A sparkling rosette of fireworks illuminates the Eiffel Tower and a lilting score evokes Audrey Hepburn's Paramount Pictures Gay Paree over the opening credits of the enticingly titled Paris, Je T'Aime ("Paris, I love you"). Comprised of 18 petites romances de quartiers (little neighborhood romances), Paris, Je T'Aime employs a dazzling international array of writers, directors and actors that reflects the diversity of modern France.
Any portmanteau film necessarily contains some tales that are more engaging than others, and that is the case here. Rather than intertwining stories, the narratives are linked by images; ubiquitous public displays of affection, the color of blood, physical collapse and the light cast on faces by the glowing city after dark, as well as the modern glare cast by ATMs and cell phones.
Some stories are realistic, some fantastical. "Tour Eiffel" by Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) ironically tells the love story of two costumed mimes, and "Quartier de la Madeleine" by Vincenzo Natali is a stylized silent vampire tale shot in black and white, save for scarlet pools of blood. In "Tuileries," the Coen Brothers use their trademark quirkiness to portray Steve Buscemi's hapless tourist, whose French guide book miraculously illuminates the curses being rained on him from young Parisians standing across the third rail at a Metro Station.
The sequencing of episodes is occasionally consequential: The Coens' short references Gus Van Sant's previous "La Marais," where a blank-faced Justin Timberlake look-alike is bewildered by the passionate address of a floppy-haired printmaker because "he used phrases that weren't in my phrasebook."
The star-heavy vignettes fall flattest, particularly "Quartier Latin," with old compadres Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara, along with Gerard Depardieu. But then, Alexander Payne (who cameos as Oscar Wilde in Wes Craven's "Pere Lachaise" episode) provides a concluding epiphany with "14th Arrondissement," in the voice of flatly accented textbook French of a Denver letter carrier (stolid Margo Martindale) on a solo Parisian adventure.
Paris, Je T'Aime echoes her discovery of the myriad diversions of a perambulation through the City of Light. Bonjour, Paree!