Director Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon
Starring Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, Emmanuelle Riva, Pierre Richard, Philippe Martz, Frederic Meert
Lost in Paris is diverting, quirky fun with a smidge of black humour. Some parts meander and we feel certain we know what we’re building to because the film wears its hearts on its sleeve. Yet it is in the journey that some big laughs and poignant observations are made. There will be added poignancy for some watching French screen legend Emmanuelle Riva in it too.
Riva plays Aunt Martha who many years earlier left Canada to live in Paris but is now being forced to move into a nursing home. She writes to her niece Fiona (Fiona Gordon) in Canada to help her and dutifully Fiona comes. Arriving in Paris sporting a bright red backpack with a Canadian flag, she leans forward as she walks with her long limbs exaggerating her every movement. Fiona doesn’t have a good run of luck her first day in Paris, falling into the Seine and losing her backpack only to be told her aunt is missing. Of course this kind of luck in this type of film may lead to your whole life changing for the better and so it is here. The backpack is found by Dom (Dominique Abel) a homeless man who has the kind of relaxed nonchalance you associate with the French. These three characters will meet up and be separated throughout as the audience gets caught up in seeing them happy.
The film is quirky in its occurrences, characterization and mood but there is a little bite to proceedings. As characters pick through garbage bins and remain isolated from those that they love you can tell the filmmakers are asking you to think without banging you over the head with a theme. In its most charming moment a couple dance accentuating how human bodies connect in a first meeting and also how beautiful the idea of Paris is to all romantics. It is the little moments though that you may find yourself looking back on with a smile including a punch-line following an impassioned eulogy.
Lost in Paris is exceedingly well shot, with the City of Lights showed off in the best light, but even here there is a deeper message. We see some people living very rough around tourist icons and Fiona falls into the Seine when she poses for a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower. These landmarks serve a great deal in the narrative besides iconography. Abel and Gordon as writer/directors choose their shots well, sometimes gradually revealing a joke, other times framing their characters heroically or diminutively and always delicately setting up future payoffs.
It is great to see Riva in the film playing an older woman with a thirst for life and some agency in her own story. She always keeps her dignity despite obviously suffering the loss of some mental faculties. The story is not making fun of the elderly and instead is letting her have some fun. Yet it is Gordon and Abel so comfortable in their own skin that are a joy to see front and centre in a romantic comedy. Neither looks the conventional idea of a movie star which adds authenticity to their characters and their plight but as the film goes on they become more beautiful to us just for being who they are. At one point Dom is asked “Where is the handsome man?” by Fiona who he is falling in love with. The implication of her question is rife with embarrassment and Dom looks embarrassed. She then looks him in the eye and says “You? No way.” Dom straightens up and says “Yes, way.” Before lighting a cigarette and looking like a cool cat, and I thought how very French and how very charming. Just like the movie.