Love is the unifying theme in Paris, Je T'Aime, an anthology film in which 18 teams of filmmakers were assigned to make a five- or six-minute narrative short about a separate Parisian neighborhood. The producers go out of their way to avoid cliché. Once we get past the Paris-Love equation, the choice of collaborators is surprisingly fresh - no Audrey Tautou or Catherine Deneuve, only a soupon of Gérard Depardieu. A few of the filmmakers come across as tourists, but most strive to show the Paris that other movies somehow missed.
Gus Van Sant, stationed in the gay mecca of Le Marais, gives us two of his patented surfer boys cruising each other in a printing shop while Marianne Faithfull looks on. On the Tuileries Metro platform, Joel and Ethan Coen couldn't resist getting a wordless Steve Buscemi into his usual urban scrape. Japanese director Nobuhiro Suwa populates the Place des Victoires with ghosts before the eyes of a distraught Juliette Binoche. Olivier Assayas sets up Maggie Gyllenhaal as a movie actress looking to score some drugs, and also some love, in the Quartier des Enfants Rouges.
Not since Gene Kelly has an American in Paris been quite so good-naturedly appealing as Carol (Margo Martindale), an overweight, middle-aged postal employee from Denver who, in director Alexander Payne's gentle, moving vignette, has an epiphany sitting by herself on a park bench, eating a sandwich. She butchers the French language and dines alone in the capital of love, but she's satisfied with every single crumb. She's been dreaming about this trip for years, and now it's even better than she imagined. Paris makes her feel alive. Us, too.