Three day weekend, two movies. "Paris, Je T'aime" is a group of 18 short films about falling in love in, and with, Paris. Directors run the gamut from Gus Van Sant to Alexander Payne to Wes Craven to the Coen brothers and several French (and other foreign) directors I'm not familiar with. The pieces run the gamut from excellent to boring. Sitting in the theater, I discovered the same feeling I had during the dance recital the night before; even when watching a bit I particularly liked, I was entirely conscious of the time in a "how many more?" way. I think that's the drawback of short films for me: I am never completely drawn in, in the way I often can be with full-length movies, so I'm constantly aware that I'm sitting there waiting for the end. (The big irony is that I've been focused on writing short stories for the last several years, so you'd think that the short narrative form would be comfortable to me, and yet, even in my pleasure reading, I jump at novels and the short story anthologies I diligently purchase sit on the shelf. Maybe I need to go back to writing my novel. Hmmm.)
Back to the film. As I said, I liked some of the pieces, especially Tom Tykwer's (director of "Run, Lola, Run"), who did a short romance between a blind student and Natalie Portman; the Coen brothers, who placed Steve Buscemi on the platform of a Paris subway, with unpredictable results; and a heart-wrenching piece with Catalina Sandino Moreno (Oscar nominee from "Maria Full of Grace" and also "Fast Food Nation") as a young mother. But some of the others left me cold or worse. Cold is the operative word here, as the theater, perhaps because of the recent spike in outdoor temperature, was blasting its air conditioning. I was so uncomfortable that I almost left, especially as it would have been easy to duck out in between shorts and not feel as if I missed an ending. I wouldn't have minded missing several of these stories, although taken as a whole, I think it's a worthwhile exercise. Just maybe not a really entertaining film.
"Once" has received so much buzz I was worried that it would not live up to its hype, and so I went into the theater with that weird "prove to me you're good" vibe which doesn't do justice to anything (least of all my ability to relax and enjoy.) The theater was packed, even in a venue that was showing it in two theaters, every hour on the hour. You could practically taste the audience's anticipation.
The film is a simple musical set in Dublin about a young man and a young woman. It's the kind of musical I like, in that it's about music, not one of those in which the characters burst into song instead of speech. Here, every song (and there are many), are part of the film because one of the characters has asked the other to share his or her music, or they are practicing or recording together. Much of the film is simply their singing; the rest is a sweet and nicely realistic story of two people who are drawn to one another. I can't say much more without giving it away, as not much happens here: it's a simple story surrounded by good music. And the music is good, in a familiar singer-songwriter way, just the kind of music I enjoy.
As I said, I was resistant going in, but I still think the beginning is slow, and there were moments when I think I could have dozed off during the singing, no matter how much I liked the music. But the charm of the two lead actors is so strong, I became just as entranced as the reviews promised I would. I can pinpoint the exact moment I felt my resistance drop, when suddenly I fell for both the couple and their story. I think what is moving so many reviewers and viewers is the normal way in which these two people meet and get to know each other, without any manufactured movie trappings. And I think the fact that it got to me, despite my intention to not let it, speaks volumes.
I said "reviewers and viewers" above, but would probably include re-viewers as well, since many of the reviews I saw mentioned that this is a film you see over and over. I guess I can see that, since I was one of those who returned home to download the soundtrack from iTunes and have listened to it a couple of times. I learned from my experience with "Rent" that once I become obsessed with a soundtrack I long to see the film/play again, just to remember how the songs appear in their original context. (And to sing along of course!) I saw "Rent" three times on Broadway, which says a lot, considering I've probably seen only two others since I moved here 18 years ago. Every time I flip channels and the movie is on cable, I stop and watch, and sing along. (Like last night.)
Since "Once" is in one sense a long string of music videos, it's like going to a concert of your favorite album, although with the added bonus of a related storyline that's both entertaining and touching.