“Paris, 13th arrondissement” and “Ambulance”, commented
Above the streets of Paris, the camera moves. Surveying the shapes of the buildings and looking out the windows at the lives that unfold there, he descends slowly, until we come to a young woman and the sound of singing. Such was the opening shot of René Clair’s marvelous “Under the roofs of Paris” (1930), and now, almost a century later, the same thing happens at the beginning of “Paris, 13e arrondissement”, Jacques Audiard’s latest film. In addition it changes. Just to deepen the echo, the new film is – aside from a brief burst of color – in black and white. The only difference is that the woman of 1930, fully dressed, is invited to join in the collective chorus of a song, while the heroine of today, Emilie (Lucie Zhang), is naked, sprawled on a sofa. , and solo croone into a mic.
The pulsation of a distant past deserves our attention, because in many respects “Paris 13th” appears – and wants to be – a fable for our time. Almost all of the characters are young, moving in and out of rented accommodation, and constantly changing jobs. Relationships, too, are splintered and fleeting, some of them started and ended in less time than it takes to eat an entree. One evening, Emilie, who is a waitress, stops to check her mobile phone, likes the look of the man she sees there, asks a colleague to replace her while she runs an errand, rushes home , has sex with the man and returns to the restaurant to resume normal service. Tinder is the night.
What emerges from this sequence, against all odds, is joy. Discover Emilie’s half-coital smirk, and the dance she can’t help but undertake on her way back to work, which Audiard films in delightful slow motion. (Even the diners cheer, as if feeding on his happiness.) Rather than frowning on his carelessness or diagnosing a case of anomie, he simply lays out the tactics of the modern thrill seeker for our reading. When Émilie, swollen with MDMA and kissing a complete stranger in a club, stops in the middle of a kiss to announce: “I love it”, who are we not to agree, let alone to judge?
Émilie, whose family is Taiwanese, and who oscillates between Mandarin and French, is lucky. She lives for free in her grandmother’s apartment, which is in a retirement home, and easily earns money by housing a tenant. Her first roommate is a guy named Camille (Makita Samba), a high school teacher, who is tall, black, and handsome; he and Émilie, obeying an etiquette they both take for granted, immediately sleep together as a prelude to living together. “Start with the highest level of attraction. It takes longer to fade,” he says, as if measuring magnetic forces in a lab. (At one point, she gets out of bed and goes to his own room, whereupon he picks up Rousseau’s “Confessions” and begins to read. We are, after all, in France.) Sure enough, they are soon going out elsewhere. Camille – who left teaching to pursue a doctorate , and has meanwhile found a job as a real estate agent – befriends a colleague, Nora (Noémie Merlant), who has left back in school, at the age of thirty-three, then changed his mind. The carousel continues to spin.
“Paris, 13th arrondissement” – the original and more evocative title is “Les Olympiades”, named after the imposing projects on the south bank of the city – is written by Audiard, in collaboration with Léa Mysius and Céline Sciamma, the director of ” Girlhood” (2015) and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019). The plot stems from three stories by graphic novelist and cartoonist Adrian Tomine, whose work has often graced this magazine. The result is less of an adaptation of he cross-pollinated comic strip – the best and most fruitful of its kind, I would say, since David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence” (2005). Notice not only what Audiard changed, but also what he chose to omit. “Killing and Dying,” for example, Tomine’s story of an aspiring comedian, is reduced to a subplot about Camille’s sister, Éponine (Camille Léon-Fucien). she never tries her equipment on stage, you never see it.
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The most melancholy saga, in film as well as on the page, concerns Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth). It’s the porn name from an online artist, famous as a cam girl, who, by chance, is Nora’s doppelganger. The coincidence is brought to the attention of Nora’s classmates, who believe, to their delight, that she is the real Amber. There’s a terrifying wide shot of a conference room, dotted with the glow of multiple phones – a swarm of digital fireflies – as hardcore footage is shared. Hence Nora’s renunciation of university life. But wait. She calls Amber’s video channel, asking not that she talk dirty but that the two of them just, you know, talk. A virtual friendship ensues. They make each other laugh, exchange childhood photos and end up keeping their laptops open, after dark, while they fall asleep. “I don’t want to be alone if I wake up,” Amber says.
In truth, of course, they are alone, connected only in the ether, and you can feel the film mapping out a world of mass erotic availability and asking: what does love have to do with it? What does it mean to fall in love with people whose flesh is all too familiar to you, if you haven’t met them in the flesh yet? It is here that Audiard separates from Tomine; the coldness of the illustrated story, laconically melancholy, gives way on screen to a more optimistic and old-fashioned beginning of romance. The multiple couplings, filmed in monochrome and carefully framed, may have a certain classic formality, as if bronze and marble statues have come to life vigorously, but the emotions on display take on a gradual warmth, concluding in the radiant close-up of ‘a kiss. One person declares to another, “I think I loved you and I still do.” Someone else actually fainted. Rousseau would be impressed.
Who ends up with whom in “Paris, 13th arrondissement” I will not divulge anything. Not that I am convinced by the couples, or, in any case, by the prospect that they will last. Will these people, steeped in the ephemeral, honestly put down their phones and start filling out mortgage applications? Never mind. The film has pace and sparkle to spare, and the actors are richly invested in their characters, not shy about making them grumpy and selfish when needed, as well as likable. The star is Merlant, who starred in ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire,’ and is on the verge of big things. We imagine François Truffaut, fallen in admiration, placing it at the heart of his next film. Gusts and sighs of sensation cross her face, and there is a fabulous scene in the office, with Nora chatting with a client but thinking of Camille. When asked if a property is sunny or not, she replies, “Yes, it’s full of light.” For a moment, her whole being seems illuminated with a promise of happiness. Who knew real estate could provide the language of love?
The title of Michael Bay’s new film is ‘Ambulance’, which, coming from the man who brought us ‘Armageddon’ (1998) and ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ (2014), sounds a bit like a downgrade. It’s as if Wagner had decided to follow “Götterdämmerung” with an opera about pest control. But bay watchers need not be alarmed. “Ambulance,” though set exclusively in Los Angeles with no visible interference from another planet, is still as over the top as a puffer fish.
The plot is, as usual, a slice of monotonous social realism: just the everyday story of a maniacal cashmere-wearing bank robber named Danny Sharp (Jake Gyllenhaal), who plans to steal thirty-two million dollars. . His brother, Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who was adopted by Danny’s late father, a notorious psychotic, is hired as a driver at the last second. The heist hits a bump, with the result that the Sharp boys have to flee in a hijacked ambulance, with Will driving. In the back are two handy hostages: Zach (Jackson White), who was shot, and Cam (Eiza González), a tough-skinned paramedic tending to his wounds. In pursuit is what appears to be the entirety of the LAPD, led by Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt). Rather than being weighed down by something as complex as a personality, Monroe has a fun-sized dog in a fun little car. It’s that kind of movie.
It’s also, unless you’re unwavering in your misery, fun. “Paris, 13th Arrondissement” may be nervous, but “Ambulance” makes Audiard’s film look like an Andrew Wyeth. The nervousness triggered by Bay – who in previous decades would surely have made his mark in Warner Bros. animation, toiling over Looney Tunes – seems to quiver endlessly, and intentionally, bordering on the ridiculous. While there’s no psychological or narrative reason for the camera to behave like a bungee jumper with hives, the rowdiness becomes addictive. During one scene, as Cam struggled to rip a bullet out of Zach’s internal organs, received surgical instructions via video link, and finally used his hair clip to seal off a severed artery, I found myself simultaneously giggling and biting my nails, which is harder than it sounds. Every Bay movie is cheesy, but this one counts as high-speed cheese, toasted to the max by Danny’s sage advice: “Right. Conduct. Quick.” ♦