The springtime election of a left-wing government in 1936 France brings wild new hopes, yet also sees the rise of extremist ideas. Three unemployed stage workers (Gerard Jugnot, Clovis Cornillac, Kad Merad) decide to occupy the music hall where they worked until just a few months ago to produce a hit show. The stage is set for a shortlived but wonderful adventure as the new owner, Galapiat (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) sets serious obstacles in their way, and the beautiful young newcomer Douce (Nora Arnezeder) becomes a jewel they fight for.
Review by Louise Keller:
There's plenty of heart in this uplifting crowd pleaser about a theatre in 30s Paris that is home to friendships, blossoming love and represents dreams of a better tomorrow. Sound familiar? The underlying themes of Paris 36 are as relevant today as they were then, and filmmaker Christophe Barratier has lovingly recreated the era, complete with its sensibilities and conflicts, and couched his carefully drawn characters therein. It doesn't live up to Barratier's 2004 film Les Choristes, which makes me misty eyed just remembering its emotional power, but Barratier brings three of its cast to this new project including three of his leading players Gérard Jugnot, Kad Merad and 12 year old Maxence Perrin.
In the first few scenes, Gérard Jugnot's seasoned theatre man Pigoil loses everything: his (adulterous) wife, his beloved son Jojo (Maxence Perrin) and Chansonia, the theatre that is as vital to him as the blood that flows through his veins. Then it's time for the journey in which we watch him try to reclaim it all. Surrounding Pigoil's destiny, the world swirls precariously. There's political unrest between the socialists and the fascists, a touching storyline involving Pierre Richard's Monsieur TSF, who has stayed in touch with the world through his radio, the ugly thuggery of Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu's Galapiat, who aspires to nurture his softer side (and snare the girl), and a charming love affair between Pigoil's colleague Milou (Clovis Cornillac) and the lovely young singer Douce (Nora Arnezeder).
The story is about principles, dreams, love and the relationship between a father and son, and we warm to it all. Performances are all excellent and Arnezeder impresses with her natural grace and pretty singing voice. Emotionally, the story line involving Pigoil and Jojo, has the greatest impact: there is nothing more satisfying than the scene when Pigoil is reunited with his accordion-playing son in the freezing snow. The production design is meticulous and sucks us in, engulfing us in the city of Paris complete with songs that reveal its true identity.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As a piece of social realism a la France, Paris 36 is both poignantly period and fearsomely French, taking us through the rough and tumble period of pre-war emancipation for workers. They got the 40 hour week and two weeks paid leave out of it, in a political climate that approximated revolution. But even as Christophe Barratier revels in the colour and movement of music hall and workers rights, he stick close to French cinema's heart, pre-Nouvelle Vague. That is, he is proudly sentimental about it all, the style is old fashioned in the best sense, and he tells stories about pain, love and betrayal with a glass of red wine.
Tellingly, he has chosen Tom Stern to make the images, the man who has shot much of Clint Eastwood's films of late (among other great films), probably because Stern captures emotion as well as atmos with unparalleled intensity yet without any fuss. He steals the show as far as I'm concerned, not because the performances or the direction is second rate, but because he's just so damn good at what he does. The film's tone oscillates between 'let's get the show on' and 'capitalist bastards should die', which is uneven and bumpy like a dodgem car ride. But the charm of the central characters and the period itself (in Paris) tends to seduce us and lets us enjoy this socio-political romantic drama showbiz whatsit.
I don't mind genre bending in cinema, just as I don't mind surprises; I like them. And I like complexity, which Barratier provides by parallel side stories about a father son relationship after divorce, and the love triangle in which the lovely Deuce (Nora Arnezeder) becomes a prize between competing males - symbolising competing political sides. Her attempt at manipulating one against the other is part of the script's juggling act, and while it is not entirely original, it is relevant for the story.
The film seems to stretch itself as it approaches its multi-faceted climax, and the mood shifts again as Barratier goes whole-hog Hollywood musical of the 30s, staging spectacle theatre as a triumphalist conclusion to what is a seriously melancholy work.
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PARIS 36 (M)
CAST: Gerard Jugnot, Clovis Cornillac, Kad Merad, Nora Arnezeder, Pierre Richard, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Maxence Perrin, Francois Morel, Elisabeth Vitali
PRODUCER: Nicolas Mauvernay, Jacques Perrin
DIRECTOR: Christophe Barratier
SCRIPT: Christophe Barratier (Pierre Philippe dialogue)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tom Stern
EDITOR: Yves Deschamps
MUSIC: Reinhardt Wagner
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jean Rabasse
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 30, 2009