Paris the 13th District (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Sex and Love in the city

Jacques Audiard’s latest film “Paris the 13th District” is a little romantic comedy film which lightly rolls from one point to another along with its several young characters. While the overall result is relatively milder compared to the gritty realistic qualities of Audiard’s notable films such as “Rust and Bone” (2012) and “Dheepan” (2015), it alternatively amuses and touches us as wryly observing how its main characters cope with those familiar matters of sex and love, and the resulting breezy sense of fun will linger on your mind for a while after it is over.

The movie, which is mainly set in Les Olympiades, 13th arrondissement of Paris, begins with the camera looking around its main background for a while. After that, we are introduced to Émilie Wong (Lucie Zhang) and Camille Germain (Makita Samba), and we see how they come across each other due to a little misunderstanding. When Émilie is looking for a roommate to live with her at an apartment actually belonging to her Taiwanese grandmother, Camille, who has worked as a teacher in a local high school, responds to her advertisement, but she mistakes Camille for a woman due to his name, and they are certainly flabbergasted when Camille subsequently comes to the apartment. Although she still wants to have a female roommate instead, Émilie lets Camille into the apartment, and, what do you know, he soon moves into the apartment as her roommate.

At first, Camille and Émilie agree not to get physically involved with each other, but, as shown from their first scene in the film, they eventually come to have a casual sexual relationship between them. They initially promise to each other that they will not be serious about this relationship of theirs, and they are happy to pursue their respective carnal desires together for a while, but, not so surprisingly, there comes a point where Émilie becomes a bit more serious about their relationship.

While Camile and Émilie try to deal with their consequent private problem, the movie occasionally adds small and big details on their respective lives. As she talks with her older sister or her mother on the phone, we come to discern how Émilie has been rather distant to her family members including her grandmother, who has been in a local facility for old people due to her worsening dementia. When Camille visits his family apartment, it is evident that he is not particularly close to his widower father or his sister, and he inadvertently angers his sister at one point due to his callous remark on her little but precious aspiration.

Meanwhile, the movie also comes to focus on the very difficult trouble of a young woman named Nora Ligier (Noémie Merlant), who recently moved into the neighborhood for her college education in Paris. Not long after she begins her first semester, she goes to an evening party, but, mainly due to her colorful wig, she happens to be mistaken for a certain online porn star named Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth), and she eventually comes to quit her college because of lots of shame and humiliation caused by that.

A month later, Nora applies for a job in a local real estate agency which happens to be managed by Camille, who stops teaching not long after breaking up with Émilie. When she is subsequently hired, Nora sternly warns to Camille that she does not want any sexual approach from Camille, but, as you have already expected, they soon get closer to each other as they work closely together day by day, and they consequently move onto the next logical step for them.

However, Nora still does not feel that right about having sex with Camille. While trying to figure out the source of her problem, she comes to approaches to Amber Sweet via an online porn website where Sweet has worked, and she soon finds herself having a series of very intimate conversations with Sweet once she confides to Sweet about what happened to her a month ago.

In the meantime, Camille finds himself getting closer to Émilie after she approaches to him via text messages. This time, they agree to remain to be just friends, but Camille cannot help but feel attracted to Émilie again as they talk more with each other. In case of Émilie, she still does not know what her heart really wants as often following whatever she desires right now, and there is a spirited moment when she feels quite elevated emotionally after having a quick sex with some stranger she happens to encounter via an online application.

As these four main characters interact with each other in one way or another, the movie, which is loosely adapted from Adrian Tomine’s three short comic stories by Audiard and his two co-writers Céline Sciamma and Léa Mysius, serves us plenty of sex scenes, which are shot in black and white film with considerable honesty and sensitivity by cinematographer Paul Guilhaume. In case of the four principal performers in the film, Noémie Merlant, who previously collaborated with Sciamma in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019), is surely a standout as expected, but Lucie Zhang, Makita Samba, and Jehnny Beth hold each own place well on the whole, and I especially enjoyed how Beth and Merlant tentatively push and pull each other during several key scenes between them.

In conclusion, “Paris the 13th District” looks like a minor work in Audiard’s admirable filmmaking career, but he is clearly having a little fun along with his cast and crew members as dabbling on the territory of Éric Rohmer movies, and I appreciate its lightweight wit, vivid mood, and youthful energy. Although he recently had his 70th birthday, Audiard shows us here that he is still an energetic filmmaker as before, and that is enough for me now.

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