Uptown Theatre, Chicago, IL

Uptown Theatre, Chicago, IL
Uptown Theatre, Chicago, IL

17 January 2012

My Flight (of Fancy) Has Been Diverted from Hawaii to Paris

I finally went to see The Descendants yesterday. I enjoyed it and thought George Clooney's performance was good, but what i liked most about it was that the voiceover narration in the beginning reminded me of another film where Alexander Payne uses this device: the segment on the 14e arrondissement in Paris, je t'aime (2006). A collection of eighteen short films by different directors, each set in a different Paris neighborhood, Paris, je t'aime is a montage of impressions of the City of Lights from different perspectives, using different stylistic approaches. Some segments made a stronger impression on me than others, but the one directed by Payne remains a sentimental favorite. In it, Margo Martindale plays Carol, an American postal worker from Denver fulfilling her lifelong dream of visiting Paris.
Carol (Margo Martindale) strolls the streets of Paris.
The film is organized as Carol's account of her trip, delivered in tone-deaf French to her continuing ed class. The voiceover narration reveals her struggles with the language while the visuals show her making her way through her final day in Paris. The film touches on all the stereotypes of American tourists in Paris: Carol is middle-aged, overweight, and badly dressed; she even sports a fanny pack. The trip seems to have been something of a disappointment up to this point. After five days she is still feeling tired and jetlagged; as she comments that the food did not live up to expectations, the camera reveals the remnants of a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke. Dutifully following her guidebook, she visits the Cimetière de Montparnasse, pausing at the graves of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. In explaining the importance of the grave to the class, she confuses Beauvoir with Simón Bolívar.

In other hands, this slight story might have easily lapsed into mean-spiritedness.  But the combination of Payne's gentle humor and obvious affection for the character turn it into something very charming, a true love song to Paris. Martindale's face is wonderfully expressive and beautifully balances her deadpan delivery. At the end of the segment, Carol sits quietly on a park bench, no more museums to visit, no more need to consult her guidebook, and in that quiet moment, Paris and she finally find each other.

You can watch the entire segment on YouTube:
Margo Martindale in Paris je t'aime

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