16th UK Jewish Film Festival Retrospective Review – Paris-Manhattan (2012)

Paris-Manhattan, 2012.

Directed by Sophie Lellouche.
Starring Alice Taglioni, Patrick Bruel, Marine Delterme, Michel Aumont and Woody Allen.

SYNOPSIS:

Local Pharmacist Alice (Alice Taglioni) is struggling to find someone who can live up to the image of her ideal man: Woody Allen. Surrounded by relationship dramas and obsessed with the films of Woody Allen, can new love interest Victor (Patrick Bruel), convince Alice to be courageous and fall in love?

Paris-Manhattan, the directorial feature debut from Sophie Lellouche, is the French writer-director’s love letter to the films of Woody Allen. It is a debut defined by challenges, of a willingness to step into the shadow of a great American auteur, whilst confronting the prospect of the marathon that is a feature film with only the 1999 short film Dieu, que la nature est bien faite! to her name.

Lellouche’s willingness to step into the shadow of Woody Allen is both successful and problematic. The early scenes in which Alice interacts with Woody are full of humour, possessing a genuine creativity. Lellouche’s individual voice and therefore her central protagonist do not permit Woody to intrude on a world he has inspired, and not created. It is not long before the references to Woody feel a little heavy handed, both the verbal and the visual; especially in the party discussion centred on whether Manhattan has aged well or not? Such moments create an impression that they are present for effect as opposed to creating substance for the narrative. The scenes in the film consequently see-saw, and Allen’s presence is especially effective in the opening scenes, as a sub-conscious presence, and as the root of Alice’s worldview. A love letter to the cinema of her idol, Allen’s cameo is perhaps more counterproductive, Allen more suited to being an influential presence rather than a physical one.

Whilst Allen’s presence is intrusive, and for some will present a certain conundrum as to whether Lellouche is simply paying homage or is in fact trying to discover and express her own voice, there is much to appreciate - if you are able to avoid the inevitable comparisons between Lellouche and Allen. She uses her inspiration to create a world that whilst not as elaborate or unique as some, sees her create a set of entertaining family dramas that work for the film. Whilst Alice may be the central protagonist it is Victor who brings a sense of excitement or renewal to her character, at a time when her Woody Allen obsessed and love struggling ventures quickly become tiresome. At times Alice’s sister Hélène (Marine Delterme) and husband Pierre (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) meeting in an ‘Allenesque’ way or Pierre jilting Alice for her sister may seem more intriguing with their relationship dramas, as do Alice and Hélène’s parents. Lellouche deliberately offsets these characters against Alice, who serves to interrogate the nature of relationships as she pursues her own idea of happiness. She is the observant outsider noticing the inherent pitfalls and dramas, criticising Hélène and Pierre’s dramas, some of which are only dramas to the external observer who may share a different view of love. The film is about courage and a character realising a truth that goes against their worldview. As Victor tells Alice, “Your dreams are banal. Reality offers better than that.”

Despite this being her first feature film, and with only one short to her name, Lellouche presents herself as a filmmaker who knows how to tell a story. She inspires some wonderfully comedic performances from her actors, staggering the ensuing dramas and revelations, constructing her characters journey with a focus, which helps in those moments when the film is stifled by Allen’s presence. Lellouche also couples her skill as a visual storyteller, with writing full of humorous wit.

In discussing a director’s first film, Lellouche told me, “This is a moment where you get inspiration from all directors and then find your own identity. The second time it will be different. You know what you like, what you don’t, what you can work with. First movies are very different, they are dreams; what you expect cinema to be.” There is a definite sense of an original voice here, as Lellouche perhaps makes with her inspirations. She side-steps the love triangle, a narrative device that has made modern romantic comedies feel worn and tired, and instead remains committed to her attempt at creating a romantic-comedy with an edgier take on relationships. The film inevitably builds to an unsurprising crescendo, but the film never attempts to suggest originality. The intellectual Alice character created here is certainly hindered at times by Lellouche’s inspirations, reminding us of classic films that have presented us with iconic intellectual characters in the context of a comedy, and the moments of more inventive creativity are too sparingly exhibited. The cast and those moments however do endear the film to its audience, along with the enjoyable wit that permeates the film; that whilst not the deft touch of Allen, is nonetheless possible to appreciate.

A light-weight romantic comedy, and by no means a French version of (500) Days of Summer, Paris-Manhattan is nonetheless a good humoured film. It left me with a warm sense of feeling. Rather fitting to its subject, and like the couples featured, it frustrated just as much as it entertained.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★

Paul Risker is a freelance writer and contributor to Flickering Myth, Scream The Horror Magazine and The London Film Review.

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