Paris, 13th District, 2021.
Directed by Jacques Audiard.
Starring Noémie Merlant, Lucie Zhang, Makita Samba, Jehnny Beth and Camille Léon-Fucien.
A selection of young people navigate sex and relationships in Paris.
Is there anything more French than a multi-stranded, monochrome drama about young Parisians having sex with each other? That’s what Jacques Audiard has delivered with his hugely enjoyable new drama Paris, 13th District, co-written with Léa Mysius and Portrait of a Lady on Fire filmmaker Céline Sciamma. Adapted in handsome fashion from a selection of short stories by American cartoonist Adrian Tomine, it’s an elegant and incredibly sexy tale about personalities and performance told with real flair.
Emilie (Lucie Zhang) is working a bland call centre job when she decides to rent out the spare room of her apartment to attractive young teacher Camille (Makita Samba). They’re very soon hooking up, which complicates their relationship immediately. Elsewhere, Nora (Noémie Merlant) is starting law school in her thirties, but finds her social standing in a state when she is mistaken for famous online porn star Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth) at a nightclub. This sends her into an entirely new career, which causes her to cross paths with Camille.
Audiard’s story unfolds in a beautifully shot, black-and-white world, in which the only colour comes from Amber Sweet’s cam girl streams. Cinematographer Paul Guilhaume gives the film a romantic glow, lighting up every social interaction with the potential for something more intimate. It’s a movie about sex and the difference between physical intimacy and true emotional connection, but told in a way that makes it clear nobody involved is taking the material too seriously. There’s an enjoyable lightness of touch to the whole thing. It often feels frivolous and a little disposable, but there’s nothing particularly wrong with a cinematic one night stand like this.
The movie is another great showcase for Merlant, who was of course so tremendous in Portrait of a Lady on Fire and shone earlier this year in unusual romance Jumbo. She’s deeply vulnerable as Nora, but the character has the ability to perform confidence – particularly in asserting her independence in the wake of the social humiliation she experiences at university. Her tender bond with Amber Sweet, who she contacts online after the mix-up, is the highlight of the movie – a warm depiction of how genuine relationships can form even amid the increasing toxicity of the internet.
Samba and Zhang also do solid work as the other two points of the movie’s square of central characters. The former, in particular, exudes the kind of easy charisma which only exists in a man who is absolutely certain of his attractiveness. But, crucially, the movie finds room to take him down a few pegs as well, lifting the layers to uncover the emotional truth beneath his defence mechanisms.
Audiard rattles through the narratives of Paris, 13th District with a fleet-footed energy, highlighting the hefty themes when they arrive but otherwise allowing things to stay light and kinetic. In stark contrast to the thoughtful meditation of his previous feature, The Sisters Brothers, this film steams through its action in a blur of sex, silliness and surprising heart. It might not linger as long in the memory as some of Audiard’s best films, but it’s two hours of stylish, joyous cinematic entertainment.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.