14e Arrondissement: Capturing the Quiet Beauty of Loneliness
2006’s Paris, je t’aime was an ambitious anthology film made up of 18 shorts all revolving around the French capital. While it featured a number of well known actors and directors including Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, The Coen Brothers, Alfonso Cuarón and Gus Van Sant, the result was a very mixed bag, making for a frustratingly uneven experience that left many uncertain about the success of the anthology format. And looking back at the film, it’s pretty hard to really recommend seeking out any of the shorts from the collection.
Except for 14e Arrondissement. Directed by Alexander Payne and starring the wonderful character actor Margo Martindale, this 6 minute piece served as the final short within the collection, but was by far the most affecting. It centered on Martindale’s character Carol, a letter carrier from Denver who recounts her holiday in Paris in her janky French accent.
While initially appearing to be a pastiche on hapless American tourists stumbling around foreign countries (Carol’s robotic French pronunciation fools no-one), it soon evolves into something so much more. We begin to empathise for Carol as she hints at her loneliness and wishes that she “had someone to share things with,” Martindale nailing the mixture of Carol’s buoyant optimism and creeping solitude perfectly.
But it is the final sequence, set in Parc Montsouris, that the short really hits home. As Carol gazes across the park and watches people of all ages enjoying the sunshine, she talks of an indescribable feeling that “I’d never known before or had always been waiting for.” Payne evokes both the joy and sadness of being lost in a foreign place and delivers a moment of sheer, unfettered beauty that hits home quite unexpectedly, bringing tears to even the most stubborn viewer.
A wonderful surprise of a short that I hope you’ll enjoy!