Pierre (Romain Duris, The Spanish Apartment) is happy and fulfilled as a professional dancer in Paris. Then he finds out that his heart is in such bad condition that he will die without a heart transplant, which may or may not work, if he should be lucky enough to get one. His sister Elise (Juliette Binoche, Bee Season), beautiful but unlucky with men, moves into Pierre’s apartment with her three children to take care of him. From his balcony, Pierre observes lives and activities that go on in the apartments and streets below him–Paris the city comes alive to him as it never had before.
Unlike many movies in which all the stories converge at the end, in Paris, some of the stories interweave, others are like strangers passing in the night, merely touching on one another and disappearing. The beacon that holds all the stories together is the city of Paris itself. What’s wonderful about the movie–in addition to the enchanting story telling, the exquisite details and the compelling performances–is all the different aspects, both contemporary and historical, both magnificent and day-to-day of Parisian life that the movie effortlessly captures. It’s obvious that director Cedric Klapisch (The Spanish Apartment) loves the City of Lights and succeeds magnificently in sharing that love with the audience.
Pierre becomes intrigued with the young woman who lives in an apartment across the way whom he can observe through her open window. This is Laetitia (Melanie Laurent, Inglorious Basterds), whose beauty is also noticed by her older, bachelor history professor, Roland (Fabrice Luchini, Moliere). He becomes obsessed with the young woman, sending her creepy text messages quoting Baudelaire. Even his new job, as a TV host taking audiences on tours of little known Parisian history spots, doesn’t stop his romantic attraction. He tries to explain his dilemma to his younger brother, Philippe (Francois Cluzet, Tell No One), an architect who is trying to start a family with his wife and has wild dreams at night.
Pierre grows desperate to make love one last time before he dies, and calls up old girlfriends trying to make connections. He also flirts with the new sales clerk, from North Africa, who works in the bakery and tolerates the racist criticism of the snobby Parisian-born owner. In the meantime, Elise is becoming attracted to one of the vendors she meets in the produce market every day, who is trying to distance himself from his ex-wife, who rides a motorcycle. Meanwhile far away in Cameroon, a young African man, mistakenly enticed by a Parisian woman on vacation, takes a risky voyage to France across dangerous waters in an open boat. On his way to the hospital for his heart transplant, Pierre drives by all the people whose stories were told in the movie. Unknowing, like petals in the wind, by the fact that they all live in Paris, all the people touch one another, even if it just a glance through a car window.
From academia to the patisseries, from parties in cramped apartments to coffee in the outdoor cafes, past the Eiffel Tower and the Seine, down into the ancient catacombs and up on top of new skyscrapers, from native born to many of the immigrant communities, Paris the movie roams around the city and all the varied people that give it life. It’s a mesmerizing, unforgettable, unpretentious film–a real treasure.