Gallic helmer Cedric Klapisch (“L’Auberge espagnole”) stays well within his comfort zone in every sense with “Paris.” Likeable if hardly groundbreaking dramedy features most of Klapisch’s favorite elements, including romantic angst, crisscrossing storylines, thesp Romain Duris (leading a big-name ensemble that includes Juliette Binoche) and the real star of the show, the City of Lights itself. Locally well-reviewed, “Paris” has done capital biz since its Feb. 20 preem with nearly 5,000 admissions on its first day. Pic is likely to travel extensively and make at least middling moolah offshore.
At the front and center of the action stands Pierre (Duris, on his sixth joint venture with Klapisch), a professional chorus dancer at a cheesy Parisian cabaret spot. Forced to quit work when he finds out he has a potentially fatal heart problem, Pierre turns to his social-worker sister Elise (Binoche, boldly going frumpy) for help at home. In his now-abundant spare time, Pierre rethinks life’s priorities and stares out at the city he loves from his balcony, often to the strains of Eric Satie’s melancholy (if cinematically overexposed “Gnossiennes No. 3.”
Pierre and Elise intersect with a broad spectrum of characters: Single mother Elise flirts tentatively with local market stallholder Jean (Albert Dupontel), who has complex feelings about his own ex-wife, Caroline (Julie Ferrier). Jean and Caroline’s working-class milieu balances the film’s focus on middle-class and posh people elsewhere, and allows for impressive location work at Rungis, Paris’ massive wholesale food market.
In fact, pic’s rapturous use of the city’s best-known landmarks — Montmartre’s Sacre-Coeur basilica, cemetery Pere Lachaise and, naturellement, the Eiffel Tower — in some ways suggests a loose homage to “Manhattan” (Klapisch apparently wrote his master’s thesis on Woody Allen). As in the latter film, there’s even an ill-fated May-December affair, between university professor Roland (Fabrice Luchini, in wonderful comic form) and his student Laetitia (Melanie Laurent), who also becomes the object of Pierre’s own voyeuristic lust.
Screenplay often feels jerry-rigged to enable the pic’s big setpieces (such as a dance party for Pierre during which Duris struts his stuff convincingly) and cameos for yet more stars (Karin Viard as a loathsome bakery owner, Maurice Benichou as Roland’s shrink). Nevertheless, auds who like upmarket soap opera, sightseeing and Gallic films where people talk a lot about their relationships will be consistently entertained. While many of the supporting characters are quickly sketched types there to pad out pic’s demographics, the leads are in fine form.
Duris rewards Klapisch’s earlier career nurturing with a nuanced perf, even if his character isn’t vastly different from the wolfish charmer he played in “L’Auberge espagnole” and its sequel, “Russian Dolls.” Binoche shows off her rarely seen comic skills and, like Duris, gets a charming scene in which her dancing succinctly expresses much about her character, although Luchini’s own hilarious-yet-graceful gyrations steal the show.
Christophe Beaucarne’s widescreen lensing looks postcard-pretty, and other craft contributions are pro. Running time feels a little long for a pic that ultimately doesn’t have anything very profound to say, but crisp editing by Francine Sandberg keeps it from feeling like a drag.