A French sampler

Paris Je T'aime

click to enlarge THE WAITING GAME: Steve Buscemi looks longingly for the Paris Metro in the Coen Brothers' entry in Paris Je T'aime. - First Look
First Look
THE WAITING GAME: Steve Buscemi looks longingly for the Paris Metro in the Coen Brothers' entry in Paris Je T'aime.

A collaborative project featuring 18 six-minute shorts, Paris Je T'aime never actually becomes a chore to sit through, but neither does it really add up to anything significant.

What we get here are 18 directors — some of them rather well-known, and with actual big-name stars in tow — delivering customized vignettes set in, and taking their emotional cues from, the fabled City of Lights. Each short takes place in a different Parisian neighborhood, and though the subject matter and tone differ wildly from film to film, all of them eventually work themselves around to the topic of love.

The shorts cover ground as mundane as the difficulties of finding a parking space in Montmarte and as creakily cosmic as a grieving mother (Juliette Binoche) temporarily reuniting with her dead son. Gus Van Sant's misfire depicts a failed love connection in a print shop in the Marais, while Alfonso Cuaron simply trains his camera on Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier chatting about old times, then supplies a mild twist ending. Politics even rears its head occasionally, with Walter Salles checking in on a foreign-born nanny's less-than-happy condition and Gurinder Chadha bending over backward to draw our attention to the innate humanity of the city's misunderstood Muslims.

Some of the shorts are intriguing, but fall just short of satisfying (Olivier Assayas' glimpse of a drugged-out Maggie Gyllenhaal), some are far too sentimental for their own good (Tom Tykwer's doomed love affair between Natalie Portman and a blind guy), and some are just plain dumb (a vampire encounter from Cube director Vincenzo Natali). But the less-than-stellar material is forgiven, if not forgotten, in the light of a pair of wonderfully inventive pieces of whimsy — a bizarre live-action mime fantasy from The Triplets of Belleville director Sylvain Chomet, and a prime Coen Brothers freak-out featuring Steve Buscemi as a sad-sack tourist on the Paris Metro. Best of all is the final short here, in which Alexander Payne shows us yet another unworldly American abroad, whose taste of Paris becomes a funny, sad and ultimately profound transformative experience — and all in under six minutes.

Paris Je T'aime (R) Stars Juliette Binoche, Fanny Ardant, Bob Hoskins, Natalie Portman, Steve Buscemi, Elijah Wood, Nick Nolte, Rufus Sewell, Willem Dafoe, Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands. Opens June 8 at Tampa Theatre and Burns Court, Sarasota. Call theaters to confirm. 3 stars

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