Publication: TheMovieWaffler, 11th November 2017
In the cartoonishly snowy climbs of remote Canada, shy Fiona (Fiona Gordon) receives an invitation to Paris from her elderly aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva). Upon her arrival Martha is nowhere to be found, and a series of mishaps leaves poor Fiona homeless in a foreign city.
Completing the cinematic trio is enterprising hobo Dom, played by Gordon’s co-director Dominique Abel. This compulsive, erratic figure encapsulates the whimsical feel of the film. In the words of my partner, all this tap-dancing and splashing in the Seine places Lost In Paris as the ‘Frenchest film since Amelie‘.
Abel and Gordon’s work is also strongly reminiscent of Wes Anderson, as characters are willing to accept the comic weirdness of their predicaments in their brightly coloured, meticulously designed surrounds. The nod to Hollywood’s ‘screwball’ genre, in which this film also fits so neatly, is found in Martha’s fixation on Paris’s very own Statue of Liberty. There are also scenes atop the Eiffel tower which reminded me of Ealing comedy The Lavender Hill Mob.
One of the many little jokes in Lost in Paris is a Canadian lead with French relatives who can barely speak the language. This leads to a regular flitting between French and English which never bogs down the film, not least as so much of the comedy is on a visual level.
However, the comic set pieces at times can be a little flat, such as when Dom is chasing his pepper that’s been caught on a fishing line. A lot of Lost In Paris depends on wacky coincidence, which usually plays as part of the film’s charm but might sometimes leave a viewer scratching their head or rolling their eyes. While more of this comedy of errors lands than doesn’t, Abel is not a spectacular physical comedian, leaving the shenanigans more akin to Mr. Bean than Chaplin.
Beginning with L’iceberg in 2005, Abel has collaborated with his partner Gordon on all four of their directorial efforts. The chemistry of the pair is plain to see, notably in an early dance sequence on a floating restaurant (hinting at a previous film of theirs, Rumba).
Without wishing to get into details, there is copulation in a tent late in the film that tips the balance between whimsicality and dark humour. The geniality is also a little overplayed at times, especially with the use of Loudon Wainwright‘s ‘The Swimming Song’.
At the 2012 Academy Awards, Riva was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her part in Amour, making her at the age of 85 the oldest ever person to be nominated for the award. Playing a character suffering from dementia and increasingly withdrawn from her husband, many expected it to be the final role in a stellar career.
That Riva at the age of 88 was able to pull off a role with such spark and energy in Lost In Paris, a complete reversal from both Amour and Hiroshima Mon Amour, is a testament to her skill and dedication as an actor. Her character Martha both has the hint of wicked madness as she escapes the nurses of the retirement community, and a refreshing matter of factness she shares with Dominic.
I was constantly in admiration of Riva’s delivery and cheer throughout the film, and she is, without doubt, its highlight. Riva passed away in January, leaving Lost In Paris as one of her final credited performances.