In a remarkable about-face after the studiously unappealing shenanigans of “My Mother,” helmer Christophe Honore proves he can muster insight and lightness of touch lacking in his previous work. “Inside Paris” is that rarity, a genuinely honest, unpretentious and delightful, small film, alternately sober and effervescent, steering clear of either heavy-going philosophizing or dreaded whimsy. Besides confirming Louis Garrel’s ineffable charm, the pic’s understanding of depression, embodied by the chameleon-like Romain Duris, is as accurate as it is unadorned by artifice. More than a mere fest item, the pic could find moderate legs on Francophile screens of many nations.
Mirko (Guy Marchand) has two sons, irresponsible Jonathan (Garrel) and volatile Paul (Duris), the latter in thrall to the same kind of depression that led to his sister’s suicide some years earlier. Paul has been living with g.f. Anna (Joana Preiss), but their relationship has hit the skids, and Paul returns to his dad’s apartment plunged in bottomless despair.
Charting the disintegration of the relationship are a series of scenes displaying the playful, argumentative, even cruel interaction between the couple, edited together so at first it’s not certain whether these are past or present, real or possibilities. Montage here — and later, in quietly exuberant scenes with Jonathan and sometime g.f. Alice (Alice Butaud) — suggests an homage to “Celine and Julie Go Boating,” not an empty comparison, considering the presence of Marie-France Pisier in the small role of the boys’ mother.
At his father’s, Paul takes over Jonathan’s room and refuses to get out of bed despite his father’s urgings and his self-absorbed, magnetic mother’s visit.
One night, he walks out the door and springs off a bridge into the Seine, returning home as surprised by his action as he is to find himself alive.
Among the many understated qualities of “Inside Paris” is Honore’s spot-on understanding of depression. Paul’s self-exile in the bedroom includes moments of engagement and even humor, imparting a multidimensionality to a character who could have been just another bore in the doldrums.
Honore, a children’s book author, can also add composing to his list of talents: An a cappella duet sung into the phone by Paul and Anna, entitled “Avant la haine” (“Before the Hate”) is as haunting melodically as it is lyrically. It would have been so easy for this scene to become precious, but Honore has a raw honesty and an astonishing talent for underplaying that precludes such slip-ups.
From the opening, with Jonathan addressing the audience, Garrel effortlessly captures auds’ affection, the perfect naughty boy whose charm commands — and receives — the kind of indulgence usually meted out only by doting grandmothers. Duris (“Russian Dolls”) delivers a performance of controlled extremes within the realm of truthfulness, reinforcing predictions of an ascending talent.
Through it all, Paris forms a constant backdrop, whether it’s the Eiffel Tower glimpsed through the family’s windows, or the boulevards Jonathan uses as his playground. Chantal Hymans’ accomplished editing may derive in part from Jacques Rivette, but she is no mere follower. Alex Beaupain’s jazzy freeform score is ideally suited to the family dynamics, and to Paris itself.