Dans Paris Review

Dans Paris is a hard film to sell. Most of it takes place over the course of a single day, one part of it set in a bedroom that a character is unable to leave due to depression, while the other part appears to just be irritatingly frivolous. Additionally, there would seem to be far too many nods and winks to a rather outmoded Nouvelle Vague style that ought to have no relevance to modern-day cinema. Very little happens over the course of the film, yet it works, brilliantly and impressively, touching on real human emotions, the trials and tribulations of life, as well as the little joys and marvels that every day can bring.

Paul (Romain Duris) has fallen out of love with Anna (Joana Preiss) and their life out in the provinces. Living with Anna has become unbearable and he is unable to sleep with her any longer and pretend that it means anything to him. Anna believes that he still loves her, but Paul is in such a state of confusion and in a depression so deep that he cannot be reached. He moves back in with his father and brother in Paris. His father (Guy Marchand) wants to look after him, but other than make him coffee and chicken soup, he doesn’t know how to reach him either. Worried that Paul appears suicidal, he urges Jonathan to talk to his brother to find out what is wrong and see if he can do anything for him.

Jonathan however would seem to not be best placed to understand and help his brother. His idea is to draw him out into the city centre to see the Christmas displays in the big department stores. Assuring Paul that it only takes ten minutes to get there, Jonathan sets off early in the morning, but held back by three chance romantic encounters on the streets, he only eventually makes it to his destination later that night.

Filmed largely in the interior of the family’s apartment and the cold winter streets of the 7th Eiffel Tower arrondissment of Paris, there is nothing glamorous about Christophe Honoré’s depiction of the city and its people in Dans Paris. Resolutely quotidian, it shows it protagonists stripped of any glamour, walking around naked or half-naked, in their dirty underwear or worn-out bathrobes, smelling badly and concerned only with immediate basic needs. Family conversations take place not in dramatic situations, confrontations and encounters, but while watching a game-show on television, or preparing vegetables for soup. It echoes how people really behave and deal with everyday situations, and for this family in particular, it shows how they remain detached from the difficult issues in their lives that they are unable to confront, individually and collectively as a family.

Without overlooking the harsh realities of depression, relationships, family, being unable to open up to others, and the inexplicable age-old sadness that can unaccountably afflict people, Honoré nevertheless finds beauty and a sense of wonder in these everyday situations. Much as he does in his latest film Les Chansons d’Amour (taking it a stage further into a gritty, unglamorous musical), Honoré uses familiar devices and references to classic French New Wave films, having the characters speak directly to the camera, unexpected break into song and find simple ways to amuse themselves on the streets of Paris. Even the rediscovery of an old forgotten pop-song - and not even a particularly good one (Kim Wilde’s ‘Cambodia’) - can momentarily lift the day and fill it with magic.

This can all seem rather ordinary and simplistic, as well as being too clever by half in its references – the gritty realism and darkness of the relationships of La Maman et la Putain is in there as much as the playful frothiness of early Godard – but Honoré finds the film’s true heart and a personal way of reaching it, with sincerity and genuine care for his characters. It’s not easy an easy film to watch – it has an edge and doesn’t try to ingratiate itself with the viewer - but it has more to say about people and life than is apparent on a surface level. As in his previous films (17 Fois Cécile Cassard, Ma Mère), Honoré shows that he is attuned to those indefinable and contradictory human feelings around bereavement, depression and sexuality and capable of expressing those sensations in an extraordinary and unique manner. At the same time, he is capable of nailing down the tangible elements, photographing and capturing the essential daily life of modern Paris as it applies to ordinary people much better than any other French director around at the moment - working with the ordinary and making it extraordinary.

Dans Paris is released in the UK by Artificial Eye. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, is in PAL format, and is encoded for Region 2.

Presented in a progressive transfer at the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Dans Paris looks marvellous here. The image has a beautiful warmth of tone, perfect saturation of colour, excellent clarity, good shadow detail and a perfect level of negative grain – all admirably suited to the tone of the film. Again however, the only complaint here is the faint flicker of compression artefacts occasionally visible in backgrounds. It’s not particularly pronounced, but may be more noticeable on certain displays.

There is a choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes for the film’s soundtrack and both are quite strong. The 2.0 mix is more direct and consequently sounds more forceful, while the 5.1 surround mix is subtly enveloping. The quality of the voices is not quite pristine clarity – though perhaps it is not supposed to be – but clearly audible, and Alex Beaupain’s lovely jazzy music score is bright and well-toned.

English subtitles are optional and in a clear white font.

Interview with Christophe Honoré (28:13)
The director tries to define his reason for making films - since they are neither entertainments nor made to put any message across – and considers it cinema to help understand how cinema works. It sounds self-referential and self-reflexive, but the approach is clearly one that works. He discusses how this approach is applied in Dans Paris, how he and the cast worked on it, the contribution of the editing and the music, and his approach to filming Paris. The interview is a good account of Honoré as a filmmaker.

Interview with Louis Garrel and Joana Preiss (27:42)
Speaking haltingly in English, the actors talk about working with Honoré and what they liked about this particular film, testifying to the director’s ability to draw together diverse elements and actors and make them work in a unique, original manner. The interview is a bit random and over-long, but Garrel and Preiss are quite engaging.

The extra features are rounded out with a letterboxed Trailer (1:40), a Stills Gallery of 10 promotional photos, and Filmographies for Christophe Honoré, Romain Duris, Louis Garrel and Joana Preiss.

With Dans Paris, Christophe Honoré delivers on the promise shown but not fully realised in his first two films, drawing on the language and history of classic French filmmaking, and a diverse number of elements that would seem to be incompatible with each other, but finding a way to make them work and in the process finding his own unique voice and perspective. Dans Paris is an unglamorous look at the daily challenges faced by ordinary people, but Honoré also finds the magic in the everyday. Capitalising on the magic discovered here, Honoré has since gone on to make a companion-piece to the film, Les Chansons d’Amour (also starring Louis Garrel), taking those ideas one step further by elevating the mundane into a musical. It remains to be seen where Honoré can go from there, but it is sure to be very interesting indeed.

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