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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Paris 36 puts on a show

click to enlarge EASY DOES IT: Nora Arnezeder as Douce
  • EASY DOES IT: Nora Arnezeder as Douce

You can just imagine a pitch for Christophe Barratier’s Paris 36: “It’ll be like Moulin Rouge … but French!”

Paris 36 shares many similarities with Baz Luhrmann’s frenetic, Oscar-nominated musical. Both period pieces take place at Parisian music halls, where songs and dances begin on stage but soar away from real-world limitations. Both embrace the conventions of old-fashioned melodrama, using backstage romance to pit star-crossed lovers against black-hearted villains. Paris 36 even echoes Lurhmann’s hyperbolic style with an introductory New Year’s Eve sequence that crosscuts between burlesque musical numbers and soap operatic twists, culminating with a gunshot at midnight.

Barratier, director of the international hit The Chorus, oversells the nostalgia, whimsy and unabashed idealism of Paris 36, but brings such insistent energy to the production that you eventually succumb to the film’s swoony overtures. It helps that the film’s protagonist isn’t a typical, square-jawed hero but the middle-aged, physically unimpressive Pigoil (Gérard Jugnot), stage manager of the ill-fated music hall the Chansonia.

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(Photo courtesy Jérémie Bouilon/Sony Pictures Classics)

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