Review: Paris, 13th District

There’s much to like about Jacques Audiard’s breezy feature, adapted by Audiard, Lea Mysius, and Celine Sciamma from a series of stories by Adrian Tomine, and even more to admire in the way it downplays the kind of desperation that usually overwhelms fictional love stories that begin with torrid sex and then descend into something else. However, in its effort to confound expectations it also sets up plots that don’t make much sense emotionally. There are basically two tales that are presented separately and then intersect into a third story. Set in a series of high-rise apartment buildings in the titular outer borough of Paris, the movie’s strongest suit may be the way it presents real estate as one of the most affecting matters of daily existence, even in relation to matters of the heart.

A young Chinese-speaking woman, Emilie (Lucie Zhang), living in her grandmother’s flat, advertises for a roommate, expecting a female, so when Camille (Makita Samba), a male grad student responds, she’s at first dismissive, but he’s a charmer and not only gets her approval as a tenant, but ends up in her bed. Naturally, being roommates and lovers becomes a problem, mainly for Camille, who tends to sleep around without compunction (he almost immediately invites a fellow grad student over to the flat for sex and Emilie walks in on her, naked, checking the fridge). Emilie isn’t so much love struck as offended that Camille doesn’t respond to her subsequent sexual entreaties and resorts to a Tinder-like app to get strangers to come over and satisfy whatever needs she has. 

The second story has to do with Nora (Noemie Merlant), a new student to the city who is painfully naive. When she attends a university costume party sporting a blonde wig, other attendees mistake her for a famous internet sex performer, Amber Sweet (Jhenny Beth), and her life becomes a living hell—or, at least, for a person like her. Eventually, she pays to talk to Amber as a customer, and the two embark on a very intimate online relationship based on their shared insecurities.

The third story is set in the real estate agency that both Nora and Camille end up working for. They have their own complicated sexual relationship that doesn’t work out, with Emilie and Amber providing comments from the margins, and though the movie as a whole eventually gets to where it wants to go, it isn’t always convincing. Audiard seems most invested in Nora, whose personality is all over the map, and who can thus behave pretty much any way the writers see fit to advance their dramatic agenda. Personally, I wanted to know more about Emilie and Camille, their backgrounds as much as their wants and needs. A story that’s honest about sex and how people approach it still needs to be honest about other things as well.

In French and Mandarin. Opens April 22 in Tokyo at Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608).

Paris, 13th District home page in Japanese

photo (c) Page 114 – France 2 Cinema

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