Director – Jacques Audiard – 2021 – France – Cert. 15 tbc – 105m
The criss-crossing lives and loves of four characters in Paris 13th District – in cinemas from Friday, March 18th
Shot for the most part in stylish black and white, this starts off with apartment resident Émilie Wong (Lucie Zhang) naked in her grandmother’s flat with her new tenant Camille (Makita Samba), their situation swiftly explained in a “how it all began” flashback. Their intense passion cools after a mere couple of weeks, however, with Camille subsequently bringing another girl he fancies back to the flat.
Meanwhile, law student Nora Ligier (Noémie Merlant from Jumbo, Zoé Wittock, 2020) gets mistaken for online sex cam girl Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth) at a nightclub and the image of her (incorrect) identity immediately plastered over the internet. She quits university and gets a job at a real estate company, an area in which she has a lot of experience, run by Camille who is looking after the company for a friend and has no idea what he’s doing.
Although Nora delineates boundaries for the office, pretty soon she and Camille are involved in a passionate, physical relationship. Meanwhile, she tracks down Amber Sweet on the web, first for conversations on Amber’s expensive website and later for lengthier conversations for free on Skype.
Although a very handsome looking film thanks in no small part to Paul Guilhaume’s gorgeous black and white cinematography, this feels like distinctly lightweight fare from Audiard compared to, for example, Dheepan (2015) or Rust And Bone (2012) as if he’s abandoned difficult social or personal issues in favour of an upwardly mobile, middle-class sex fest. You’re never bored, but it’s as if the film just washes over you without really challenging anything.
Certainly it’s nice to see a social milieu where no one worries about different ethnicities (white French, black French, Chinese French), but beyond that it’s mostly hard to care. The one exception is Nora and who walks into a social problem entirely not of her making – having the wrong looks at the wrong place and the wrong time – and tries to do something about it: being one of the four characters around whom the film is constructed, and given that she also has the Camille / real estate agency / relationship plot going on, this only accounts for about an eighth of the film.
An equally interesting issue sits somewhere on the fringes, not dealt with at any great length, about Émilie’s grandma (from whom she got the flat rent free in the first place) living in a home and suffering from dementia, which condition has reached the stage where she no longer recognises Émilie. Unable to cope, Émilie persuades her new tenant (replacing Camille) to visit her grandma in the home and pretend to be Émilie since the old lady won’t know the difference, a deceit which will come back to bite Émilie later on.
Otherwise, though, this is flashy, feelgood and explicit but ultimately shallow. Perfectly serviceable fare, but Audiard has made far more compelling films than this.
Paris 13th District is out in cinemas from Friday, March 18th.