And I do love Paris. Well, at least I think I do. I’ve only been there once, briefly. So I’m not sure if I’m in love with Paris, or in love with the idea of Paris. The Paris from books and films. The Paris I know intimately through others’ far more romantic experiences in that magical City of Lights.
This summer, the movie that has claimed my imagination is Paris, je t’aime. It’s not just one film, but 20 short films, set in various arrondissements throughout the City of Love. And in these shorts, renowned directors attempt (with but a few minutes at their disposal) to persuade their viewers to feel love in all of its forms: romantic love, familial love, and really, an overall love of humanity. And it does so successfully, pulling you in and encouraging you to laugh and cry and experience such a range of intense emotions all in a fleeting two hours that it’s almost disappointing when it ends. This despite some subtitles (I know not everyone can stand them; this movie has some English and some French)! I can’t imagine anyone can watch the simple story of the American postal deliverer touring Paris without finding yourself wiping tears from your eyes, albeit a bit sheepishly.
I suppose when a film achieves this goal, it’s nothing short of a miracle. So much has to go right for a film to succeed: the director, the actors, the story line and scripting, pacing, videography, editing. Think of the many films that started out with high hopes only to fizzle out, forgotten at best, ridiculed at worst (anybody remember Water World?!).
Of course this magical transformation can occur with books as well. I’ve enjoyed a few wonderful time/place metamorphoses this summer, with books that have–for me, at least–attained that holy grail that every writer aspires to: leaving the reader satisfied yet feeling a little disappointed with loss, because he or she so enjoyed being engrossed in an un-put-downable novel.
With the lyrical writing of Deb Kristy’s (or is she Legacy Kristy now?) Catching Genius, I partook in a leisurely respite on the Gulf Coast of Florida this summer, having never left home, all the while working through years of familial angst (not mine!). And with the fun and well-written Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him by the talented Danielle Ganek, I plunged into a fledgling career in the quirky New York art world, managing a few jet-setting trips abroad while I was there. I feel very lucky when I hit upon a novel that affects me in this way. It’s like figuring out the perfect recipe or having a flawless day. It leaves you with a sense of joy for joy’s sake, having invested nothing more than your time and a little bit of cash. What a great deal that is!
So my romanticized Paris may be just that. Romanticized. That’s okay, though. After all, what I know of many things I only know through the lens of the director or the author. I’ll never know the true England of the Bronte sisters, or the France of Javert and Jean Valjean. I’ll never know the brutal Uganda of The Last King of Scotland (if you haven’t seen that, rent it–Forest Whitaker is amazing), or the Japan of Memoirs of a Geisha. But through the magic of books and film I have been so successfully transported that for a short period of time I almost felt as if I was there. What a marvelous way to travel to another place or world, without ever going anywhere at all.
And since I can’t take that dream trip to Paris this summer, I might just have to find a theater still showing Paris, je t’aime, and escape there for a few hours yet again before the summer is over.