is a Video Storyboard (3:22) for the Natali's segment, "Quartier De La Madeline". I always enjoy these kinds of extras; they spotlight the more obscure elements of pre-production and are especially valuable for young filmmakers. Again, this was not my favorite segment of the film, but the storyboards are fairly cool. Along those same lines, we have a Split Screen Storyboard (5:04) for another segment I could have done without, "Tour Eiffel." Here, we are shown the short itself on the left side, which is matched up to corresponding storyboards on the left side. It's fairly valuable as a production tool, though I could have done without ever seeing this particular piece of the film again.
Finally we have a widescreen Theatrical Trailer (2:27) that sums everything up about as well as one can in two and a half minutes.
Paris, Je T'Aime is flawed but fun, an enjoyable exercise that shows off some interesting directors and charismatic actors having a good time experimenting in the short film form. It's a bit uneven, but the strength of its better segments make the lesser ones a little more forgivable. In any event, it's worth at least a look. Recommended.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.