This is one of those movies where you'll want to read the fine print beforehand, or you might wonder why nothing that happens in "Paris je t'aime" lasts very long and why none of it is connected. This is an omnibus film in which 18 directors provide 18 stories of romance in Paris. Each segment is around five minutes long, a challenge even for some of the noted filmmakers here. To make a visual statement is one thing; to have it make sense another.
With a cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Natalie Portman, Gena Rowlands and many others, "Paris, je t'aime" tells its small tales neighborhood by neighborhood. And sometimes by Métro, as in the Coen brothers' offering, which has tourist Buscemi beaten up for making contact with the locals. Comedies such as that are mixed in with stabs at real romance (director Gus Van Sant turns in a lost-in-translation bit), drama and not a few sessions of whirling fantasy.
The good thing about such a project is that the viewer gets such a wide range of styles and tastes in one quick session, from the absurdist realism of the Coens to the over-the-top whimsy of influential cameraman Christopher Doyle. The lack of narrative continuity can also be challenging. There are a lot of different stories being told here, and not everyone will enjoy having to re-engage every five minutes with a new one -- especially when it means Dafoe as a knight on horseback, or Elijah Wood grappling with a vampire.
It's also tough for one person to appreciate such a wide degree of tone and subject matter. The viewer who can't get past Sylvain Chomet's fanciful tale of mime love will miss Alexander Payne's sardonic and sympathetic story of a matronly tourist. "Paris, je t'aime" is as uneven as cobblestone streets, but it can also be just as charming. (R)