France and Canada have traditionally enjoyed close ties, but Fiona the librarian might fix that. She hails from an impossibly snowy English-speaking Canuckian burg, but she has longed to join her flamboyant Aunt Martha in the City of Lights. She will get her chance, but her lack of French fluency and spectacular clumsiness will lead to no end of complications in Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon’s “Lost in Paris,” which opens this Friday, June 15, in New York.
Aunt Martha’s letter urgently summons her to Paris to prevent her from getting bustled off to a nursing home, but by the time she arrives, the former music hall dancer has already taken to the wind. Through an unlikely but highly cinematic chain of events (which are in fact quite common in “Lost”) Fiona also faces the prospect of living rough on the streets of Paris after losing her luggage and money. However, the embassy’s meal voucher takes her to a riverfront restaurant, where she starts tangoing with Dom, the vagrant who found her cash and clothes.
Dom is instantly smitten, whereas she is understandably resentful when she discovers the truth. Yet, Dom will constantly follow her like a faithful dog whenever she needs his dubious help. Naturally, he speaks French, but he is still the master of miscommunication. At least he has the balance of a mountain goat when chance forces them to scamper up the Eiffel Tower like Franchot Tone in Charles Laughton’s Maigret movie.
Abel & Gordon are regularly and deservedly compared to Jacques Tati, but they are about as close to unknown as you can be and still get reliable art-house distribution. They clown with the same grace as the master, but they also have an idiosyncratic visual sensibility somewhat akin to Aki Kaurismäki. In this case, their flair for physical comedy is infectious, inspiring the late grand dame Emmanuelle Riva in one of her final performances (as Aunt Martha) following her Oscar-nominated turn in Michael Haneke’s radically dissimilar “Amour.”
When Abel and Gordon perform, it is like watching a top-flight dance troupe, except funnier. In this case, the Parisian backdrop evokes a sense of noir romance that is rather intoxicating. Consider it their “An American in Paris” (he’s Belgian, she’s Australian, but whatever).
Highly recommended for anyone who understands goofiness and sophistication are not mutually exclusive, “Lost in Paris” opens this Friday, June 16, in New York, at the Landmark Sunshine.
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit jbspins.blogspot.com