Friday, May 15, 2009

Paris 36 (Rhoades)

“Paris 36” Is Song-and-Dance Memoir

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Back when the Atlantic Shores was more than a memory, I saw “Moulin Rouge” there, that surreal Nicole Kidman - Ewan McGregor musical about a Parisian nightclub.

“Paris 36” (original French title: “Faubourg 36”) – the musical drama that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema – reminded me a bit of that … and a half-dozen other movies.

Pigoil (Gerard Jugnot) and his friends work at Chansonia, a down-on-its-luck music hall in a quaint suburb of Paris. There’s Jacky (Kad Merad), known as The Prince of Impressionists, despite his audience-groaning attempts at sounding like a duck or a frog. And Milou (Clovis Cornillac), the young firebrand stagehand who didn’t serve in the Red Army as he claims. And Douce (Nora Arnezeder), the beautiful young chanteuse that men are attracted to like flies to honey. Even the reclusive Radio Man (Pierre Richard), a mysterious character who is drawn out of his self-induced musical seclusion by events. And Galapiat (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), the Fascist property owner who’s induced by Douce’s beauty to let this striking troupe of performers take over the failing music hall.

It’s mindful of “Hear My Song“ without the magical realism. Or “Mrs. Henderson Presents” without the wartime setting. Or “Le Crime de Monsieur Lange” without a printing house backdrop. Or a “Cinema Paridiso” that’s about live musical theater.

At its simplest, “Paris 36” is a tragic love triangle that leads to saving the Chansonia music hall. But the subplots add loving texture: Pigoil trying to reconnect with Jojo, his accordion-playing son. The long-forgotten collaboration between Monsieur TFS and Douce’s mother. Jacky’s transition from bad jokester to successful song-and-dance man. And the political backdrop of the SOC Fascists who oppose the striking Communists.

Although set in 1936’s pre-WWII Paris, this is more a musical than a period piece. Many of the Busby Berkeley-like numbers are performed by the cast itself. The songs are bouncy, even if the translations have that odd Parisian emotional disconnect.

This subtitled musical drama was written and directed by Christophe Barratier, whose parents were theater performers. As he said of his previous film “The Chorus” (“Les Choristes”): “My film is autobiographical, but I was more comfortable setting it in the past, so it became a universal fairy tale.”

But it’s really a fairy tale with a political twist. 1936 was the year of the Popular Front in France, when factory occupations by workers spread across the country like a red tide.

Yes, Barratier’s story is a tad derivative and stereotypical. But you’ll be promised a happy ending with this feel-good movie that one viewer described as “Paris By the Numbers.” Musical numbers, that is.
[from Solares Hill]

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