There are several things about the Elisabeth Vogler’s “Paris is Us” you simply can’t help but admire. Look no further than its production. Vogler shot her film over the course of three years and on a shoestring budget. Post-production was covered through a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $100,000. And to top it all off the film was picked up by streaming behemoth Netflix. That’s an encouraging story for any aspiring filmmaker.
Vogler not only directed and co-wrote “Paris is Us” but she also handled the cinematography which proves to be what the movie leans on the most. There are moments where it dazzles, bringing thoughts of a trippier “Tree of Life”. But it can also frustrate in how it sometimes muddies our ability to interpret any kind of deeper meaning. I’m also a bit conflicted on how Vogler shoots real-life city tragedies to use in the movie. More on that later.
The film works off of a paper-thin narrative (which is funny considering there are four writing credits). Noemie Schmidt plays a lively twenty-something named Ana who lives her life fully in the moment. Her lack of ambition frustrates her boyfriend Greg (Grégoire Isvarine) who has a detailed roadmap for his life plans. It includes leaving Paris and taking a job promotion in Barcelona. He wants Ana to go with him but she is content waiting tables in Paris.
Storywise that’s pretty much the gist of it. Greg takes off on a plane for Barcelona. At the last second Ana backs out of taking a plane to join him. There is a plane crash. Is it the plane carrying Greg making this a film on grief and loss? Is it the one Ana almost boarded turning this into a study of mortality? Is it either? I lean one way but be honest I’m still not sure. I like to think the answer is there and I have yet to tap into it. But I’m not sure if the movie has enough depth to earn that reading.
One thing is for sure, Vogler definitely wants to tinker with reality or at least our perception of it. Her film constantly has the audience questioning what is real and what isn’t. This is seen mainly through the imagery which can be beautiful and hypnotic while at other times dizzying and disorienting. And then there are the sequences shot during real-life Paris tragedies. I admit to feeling a little uneasy with how Vogler shoots her movie in the middle of these emotionally-charged moments while also seeing it as pretty bold and daring. All of it is accompanied by a heavy dose of voice-over from Ana. Some of it is essential to understanding the character and it harmonizes well with Schmidt’s melancholy. But some of it is far more lightweight than it’s trying to be.
“Paris is Us” ends up being a tricky movie to review. In terms of storytelling there’s not a lot there and even at a slender 83 minutes it seems to be stretching itself as far as it possibly can. But I admit to being intrigued by the entire film. Perhaps it’s the compulsion to believe (right or wrong) that there is a lot more going on under the surface. I also like how it had me questioning almost everything I was seeing (even their relationship – real, a recollection, or an all-out dream). But this kind of movie isn’t easy to pull off, and I think “Paris is Us” shows off both the strengths and difficulties.
VERDICT – 3 STARS