“I’ve always wanted to climb the Eiffel Tower. I don’t know why I never did.”
Sincerity is in short supply in most romantic comedies. A thick layer of irony is applied on each picture, regardless of subject, and advertised to viewers as aware of itself. The Big Sick has so far succeeded in returning to the heartwarming roots of the genre. Lost in Paris hopes that fans of the former will also find room for this small slice of delight. Even if there is little in the way of plot behind the sugary sweet concoction of romanticism and slapstick comedy.
Years ago, Fiona’s aunt, Martha (Emmanuelle Riva), shared a dream of living in Paris while overlooking the arctic tundra of a small Canadian village they both call home. Martha realized that dream, yet Fiona (Fiona Gordon) still resides in the small town and became a librarian. Now 88, Martha has been living comfortably in Paris for several decades, but her mental health is brought to question and faces the prospect of being sent to a home for the elderly. Not likely to go without a fight, Martha enlists her niece to her aid. Further troubling matters, when Fiona arrives, Aunt Martha is nowhere to be found.
Paris was supposed to be a magical trip for Fiona; the sort of trip to sweep a girl off her feet. But so far all the City of Lights has done is put her in the Seine river. Now, with all of her money and identification gone, Fiona must traverse the city alone. The circumstances would suggest Fiona may be imperiled, but Lost in Paris never puts her in any serious danger. After a meet-cute with Dom (Dominique Abel), a homeless man wearing her clothes, at an upscale restaurant, Fiona recovers her money and goods. Alas, while Dom has taken Fiona’s things, she has snatched his heart. With his unprompted assistance, Fiona seeks her missing aunt. It should go without saying that many misunderstandings occur.
Paired together the two couldn’t be less alike. Fiona is reluctant to cause a stir, whereas Dom is a force who has yet to leave any feeling or word unexpressed. Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel play lead/writer/director in a romantic comedy that recalls the precise slapstick of French film icon Jacques Tati (Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, Playtime). Both Gordon and Abel’s backgrounds in dance lend a grace to physical comedy unseen in recent years. Dom’s oft-interrupted meal in Le Maxim is an impressive study in movement, but the real treat comes when Dom asks Fiona to dance. Audiences expect the duo to messily swing around the floor with reckless abandon, but receive a precise tango performed by talented professionals instead.
Lost in Paris will be a hard sell for Oscilloscope in the U.S. market. Impatient viewers won’t have the attention span to let things unspool at their own pace, but, certainly, some bits could have been trimmed. Jacques Tati’s unique brand of silent comedy set-up viewers to anticipate one outcome and then subvert their expectations multiple times over. It’s not fair to compare most works to Tati, but most of the long gags observed in Lost in Paris play out as expected.
The filmmaking couple may have misjudged the comedic potential of several scenes–such as doing a newspaper gag while a woman is informed of grievous news–but farce rarely comes with observing lines. Not to suggest that anything mean-spirited transpires, there’s just a different sensibility at work. Such moments are forgotten, however, when Riva’s Martha and a romantic suitor share a softshoe on a park bench. Sadly, Emmanuelle Riva passed away six months ago, though her performance in Lost in Paris will live on to bring joy to audiences always.