Most of the shorts are narrative in scope, relying on the actors instead of effects. In "Quartier Latin," Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara portray an aged couple getting a divorce after years of living separate lives. Over a conversation at a caf & eacute;, the two masterful performers bring warmth, ribaldry and a deep story to light as they joke and jab at one another.
Elijah Wood gives a much different, equally complex portrayal of love as he silently yearns for a vampiress in sci-fi director Vincenzo Natali's tribute to the "Quartier de la Madeleine." Natalie Portman and Melchior Beslon encapsulate an entire youthful romance in Tom Tykwer's whirlwind "Faubourg Saint-Denis." In "Quartier des Enfants Rouges," Maggie Gyllenhaal portrays an American actress who falls for her Parisian pot dealer. Her disappointment at his disappearance is wistfully conveyed in a minimum of words and expressions.
Not all the shorts succeed. Christopher Doyle attempts to explore the Chinatown of Paris with an uneven, surreal kung-fu musical (starring Barbet Schroeder, no less). And while critics are slavering over the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men, their contribution to Paris, je t'aime reveals that, technical polish aside, they're no more capable of telling a good story in five minutes than a student filmmaker.
Most of the directors do remarkable work, however. Bend It Like Beckham's Gurinder Chadha shows a graceful touch with young actors in "Quais de Seine," and reveals the location of Paris's mosque in the process. Gus Van Sant coaxes a sweet and awkward hookup out of two boys, neither of whom speaks the other's language. And in my favorite short, "14 & egrave;me Arrondissement," Margo Martindale delivers a heartbreaking comedic turn as an American tourist who, under Alexander Payne's deadpan direction, falls in love with the city itself. (Not Rated)