Ed reviews "Paris 36" 


Paris 36 opens Friday at Landmark's Keystone Art Cinema. I expect it will be embraced by a healthy number of folks who will call their friends and say, "You've got to see it. They don't make them like this anymore." Even though the film is in French with English subtitles, I think it will meet with approval from fans of old-fashioned "Let's put on a show!" movies.

As you may have surmised from the phrasing of the opening paragraph, I wasn't swept away by the production. I was entertained, however, even though the film was overly obvious and had too many draggy spots. There were numerous engaging characters to maintain my interest and, while a lot of the music left me underwhelmed, enough of the songs worked to keep me alert. Mostly.

Set in northeast Paris in 1936, the film deals with the aftermath of the May elections, which has led to a lot of labor/management tensions. Germain Pigoil (Gerard Jugnot), the stage manager of the working class theater Chansonia, is particularly upset. His wife Viviane (Elisabeth Vitali) has left him for another man and his beloved son Jojo (Maxence Perrin), an accordionist, has been taken from his custody and put in the care of Viviane. Oh, and Chansonia has been closed by the local power broker Galapiat (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu).

Never-say-die Pigoil tries to reopen the facility, with clueless impressionist Jacky Jacquet (Kad Merad) and political activist/electrician/song and dance man Emile "Milou" Leibovich (Clovis Cornillac) helping him forge a shaky partnership with Galapiat. The early shows tank, but the arrival of beautiful young songbird Douce (Nora Arnezeder) begins to turn the tide. Add in Pierre Richard's fine turn as a gifted recluse and the future of Chansonia, and Pigoil, start looking brighter. Until matters get complicated again.

The most painful scene in the film has Jacquet bombing onstage, haplessly trying to entertain an audience with animal impressions that could be done better by your average three-year-old. I'm wincing just thinking about it. But I cared about the old ham. I cared about sad/sweet Pigoil, and ladies man Milou and lady Douce. A good cast can make a wheezy concept come to life and this group did it for me.

Fun Fact: Paris 36 was filmed on sound stages and on location in Prague. No Paris, just movie magic. The old-fashioned kind.

Bottom line: Some of you are going to have a great time at this movie.

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Ed Johnson-Ott

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