Paris, 13th District

Jacques Audiard’s dramatic romcom has passion, laughs, and real tears.

“Paris, 13th District” is about one man and three women. Unlike “The Other Woman,” it’s not dumb or degrading or miserable. It’s a smart and often whimsical French comedy with the kind of spark that Noah Baumbach or Whit Stillman would enjoy. Matter of fact, it’s not a revenge film, and the man is not a jerk. He does have a connection with two girls, but in an honest way, and one of those girls has a connection with another girl. I’ll clarify later on.

It was directed by Jacques Audiard, who also made “A Prophet,” “Rust and Bone,” and the under-appreciated “The Sisters Brothers.” Here, he gives it a black and white appearance, real emotions, and four actors who deliver their characters with a complex and constructive nature.

There’s the French Taiwanese phone operator Emille Wong (Lucie Zhang), who is roommates with the African French teacher Camille Germain (Makita Samba), whom she thought was a girl. Nope. It’s a man. And they have a little dinner and sex in her apartment. A few nights they have a little fun together, but Camille tells Emille they’re not a couple.

The girl’s personality is so selfish and inconsiderate that she loses her job and even her doctor sister criticizes her for her choices. Camille decides to move out because of her attitude, but later, they still get in touch but as friends. Or maybe much more. You know how relationships and friendships get from time to time.

Then, comes Nora Ligier (Noémie Merlant from “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”), who comes back to law school, and mistaken by her classmates as the porn star Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth). That’s why she makes contact with her via cam chat.

Camille now manages in real estate and meets Nora during a job interview. They both fall in love, but without much orgasms from her. Maybe it’s because she’s in love with Amber, and that’s not even her real name. Or maybe he isn’t giving her the kind of passion she wants.

Based on a series of short stories, “Paris, 13th District” knows how to deal with these individuals who meet under circumstances, even if parts feel a bit rushed. It knows how to examine their realities, personalities, and aspects. It’s one of those reflections on when life throws lemons at them, and they try to make lemonade.

It’s amazing that I’ve watched two French films this week that are depictions on life and not movie cliches. Before this movie, I’ve watched “Petite Maman,” which was about a little girl who connects with her mom who reappears as a little girl (the review will be published next week). Both these films are real contrasts to certain American movies, in which there’s a certain kind of tone and ambiance that distinguishes itself from other formulas, and that’s refreshing. And Celine Sciamma also wrote both movies, as well.

Zhang is 21-years-old, and makes her movie debut with an attitude and a consistency that makes us admire her and dislike her character’s rude side; Samba is given the kind of ease that Michael Caine had in “Hannah and Her Sisters,” and he’s charming without trying so hard; Merlant is drawn with a vibrant and sincere complexity; and Beth is smart and patient as the porn star, who has her true colors. So, we have four actors who know what they’re getting themselves into without succumbing the Hollywood formulas of romcoms or dramedies. And I mean without seeming routine.

Audiard draws “Paris, 13th District” with everything he can depict about life and what it brings out of people and their own situations. You really must see how Audiard is inspired by other filmmakers to influence this film without being self-congratulatory about it. It has sex, it has laughs, and it differentiates between relationships and friendships. Read between the lines.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

In Select Theaters This Friday

Categories: comedy, Drama, Foreign, Romance

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