French Film Festival UK: Woody Allen-loving ‘Paris-Manhattan’ is under-realised

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Written and directed by Sophie Lellouche
France, 2012

Concerning a Woody Allen obsessive, Paris-Manhattan borrows a central conceit from one of the man’s most beloved writing and acting efforts, albeit not one he directed himself. Instead of the apparition of Humphrey Bogart appearing to deliver advice like in Play It Again, Sam, Allen himself, in the form of a life-size poster and extracts from his films, is the maxim-dispenser of Sophie Lellouche’s debut feature.

In the film’s opening, protagonist Alice (Alice Taglioni) explains in voice-over that she and Woody Allen formed a connection when she first saw one of his films (Hannah and Her Sisters) at age fifteen, and that, in reference to Allen’s prolific work-rate, the two have maintained an annual “relationship” ever since. In the narrative’s present, Alice is single and working at her father’s pharmacy. Having found all answers to her questions in life so far through Allen’s acute screenplays, Alice comforts herself in an idealised version of existence. Keen to aid others, she often loans DVDs of Allen’s films, or those of his influences like Ernst Lubitsch, to pharmacy clients. Like many of Allen’s works, Paris-Manhattan is a romantic comedy, and Alice’s status as perpetually single becomes a major discussion point at family gatherings. Circumstances bring her together with an inventive alarm installer, Victor (Patrick Bruel), but Alice’s mind filled with past disappointments and film-fuelled expectations, both Allen-inspired and otherwise, threatens her chances with him.

For all the cute gags it does possess here and there, both oral (“Is it true you cured her acid reflux with Lubitsch DVDs?”) and visual (a stamp with the word ‘Zelig’ across it), Paris-Manhattan is undone by a lack of honing and focus. Alice Taglioni is relatively charming, but her character is so loosely realised. With no obvious drive, she feels entirely defined by the Allen obsession, though her reliance on advice from his talking picture makes little sense with the sternness and confidence she presents. Her search for a partner, meanwhile, never feels like a burning desire of her own, simply forced upon her by outside forces, yet, in typical genre fashion, she is there dashing through the streets of Paris to see “the one” by film’s end, a simple line or two from Victor having convinced her.

Character writing aside, the screenplay is also burden to some forced, unfunny comic scenarios and extraneous subplots, like one involving Alice’s brother-in-law’s suspected infidelity, that tire and ultimately go nowhere; even with a brisk running time of under eighty minutes, the film is prone to dragging. That said, there are some hints of promise for the first-time feature director, and that Lellouche managed to score a particular cameo appearance for one cute scene, as completely anecdotal as it ends up being, is impressive.

Josh Slater-Williams

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