Two of the most memorable films are the comedies "Tuileries" by the Coen brothers and "Tour Eiffel" by Sylvain Chomet. In the hilarious "Tuileries," Steve Buscemi is a tourist confronted with hostile Parisians and a guidebook that can only be described as Coen-esquire. "Tour Eiffel" is a witty take-off on the French cliché of mimes.
Other highlights: Some of the movie's best acting is found in "Quartier Latin," where longtime friends Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara play a divorcing couple. Alfonso Cuaron's one-take "Parc Monceau" has good actors (Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier) and an even better twist.
Tom Tykwer's "Faubourg St-Denis" has the exciting visuals, music and editing that you'd expect from the director of "Run Lola Run." It also has one of the largest scopes, retracing a love affair at high speed. A blind man picks up the phone, and hears from his girlfriend (Natalie Portman) that she breaks up with him. He reflects on their relationship."Bastille," too, takes place over a long period of time. A man meets with his wife at a restaurant, to break up with her, so that he can run off with his mistress. But the wife has some devastating news. Pretty basic, but truly sad and beautiful.
"Pere Lachaise" isn't a horror film, though you might expect that from its setting (cemetery) and director (Wes Craven). It has good acting from Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer, and a friendly, charming ghost.For horror fans, there is the vampire-themed "Quartier de la Madeleine," but it's over- heated, over-stylized, and looks like a bad perfume commercial.
Meanwhile, "Porte de Choisy" is like a bad hair-products commercial crossed with God knows what else—set in an Asian beauty parlor, it's the anthology's most head-scratching film.
Other misses: The opener, "Montmartre," is a very generic romance. I also felt like there should have been more to Gus Van Sant's "Le Marais" than there was between the two boys. Maggie Gyllenhaal does well as a drug-addicted actress in "Quartier des Enfants Rouges," but the shaky camera-work distracts from the story. "Place des Victoires," starring Juliette Binoche in a very Binoche-ish role as a grieving mother, is sentimental and has nothing to do with Paris. And I don't think I got the life-and-art joke in "Pigalle."
Three of the movies confront social issues of race and class. "Quais de Seine," about a beautiful Muslim girl and a leering white boy, is too obvious in the points it makes, but uses the location well. Catalina Sandino Moreno is very good in "Loin du 16eme," about a poor young woman who works as a nanny in Paris's richest neighborhood. "Place des Fetes" shows an Afro-French medic tending to a wounded Nigerian immigrant who used to work in her parking garage. It examines the tensions between first- and second-generation immigrants and is also quite moving.
Alexander Payne ties everything together with "14eme Arrondissement," where a stereotypical middle-aged, middle-American tourist (Margo Martindale) describes her Parisian vacation in very bad French. At first a shallow satire, it becomes sincere and quietly epiphanic. "14eme Arrondissement," and a good half of the other movies in "Paris, je t'aime," shows how a short film can dazzle and surprise you—just like Paris itself.