This film works around the problem of depression Romain Duris my favorite French actor gives it a go in Christopher Honoré’s Dans Paris, as a wealthy, handsome but nonetheless perpetually bummed-out Paul. Paul lives in a flat with his polar opposite of a brother, chipper Jonathan played by Louis Garrel (The Dreamers, Ma Mere). The one that makes him miserable is his bitter on-and-off girlfriend Anna (Joana Preiss), she generates expectations hard to discern and harder to fulfill. Much commended in 2005’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Duris is better here: he has less to do, but does more with it. Showing inner despair, but neither mopey nor pathetic, Duris seems irrevocably distanced from the emotions he tries to project, he tries to dance with Anna but ends up simply watching her: his condition renders him as much of a spectator as we.
Duris is well and fine, but Honoré made a series of gimmicky moments, sometimes interesting, sometimes not, but always the work of someone easily bored with himself. His characters reach out to the audience in an effort to distance themselves from their own story, using narration as a kind of lifesaver from heights of emotion
Some have likned Honoré’s reflection to the early days of the French New Wave, and some references are more obvious than others: Paul and Anna casually burst into song during a conversation not usually conducive to musical numbers (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg); Jonathan reads in bed with a paramour à la Jean-Pierre Leaud in Bed and Board, and later walks by posters for American movies, These moments are sort of, “cute” which is Honoré’s problem, if he wants to emulate New Wave style: the popular conception of Truffaut may be young ruffians making funny faces and allusions to pop culture, but reduce it to that and you lose everything that makes it worthwhile. Not that I’m against references, but Honoré is far too busy showing he’s indebted to his influences to repay the debt.
Jonathan’s segments are so breezy and Paul’s so melancholy they seem to take place in different films which, judging by Honore’s jarring variation in volume while cross-cutting between the two, is perhaps what he intends. Jonathan’s love of life consists of spontaneous, slapstick kisses, and Paul’s of a mild, fixated smile confused by happiness; it’s to Honoré’s credit that he can engage with such radically different frequencies. The best moments in his films are those when his broad, violent effects and tender ones collide: the mask of restless experimentation is briefly removed, and we witness a personality, schizophrenic though it may be. It is always interesting to watch French films that take place in cool apartment with cliché views of the Eiffel Tower.