“Paris, 13th”: the modern love triangle of Jacques Audiard

Lucie Zhang as Émilie, Noémie Merlant as Nora and Makita Samba as Camille Courtesy of IFC Films

Director Jacques Audiard is known for his wildly original thrill rides like Read my lips, a prophet, Dheepanand The brothers sisters. His films — filled with underworld thugs, prison kingpins, immigrants fighting at all costs, and Old West assassins — have a mythic reach, and their shaken stories are not known for their relativity. Even his most overt blow to romance, rust and bonestarred Marion Cotillard as a double amputee who lost both her legs in a killer whale accident.

So Paris, 13and District — a vigorous, fiery look at romance through the lens of an urban love triangle — is sort of a departure. It’s also unabashedly sweet, even about our tech-savvy lives. “Imagine yourself on the sidewalk and you’re looking at your cellphone, and there’s all these other people around you and they’re looking at cellphones,” Audiard told Observer last month. “And you go on a date, and they go on dates, all around you. Either they organize a romantic meeting, or they are on their way to a meeting. It makes the city really beautiful!

Director Jacques Audiard Courtesy of IFC Films

It also makes town tense, as one woman gets into a molly-powered Tinder bender while another continues to be mistaken for her pornographic dopplegänger. They both end up sleeping with the same man, whose carnal appetite doesn’t quite satisfy his own emotional hunger. At one point, he even goes cold turkey. “I’m on a sex sabbatical,” he says. It doesn’t last.

Modern love seems like a surprisingly down-to-earth subject for the eclectic Audiard, but the director is a longtime fan of French Nouvelle Vague author Eric Rohmer, who has made a career of narrated relationship dramas. simple but complex in nature. “It’s a way of preserving this idea of ​​love speech: talking about love in a new way, just reflected in a new way,” Audiard explained. He and Lucie Zhang, one of the stars of the film, were present for Film at Lincoln Center’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, where Paris, 13and District premiered in New York. It was a kind of homecoming for the film, which is based on three short stories by graphic novelist and Brooklynite, Adrian Tomine. “I’m a little scared because he’s going to be at the screening tonight,” admitted Audiard. “When you adapt someone’s work, it’s like the old saying: the translator is a traitor.”

Audiard shouldn’t have worried. The film interweaves Tomine’s stories – “Hawaiian Getaway”, “Amber Sweet” and “Killing and Dying” – in a loose and inventive way that still honors the material and captures the author’s quietly seductive emotional depths. A friend of Audiard had recommended that he read Tomine, and the director was immediately seduced by the works of the graphic novelist. But he also wants to collaborate on their adaptation to the screen, and insists on calling on female screenwriters, calling on Léa Mysius as well as the help of his famous filmmaker friend Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a lady on fire). “I didn’t know Tomine’s stories, but Céline knew them by heart,” he explains. “To tell you the truth, now when I see the film, I really have a hard time distinguishing which are the parts that came from Tomine and which are ours.” He laughed, then added, “Maybe Tomine will remind me of that at the screening tonight.”

Adrian Tomine’s art in the “Paris 13th” poster Courtesy of IFC Films

Which makes Paris, 13and District so moving is that these are not fresh-faced naive people playing ping-pong in life. They are highly educated and emotionally intelligent singles in their early thirties. Camille (Makita Samba) is a high school teacher preparing for his post-doctorate. Nora (Noémie Merlant) is studying for a law degree at the Panthéon-Sorbonne. But they’re both restless, changing their professional trajectories mid-film and ending up working together temporarily at a real estate agency.

Emilie (Zhang), too, is overeducated and adrift: she has a degree in political science but chooses to work in a call center, a dead end job that fills her with perplexity and contempt. She also lacks ambition, especially in romance, shunning the hard work of emotional vulnerability for the rush of app-fueled casual sex. “It’s the danger of being alienated by technology if there isn’t just a bit of self-control,” Zhang explained. “But it’s cool to have all these technologies. I don’t know, I never knew this “ancient period” before all that!

Audiard’s generation knows this period all too well, and the director evokes Rohmer’s classic 1969 film My night at Maud’s like an even more vintage era. “Even then, his characters didn’t seem from that era,” he said. “Rohmer cares no less about what it is to be modern. He writes stories with characters that are truly outside of any defined time period.

For Audiard, what makes Rohmer so timeless and so perpetually relevant is the conversation. “The only thing between the heart and the body is the power of dialogue, romantic speech,” he said. “You have the power to speak. The characters talk, they don’t stop talking, they like to hear themselves talk. And in a way, in doing so, he becomes more eroticized.

In fact, Audiard’s sex scenes are defined by dialogue. “Even in all the love scenes, they never stop talking,” he said. Talking is what helps Nora overcome the fact that people in her upper classes keep thinking she looks like a sex cam girl named Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth). Nora becomes so obsessed with their similar appearance that she finds Amber and befriends her over Skype. The two establish a faith-based rapport that is arguably the film’s most tender relationship — and notably, it thrives without any physical interaction between them.

For an Audiard film, Paris, 13and District also has a ton of sex – something he’s never really filmed before with such graphic abandon. “I’m not completely comfortable with it,” he admitted. “The same is true, really, with scenes of violence. I don’t want to equate the two at all, but I link the two because in the movies they’re both really wrong.

So Audiard bet on intimacy coordinators and entrusted its actors with the task of inventing their own blocking. “We were directing ourselves,” Zhang said. “He wanted to see how naturally we would come to something if he didn’t really give us a hint.” The results are explicit moments that don’t feel exploited – not the predictable male gaze, but what Lucie describes as a “multi-gaze” that feels more equitable.

But what really does Paris, 13and District so contemporary is its cast – Audiard has long favored highlighting different ethnicities and cultures in its cinema by shaping stories around, say, a Franco-Algerian, in a prophetor a Sri Lankan family, in Dheepan. “I try to bring in new faces, people speaking different languages,” he said. “That’s really what represents France: that kind of diversity.” And in its sensual, hyperverbal, cheerfully everyday way, the result could not be more cinematographically Gallic.

Director Jacques Audiard on

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