Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Paris 36 (Faubourg 36)

Review by David Tredler


Funny how a film is perceived very differently, depending on whether or not it is released in its native country, or in the United States. Take Paris 36 for example (a perfect one), Faubourg 36 in its original title. In the land of Uncle Sam, the film is being released as an arthouse feature, a small auteur film aimed towards the cinéphiles. In reality, Paris 36 was one of the blockbusters of French cinema in 2008. One of the biggest budgets of the year, one of the biggest releases, rather considered a “popular” movie, one not really supported by “intellectual critics”. 

In France, Paris 36 had the bad fortune to be released the same day as Golden Palm winner The Class, which made as many entries as Paris 36 while that one was really an arthouse feature that no one really expected to attract as many moviegoers as it did. So meanwhile, Paris 36 struggled to be a box-office success, which everyone expected to become, since it was directed by Christophe Barratier, who made one of the biggest French success of the past few years, The Chorus. It also featured three very popular French actors, Gérard Jugnot, Kad Mérad and Clovis Cornillac.  

Yet the film was a box-office disappointment. Is it the film’s qualities’ fault? I honestly don’t think so. Not that I am a fan of it, but it really comes in the same vein as The Chorus did, a representative of a genre we like to call, in France cinema de papa. A film that offers an idealized vision of the past, that conveys the impression that “Despite all the troubles, those were good times!” This kind of films sometimes almost tears you apart, because it has its appealing “feel-good movie” vibe mixed with a condescending atmosphere. A condescending look at the characters, at the times depicted. 

Add to that a really fake Paris reconstructed in Eastern Europe, and it could all go wrong. Yet Paris 36 has its good qualities, like The Chorus had despite its strong cinema de papa feel. First of all Clovis Cornillac, a very busy actor not much known outside of France, who has a lot of charisma to display onscreen (if you have seen Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement, you may remember him). Second, a very charming musical atmosphere. The film takes place (of course) in 1936 Paris. A popular cabaret closed due to the crisis, and a few months of unemployment later, three of the former employees decide to reopen the cabaret and run it on their own. 

As much as I am not particularly fond of Paris 36, I can only recommend it to everyone, just because of one scene.  One funny, no, make that one outstandingly hilarious scene that made me almost fall off my seat and choke. It features Kad Merad, one of France’s most beloved actors, in a stage number of impersonation. One of the three or four funniest scene I have seen in any movie last year. If only for that, Paris 36 needs to be seen. 

2 ½ / 5 stars

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