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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Paris 36

Song and dance, comedy and drama

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The world is a show and the show must go on. In movies the idea has been around at least since the musicals of the 1930s and it endures, especially as nostalgia. All the better when the show is set in the Paris of the imagination, a city of light and cobblestones, roving accordionists and sidewalk cafes, with the Eiffel Tower looming in the backdrop.

Such is the appeal of the French film Paris 36, a musical-drama-comedy filmed through the scrim of old-time photography in the bygone Faubourg of Paris between the world wars. It's a musical set in a struggling music hall, which gives the cast license to break out in song and dance without warping the bonds of reality. It's a drama set in a time of social turmoil between labor and management, of general strikes and strikebreakers, under the socialist premiership of Leon Blum. The theater's landlord is a fascist, but also a man in love with the musical revue's perky singer, who for her part loves the Communist agitator. Finally, Paris36 is a comedy for treating its serious themes of family, fidelity, lust and politics with a light touch.

Although it would have benefited from some judicious editing by writer-director Christoph Barratier, and played better at an hour-and-a-half than in its two-hour length, Paris 36 is a delightful, bubbly champagne cocktail, charming even in the face of anti-Semitism, violence and political argument. Like 42nd Street and any number of old Hollywood movies that are its template, Paris 36 celebrates the irrepressible camaraderie of show people, whether singers, actors, dancers or stagehands, thrown together in a desperate mission of entertainment.
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