sat 25/05/2024

Paris,13th District review - millennial merry-go-round | reviews, news & interviews

Paris,13th District review - millennial merry-go-round

Paris,13th District review - millennial merry-go-round

An engaging young cast lifts this latest offering by French master Jacques Audiard

Love, friendship or vertigo. Lucie Zhang and Makita Samba in 'Paris, 13th District'

Having established his world-class reputation with gritty crime thrillers, notably A Prophet, Jacques Audiard is clearly on a mission to branch out: after his terrific, revisionist western The Sisters Brothers, comes this ambling, sexy, millennial story about love, friendship, and the complicated areas in between.

It doesn’t electrify as his very best, but is thoroughly appealing and made with the Frenchman’s usual combination of empathy and precision.

The film is loosely based on a trio of graphic short stories by the American Adrian Tomie. While this may explain the film’s episodic nature, its female-centred emotional temperature is no doubt informed by Audiard’s co-writers, themselves both directors, Celine Sciamma and Léa Mysius.

It’s always refreshing to see Parisian films that are not situated in the city’s picture-postcard tourist spots or the restaurants and cafes of the country’s more middlebrow cinema. Sciamma’s coming-of-age drama Girlhood sprung from a working class banlieue, before focussing on the Les Halles shopping centre at the heart of the city. As its title suggests, this one is located in the 13th arrondissement, or Olympiades (the film’s French title), named after the array of high-rise buildings and home to the city’s Chinese and Vietnamese communities. 

It starts with attitudinal, aimless Emilie (Lucie Zhang), who works in a call centre and has been fortuitously gifted her grandmother’s spacious apartment, and Camille (Makita Samba), a teacher who’s taking time out to do a doctorate, and in search of a room. Anyone would know it’s a bad idea to have sex at the viewing; but they do, and after a couple of weeks of happy-go-lucky sex as flatmates, emotions inevitably and inconveniently kick in. Meanwhile, Nora (Noémie Merlant, pictured above, from Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire) has newly arrived in the city from Bordeaux, to study law. Nora can barely contain her excitement at the prospect of her new life, but the unfortunate choice of wig for a college party and the resultant resemblance to sex cam performer Amber Sweet (former Savages frontwoman Jehnny Beth) leads to some brutal trolling and, in effect, the end of her dream. 

Hereon, the script starts to connect these three characters, along with Amber (Beth, pictured below), whom a curious Nora seeks out online. The arrondissement is their stomping ground, from parks to rooftop parties, high-rise precincts and apartments. There’s a degree of La Ronde to the plotting, alongside self-discovery, whether it’s Emilie navigating her feelings about her Chinese family, Nora coming to terms with her sexuality, Camille learning to be less insensitive and superior.As such, this is fundamentally a character study, dressed in an unshowy, yet gorgeous black and white cinematography, with occasional split screen, a vibrant, electronic score and raunchy sex screens all adding to the zesty vibe. 

The actors are uniformly striking, with Merlant at times heart-breaking and newcomer Zhang a real discovery as a young woman who’s as loveable as she is feckless. Two sequences in which Audiard shoots Emile in full flight – alternately high on drugs, then sex – have a New Wave joie du vivre. 

The director’s bar is so high that the slightly aimless structure and comparative absence of genuine drama leaves one wanting an extra gear. And he could have offered more than a glimpse of this little known topography. But it remains a charming, sometimes captivating divertissement.

Two sequences in which Audiard shoots Emile in full flight – alternately high on drugs, then sex – have a New Wave joie du vivre


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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