Jacques Audiard’s latest is a tender, dream-like tale about people seeking true connection. Paris, 13th District marks Audiard’s first step back to his native language after his righteously brilliant English-language debut, The Sisters Brothers. However, here, Audiard sets his sad, yet equally joyful film in Paris’ 13th district, in the present day.
Les Olympiades, Paris, 13th district. This is where the film begins as Émilie (Lucie Zhang) looks for a roommate. She accepts an offer from a person named Camille (Makita Samba), who turns out to be a man. Émilie is surprised but quickly changes her mind about wanting a female roommate as the two quickly slip into bed together. Things go incredibly smooth for a few days until Camille reveals he is not looking for a long-term relationship which catches Émilie off-guard due to her blossoming feelings for him. This is just the very beginning as the other two leading characters are revealed, Nora (Noémie Merlant), a student, and Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth), an online sex worker. The two become acquainted as Nora is mistaken for Amber at a university party, the torment sent her way overtakes her life and she ends up turning to Amber’s online chatting service for assistance.
The film assembles an ace ensemble of extremely talented actors who seamlessly perform Audiard, Léa Mysius and Céline Sciamma’s beautifully naturalistic dialogue. Although the stories, at first, seem distant from one and another they manage to converge in a pleasing manner. It’s an anthology of lost characters searching to find meaning in their somewhat mundane Parisian lives, spiced up with a healthy dose of intimacy and passion. Zhang plays Émilie with a razor-sharp edge as she tries to cut through the pain of losing not only her grandmother, but also Camille. On the other hand, Samba’s Camille is as smooth and cool as it gets. But it’s Merlant who truly shines as her character struggles to find her place in this almost unbearable world. There is something so special about the tender way that Merlant plays Nora, she is incredibly vulnerable, yet full of fiery passion.
All of Audiard, Mysius and Sciamma’s characters come across as lived-in and truly lost people, which contrasts with the film’s silky, dream-like black-and-white cinematography. Paul Guilhaume’s superbly sublime images are effortlessly enchanting and draw one into this otherwise very realistic world. It adds an extra layer of spell-binding, cinematic realism that is akin to the effect of something like La Dolci Vita. Brilliantly, Audiard doesn’t try to hammer in the hopelessness that his character’s feel by going for the now-conventional shaky, documentary-like style of shooting that drama’s almost always go for. No, Audiard does that by getting extraordinary performances out of his actors who convince the audience of the harsh nature of their reality, leaving the film’s visual style to be something detached and beautiful rather than rough.
Paris, 13th District beautifully ties off its interspersed stories with a neat ribbon that will leave audiences with a special feeling of tender joy. Audiard’s film is almost unlike any other film in the way that it captures the impulsive and passionate nature of those in, or seeking, love. Without a doubt, Audiard’s touch here owes a lot to his collaboration with Léa Mysius and Céline Sciamma, whose 2019 film Portrait of a Lady on Fire arguably is the cinematic pinnacle of true intimacy and human connection.
This review is from the BFI London Film Festival. IFC Films will release Paris, 13th District in the U.S.