Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Films of the Coen Brothers: Paris Je T’Aime - Tuileries (2007) & Chacun Son Cinema – World Cinema (2007)

Paris Je T’Aime - Tuileries (2007)
Directed by: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen.
Written by: Joel Coen  & Ethan Coen.
Starring: Steve Buscemi (Le touriste), Julie Bataille (Julie), Axel Kiener (Axel).

Chacun Son Cinema – World Cinema (2007)
Directed by: Ethan Coen &  Joel Coen.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Grant Heslov, Brooke Smith.

Unlike many directors, the Coen brothers do not have a list of short films, commercials, TV episodes, documentaries or music videos on their resume. When they direct something, it’s always a feature film. The two exceptions were, strangely, both made in 2007 as part as omnibus films. The more famous of the two is Paris Je T’Aime, a movie where 18 different filmmakers each made a short film about love set in different part of Paris. The other film, Chacun Son Cinema, was made for the 60th Anniversary of the Cannes film festival, and collects 33 short films from filmmakers from around the world expressing their feelings on cinema. Both are utterly delightful – perfect in their own way.

For Paris, Je T’Aime, the Coen brothers were given one of the most famous areas of Paris – the one that contains the Louvre – yet instead of utilizing many of the famous sites from the area, or making a real love story, the Coens decide to do something completely different – they set their entire 6 minute segment in the subway station. The film stars Steve Buscemi as an American tourist, just coming back from the Louvre – a bag of souvenirs in tow, and a guidebook in hand, who accidentally offends a young man on the opposite platform, when he thinks Buscemi is staring at him and his girlfriend, who he is making out with. The young man because increasingly hostile, and his girlfriend seemingly increasing angry with his behavior, all the while Buscemi tries to ignore it and goes back to reading his guidebook – which is remarkably thorough, since it warns him of possible venerable disease. Things, of course, don’t quite turn out the way Buscemi wants them to.

As an overall film, Paris Je T’Aime is hit or miss – although the ratio is much higher than most. The Coen’s segment is simple and hilarious – in part because Buscemi’s wordless performance is spot on and the guidebook provides solid laughs as well. Leave it to the Coen’s to be given an assignment to make a movie about love in Paris – and end up with a comedy about an American tourist fearing VD in a subway station. Only they would do that.
The second short is entitled World Cinema for Chacun Son Cinema. It’s only half the runtime of their work for Paris
Je T’Aime – meaning only three minutes – but in its own way, it’s just about perfect. Josh Brolin – looking like he just stepped off the set of No Country for Old Men (which we may well have, since they made the movies the same year) is a man in a cowboy hat who comes to a small art-house theater- and ask the ticket man to explain what the two movies playing are about – he can choose Jean Renoir’s Le Regle de Jeu (which sounds hilarious when Brolin pronounces it) or Nuri Blige Ceylon’s Climates. The ticket man – played by Grant Heslov – gives him a rundown of both, but you can tell he’s getting increasingly frustrated. It seems at first that the Coens and Heslov’s character are encouraging the audience to laugh at Brolin’s unsophisticated rube (he asks if either movie contain any livestock). Which is what makes the end of the movie so delightful. You never can judge a book by its cover.I haven’t seen all of Chacun Son Cinema – I don’t think it was ever released in America, although I know DVD is available. I watch the Coen segment – as well as a few others by David Cronenberg and David Lynch on Youtube (were they there legally? I assume so, since they're all there, easily serachable). The only prerequisite was that the film had to be short (around 3 minutes) and had to have a scene in a movie theater. My understanding is that most filmmakers took the Cronenberg route – for those wondering, his segment was called “At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World at the Last Cinema in the World” – which should tell you how optimistic Cronenberg felt about the movie going experience. (I cannot say what Lynch thinks – his segment entitled Absurda is appropriately entitled). The Coen’s segment then seems much more optimistic – and basically argues that given the chance anyone could like foreign films. We just need to be a little more open to taking chances – like Brolin in this film.

These two short films are both wonderful – in completely different ways. Paris Je T’Aime is almost all visual, and Chacun Son Cinema is almost all dialogue. I don’t know why the Coen’s don’t do more shorts – or take part in more projects like these two. What I do know is based on these two, I wish they did more often.

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