In my teens I fell in love with the French New Wave or more accurately the gorgeously inventive if admittedly pretentious cinema of what occurs to lovers after the “happily ever after” usually featuring intellectually snobbish, sad-eyed and soulful dreamers including Jean-Paul Belmondo or Jean-Pierre Leaud as they fall in and out of love with beguiling and maddeningly aloof women such as Anna Karina or Catherine Deneuve. With sweeping scores, jump-cuts, and nonlinear narratives, it’s the type of filmmaking audiences either love or hate but to love New Wave is to fall hard (both blindly and passionately) and New Wave fans are my favorite kind of film lovers.
However, when New Wave fans begin to direct, the results at times are mixed with the incredible Godard inspired Tarantinto masterwork Pulp Fiction to the disconcertingly uneven yet compulsively watchable Dans Paris from novelist and playwright turned writer/director Christophe Honore.
L’Auberge Espagnole star Romain Duris stars as Paul whose relationship with Anna ends after the two fall out of love and overwhelmingly depressed and near-suicidal, the gloomy Paul returns home to live in the apartment occupied by his father played by Guy Marchand (Cesar nominated for his role). Also living at home is the scene-stealer of Dans Paris who comes in the form of Paul's gorgeous, much younger brother Jonathan (The Dreamers star Louis Garrel) who spends his time attending class when he feels like it and others perpetually seducing women with such questioning lines as “Can I possibly kiss you? It’s a matter of life or death.”
With a running time of roughly ninety minutes, not a frame is wasted in the hands of Honore, who sets himself up as the New Wave’s most ardent and fanatic devotee with his painstaking homage to the movement that on one hand seems unspeakably pretentious but on the other helps breathe life into a story that, had it been told in a more traditional manner such as the increasingly depressing fare of American independent film, would have had audiences pressing eject after only a dozen minutes.
A hit in his native France, reaction to Honore’s Dans Paris or rather its influence from the New Wave forefathers had critics divided with The Hollywood Reporter dismissing it as “a greatest-hits collection of French cinema” with its references to Godard, Demy, Rivette, and Truffaut (although I would also add Lelouch and Chabrol to the list) and Manola Dargis of The New York Times assessing Honore as someone who “may be a student of the New Wave but he’s not a slave, and he steers clear of pastiche in this film precisely because he knows the difference between empty imitation and creative inspiration.” With Dargis overstating it and The Hollywood Reporter flippantly understating it, it’s up to the viewer to decide how the New Wave references play out. As far as I’m concerned, the result is in between the critical assessments for Honore’s above average work, which benefits tremendously from Garrel and especially Duris’ dynamic portrayals and for my money, any film that may make its viewers seek out New Wave classics deserves an A for effort any day of the week, even though I’d probably give Dans Paris a B.