Combustible Celluloid
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With: Gerard Jugnot, Nora Arnezeder, Clovis Cornillac, Kad Merad, Pierre Richard, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Maxence Perrin, Francois Morel, Elisabeth Vitali
Written by: Christophe Barratier, Pierre Philippe, Julien Rappeneau
Directed by: Christophe Barratier
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality and nudity, violence and brief language
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 120
Date: 09/06/2008

Paris 36 (2009)

2 Stars (out of 4)

The Woe Must Go On

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Christophe Barratier previously directed Les Choristes (2004), which was nominated for a Best Foreign Language film Oscar, and so it follows that he has tried to make another Oscar nominee with Paris 36. That means the film is scrubbed and squeaky clean, with no nuance, poetry or personality -- and plenty of foreshadowing and explanation just in case audiences aren't following. It's relentlessly middlebrow (and, of course, like every other Oscar wannabe, it has war themes). The movie is set in and around a beloved theater in 1936, in -- of course -- Paris. The fascists are on the rise, and the theater's days are numbered. Many of the "talents" that worked there find themselves unemployed and drinking a lot. Pigoil (Gerard Jugnot) has it especially tough, because his son -- who looks like a pint-sized magazine model -- has been whisked away to live with his no-good philandering mother (Elisabeth Vitali). So Pigoil decides to strike an unholy alliance with a shady kingpin Galapiat (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) to re-open the theater, along with awful comedian/singer Jacky Jacquet (Kad Merad) and the handsome young Milou (Clovis Cornillac), who is constantly stirring political fires. Success comes when the gorgeous singer Douce (Nora Arnezeder) turns up and begins drawing in big crowds. But there's trouble when Galapiat develops an eye for Douce and big time stardom comes knocking at her door. Then we get a climactic musical number that's supposed to take place on stage, but features several Busby-Berkeley-type costume and set changes. Indeed, it looks as if Barratier worked on shooting images for the trailer first and then built a movie around them. Paris 36 is instantly disposable; it was calculated and manufactured directly for the Oscar committee, and since they didn't bite, the movie is gamely limping out into theaters, hoping for enough ticket buyers to make up for its lack of trophies.

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