As producer of iconic French pics like “Amelie” and “Betty Blue,” Claudie Ossard has worked with plenty of top directors. But never 20 at once, the daunting organizational task she faced when she signed on to “Paris, je t’aime,” an anthology film based around the 20 districts of Paris with five-minute segments from directors including Alexander Payne, the Coen brothers, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron and Olivier Assayas.
Ossard emphasizes that despite charming cafes and vintage Metro stops, the film isn’t a travelogue, but rather a reflection on love from 20 different angles. “Some are lighthearted, some are sad,” she says, pointing out that helmer Vincenzo Natali (“Cube”) chose a vampire story to illustrate his romantic tale.
Only a few of the filmmakers live in Paris, but Ossard thinks the fact that they are outsiders shows the city in a more interesting light. “If you live here, after a while you don’t see it anymore,” she says.
Craven had never visited the 20th arrondissement, where his segment takes place. “It simply was the one they thought most appropriate for me, and when I visited it, I agreed,” says the director, who found inspiration in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, which he calls “visually stunning and full of history.”
Zhang Yimou’s regular cinematographer Christopher Doyle, on the other hand, chose a more familiar subject, the heavily Chinese 13th arrondissement.
One of the most familiar Parisian neighborhoods is Montmartre, which showed its charms in “Amelie.” The filmmakers shied away from the often-seen area, says Ossard, until Bruno Podalydes found his own style, incorporating the streets and cafes of Montmartre.
The actors, who include Gena Rowlands, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Steve Buscemi, worked mostly for the pleasure of spending a week in Paris, as well as the challenge of expressing their ideas in the five-minute format.
The producers made sure the film flowed together naturally, with connective tissue linking the disparate segments. “People who have seen it find it easy to fall into the mood of the film,” says Ossard. The mood, of course, is love.