Movie Review: Paris 36
By Kevin Thomas, Special to the Tribune
Christophe Barratier's "Paris 36," an irresistible and impeccable period musical set against the political and economic turmoil of France in the mid-1930s, focuses on three very different friends who work at the Chansonia, a seedy red-plush and gilt music hall in an ancient, picturesque neighborhood, the Faubourg, on the edge of Paris. Gerard Jugnot's Pigoil is a kindly, stocky, middle-age stagehand, the solid rock of the theater's operations; Clovis Cornillac's Milou is the theater's handsome young electrician, a fiery leftist; and Kad Merad's Jacky Jacquet is an exuberant, politically naive entertainer who gives terrible imitations until he discovers his talent for singing.
The Chansonia is preparing for a gala New Year's Eve show to usher in 1936, which unfortunately will also be its final performance, as in hard times it falls into the ownership of the local godfather, the villainous Galapiat (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), a classic man-you-love-to-hate, who becomes a leader in the growing fascist movement. The interplay of the times and of the lives of various individuals involves politics, economics, love, intrigue, treachery, loyalty, heroism, cowardice, comedy and tragedy plus a clutch of wonderfully evocative songs - songs with terrific panache - with lyrics by Frank Thomas and music by Reinhardt Wagner.
"Paris 36" has the feel of French screen classics of the '30s - with a tip of the hat to Busby Berkeley in one production number. Tom Stern's cinematography is superb, as is the meticulous, magical production design of Jean Rabasse. Filmed in soundstages and locations in Prague, "Paris 36" has a beguilingly authentic sound and offers a blend of impassioned sentiment and harsh, even brutal grit.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some sexuality and nudity, violence and brief language).
Running time: 2:00. Opening: Friday.
Starring: Gerard Jugnot (Pigoil); Clovis Cornillac (Milou); Kad Merad (Jacky); Nora Arnezeder (Douce).
Written and directed by Christophe Barratier; produced by Jacques Perrin and Nicolas Mauvernay. In French with English subtitles. A Sony Pictures Classic release.