There are no words to describe Paris Is Us. Actually, that’s a lie. Musician Simon Boswell’s album title applies perfectly to this new Netflix feature: ‘It’s horrible. I love it. What is it?’ Paris is Us isn’t a love-or-hate sort of affair; it’s both, with a whole load of confusion on top.
Once I’d finished watching Elisabeth Volger’s French-language drama, I was all at once charged with loathing, adulation, and bafflement. What was that fantastically hideous creature – with its dizzying cornucopia of serpentine, non-linear timelines – that just consumed eighty minutes of my Saturday night?
At this point, it’s really anyone’s guess. Volger deigns not to bring viewers into the folds of exposition here. And good for her. It seems she prefers to keep us in the dark, offering just enough light from the feelings and experiences of her pretty, unpredictable protagonist to capture our interest; intentionally leaving the finer details to our imaginations.
That protagonist is archetypically chic French girl Anna, played wonderfully by Noémie Schmidt (The Student and Mr. Henri). Happenstance brings her and the odious Greg (Grégoire Isvarine) together during an ecstasy-fuelled, techno-filled night of clubbing. The pair quickly start an intense romance and we zip forward in time to Greg’s announcement that he’s moving to Barcelona. After much deliberation, Anna decides to go but misses the flight. The plane crashes. In the staggering dizziness of her near-death experience, she begins to ruminate on what is and what might have been, which pulls her further and further from reality.
Everything up to this point is relatively mainstream and easy to process. Everything after is dripping with idiosyncrasy and uncertainty. Was the crash real? If so, what happened? Are terrorists responsible? What if Greg had been on the plane? Was he on it? Is there volition in life? Is this The Truman Show reimagined through surrealist, impressionist lenses? Are otherworldly elements at play here? Does the film represent the messiness of life and love? Should we be thinking along the lines of the multiverse theory?
Who knows? Perhaps it all means jack shit, Volger laying back in relish as critics fumble around trying to decode non-existent messages in a film that’s hiding its intentions and bold ideas in plain sight.
Whatever the case, Paris Is Us is aesthetically and mellifluously pleasing at the very least. It’s a feast for both the eyes and the ears, meaningful whispers and captivating light working in harmony to accentuate the ethereal, and shadows depicting dark realities – or possibilities – of life. Close-ups serve to isolate Anna in a bubble of stillness and contemplation despite the hectic world surrounding her, while rotating shots enhance the stupefaction.
The audience are right there in the thick of it all. It feels wrong to be so near the private musings of another, but so tantalising that it’s impossible to leave. The effect is oddly satisfying, demonstrating a uniquely off-kilter cinematic, narrative style that leans towards the weird and makes use of truly inspired imagery. It leaves a distinctive taste in your mouth long after the credits have rolled.
Paris Is Us is the epitome of artsy film-making; simultaneously a pleasure and a chore to watch. It’s reminiscent of the self-indulgence of which only directors like Lars Von Trier are capable. However, while it’s easy to hate Von Trier’s work without also enjoying it, the same can’t be said of this Kickstarter-funded film despite its disconnected, labyrinthine structure. Whatever Volger’s intentions here, she deserves commendation for her efforts to challenge conventional mechanisms of thought. If it’s all a big meta-textual stunt, claps all round; if it’s not, claps all round.