Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.
Paris, 13th District
Directed by Jacques Audiard
Written by Jacques Audiard, Léa Mysius and Céline Sciamma
Starring Lucie Zhang, Makita Samba and Noémie Merlant
Classification R; 105 minutes
Opens April 15 in select theatres including the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto
There is a certain magic about the social lives of the twenty- and thirtysomething set. The number of potential relationships seems limitless, and lives intersect across the spheres of work, school and, of course, sex, in a way that feels organic and sometimes inevitable. Paris, 13th District, the latest film from lauded French writer-director and Palme d’Or winner Jacques Audiard, is a welcome look at this constellation of intimacies – those both closely bound and those more distant – that mark the lives of its millennial characters.
Set amongst the busy high-rise flats of the Olympiades, located in Paris’ 13th arrondissement, the film opens with Émilie (Lucie Zhang), a mercurial recent graduate who jumps from one low-wage job to another. She seems aimless and riddled by her own guilt toward taking on work that she is overqualified for, as well as her inability to visit her grandmother in a nearby nursing home.
Émilie lives in her grandmother’s vacated apartment and, while searching for a new roommate, she meets Camille (Makita Samba), a teacher with whom she strikes up an almost instant sexual relationship. Both Émilie and Camille approach their relationship with a non-committal blasé attitude, with Émilie warning Camille not to fall in love with her. As they continue to live and sleep together, things become complicated as different lovers move in and out of the pair’s lives, including real estate agent Nora (Portrait of A Lady On Fire’s Noémie Merlant).
Based on a selection of stories from American graphic novelist Adrian Tomine, Audiard’s latest, written alongside Céline Sciamma and Léa Mysius, is a refreshingly non-judgmental glimpse at the entangled, and often perplexing, ebb and flow of longing and desire. The performances are imbued with an honest realism that – in tandem with intuitive camerawork and youthful score – gives shape and texture to a film that fully grounds itself within its characters’ ever-changing tides of emotion.
With black and white cinematography that manages to be both stark and romantic, Audiard’s considered visual style is pared down but still patterned with roaming flourishes; his use of framing, fades, and lighting all play with the film’s assumed realism. These touches are whimsical without being cloying, charming without being twee, and ultimately delineate Paris, 13th District as irrevocably and in all ways French.
While some of the emotional momentum built up in crucial scenes dissipates within the loose narrative structure, it is clear that Audiard – in a welcome change of pace from his 2018 Western The Sisters Brothers – wants to present a devoted study of relationships both lost and found. (The filmmaker has been vocal about being inspired here by Éric Rohmer’s French New Wave classic, My Night At Maud’s.)
Paris, 13th District is not a revelation of a film, but it is a charismatic collection of moments worth spending time with.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter, with film, TV and streaming reviews and more. Sign up today.