View of the Eiffel Tower from the 31st floor of Residence Massena
Metro: Porte de Choisy
Photo by Chris Card Fuller, ©2006
If you’re watching the film Paris, Je T’Aime, from the viewpoint of looking at Paris neighborhoods or arrondissements, you may be either surprised or disappointed by how each director portrays the arrondissement he or she has chosen for a five-minute movie.
Actually, I worked as an au paire at Place des Fetes in the seventies. It doesn’t look like the neighborhood has improved since then, and even in the seventies, it was a part of Paris that seemed to lack any soul. It’s ironic, that just a hop, skip and a jump away from (three metro stops) you can visit one of Paris’s most romantic parks the Buttes Chaumont. For any who prefers their parks with more twists and turns in the 19th-century style as opposed to formal geometric gardens, this is the perfect spot to take a stroll or go for a jog that includes hills.
Of all the neighborhoods, maybe Christopher Doyle does the best job of capturing the Porte De Choisy highrises. I lived in one of the tallest of them (on the 31st floor). It’s also true that this neighborhood has a distinctly Asian flavor. Porte de Choisy is located in the 13th arrondissement. When you think that within the same arrondissement, the director could have chosen areas like The Cite Fleurie, 65 Blvd. Arago (the artists’ studio I described a few days ago) or the old workers’ lodgings around the Bievre river (featured in 13eme Insolite tour by Paris a Velo, C’est Sympa!), you’ll quickly grasp one of the underlying themes of Paris, Je T’Aime: This movie is NOT a travelogue!
Rather, as Leila Bekhti’s character in Quais de Seine insinuates – ‘this is MY Paris’ (By the way, this segment includes one of my favorite locales in Paris, the Paris Mosque even though the mosque is nowhere near the Seine!).
It is moreso an hommage to people who have lived, loved, felt lonely, or watched loved ones die, in the City of Light. Depending on where you live in Paris, your reality can be a prison of four walls – even if you’re within the city limits of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You can still be a prisoner in that city – even if your home address isn’t Rue de la Sante (the city jail) – even if you have a view of the Eiffel Tower.
One of my favorite segments is the Tour Eiffel directed by Sylvain Chomet (he also directed The Triplets of Belleville – another ‘must see’). One reviewer insinuated that you had to be French to appreciate the story of two mimes (Paul Putner and Yolande Moreau) falling in love in Paris. Not true. This story is exquisite. Magical, sweet (what some jaded reviewers called manipulative).
As for the portrayals of the other arrondissements, the 16th predictably included a pricey pierre de taille apartment building with parquet floors and a working mother (who doesn’t appear on screen). It’s juxtaposed to the au pair’s La Defense neighborhood. (Here the director ‘cheats’ a little because La Defense is not in the Paris city limits).
Of all the segments, I felt that ‘Quartier Latin’ seemed the least representative of the neighborhood. Maybe it’s because Gerard Depardieu who plays the restaurant owner (he actually does own a restaurant in Paris), Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands look like they should be 16eme, not the student quarter.
High kudos for Alexander Payne’s portrayal of an American woman in the 14th arrondissement. You’ll note that Margo Martindale, who beautifully embodies a middle-aged postal worker, after a series of hit-or-miss meals, finds her way to the Parc Montsouris. Payne has got the 14th arrondissement nailed. Chapeau!