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What does it mean to be funny in film these days? Perhaps raunchy and raucous, maybe a little offensive? That seems to be the case, with the fine art of physical comedy waning in favor of gross-out gags and crass jokes. That’s not necessarily a complaint, only an observation as some are admittedly pretty darned funny. However, there was time of course when the laughs came not so much from words, but from bodies, and masters like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton made art out of falling down.
Decades later, virtuosos like Jerry Lewis, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin picked up the mantle but few have carried it further with the same dedication, so it is with great joy to see a pair of French filmmakers coming to the rescue and taking to clowning with a serious calling. They are Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, the writers, directors and stars of Lost in Paris (Paris pieds nus), a wonderfully off beat bit of lunacy that is a visual feast of sight gags, colors, timing and so much more that is unlike anything most audiences today might be familiar with. It’s just plain fun.
Gordon plays Fiona, a Canadian (her hometown a seaside village that looks like buildings on a train set) who, as a young girl sees her adventure-seeking aunt Marta (Emmanuelle Riva) flitter off to Paris and never return. Many years later, Fiona gets a postcard from her, claiming she needs help, so the inexperienced and slightly naive Fiona flies abroad and promptly falls into the Seine River, losing her bright red backpack, which is later discovered by the homeless Dom (Abel), who, with little to no scruples, takes it for his own and begins wearing her clothes and spending her money, all with nary a word. You can see where this is going. By chance, they meet, and have an impromptu dance, and then squabble and well, soon flit about Paris is search of Martha, who has suddenly gone missing but is actually on the lamb. It all makes sense in a movie that tries hard not to have any.
The film is decidedly absurd in a delightfully skewered manner, with setups and gags that come from all corners, inspiring moments of pure wonder and enchantment. Colors are key to the story, the film framed and shot in bold shades of red and greens, blues and yellows popping from every frame like a Wes Anderson film seen through a kid’s kaleidoscope. Spoken in English and French, it might as well be neither as most of the movie is dialogue-free, and it’s better for it, the movie a whimsical fantasy that needs hardly a word to make it work.
The plot is of course almost non-existent, the premise bending on the misconception that Martha has died, with collisions between the characters causing confusion and distraction that keep Marth and Fiona set apart while Dom gets the best of them, even if he means it with good intentions … or no intention at all. It’s all innocuous good fun, though a peculiar moment of comical sex and a douse of brief nudity keep this maybe one for adults, something not uncommon in Gordon and Abel’s work.
That said, this comedy, at just over 80 minutes, is as much a love letter to Paris as it is to the timeless visual classics of the past. Gordon and Abel (who play characters named Dom and Fiona in nearly all their films) are immensely talented physical comedians finding potential for gags wherever they go, and while none of it is meant to be hilarious, it never ceases to be creative and endlessly sentimental. There is a sweetness about Dom and Fiona that is impossible to resist, and that’s sure to turn audiences to a style seeped in history now being carried forward in very sure hands. Genuinely funny and a rare gem, Lost in Paris is one to find.
Lost in Paris arrives in select theaters June 16th.
Movie description: Lost in Paris is a 2017 mixed language comedy about a woman who comes to Paris for the first time to take care of her aunt, only to find chaos in the company of an odd homeless man who has yet to have an emotion.
Director(s): Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon
Actor(s): Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, Emmanuelle Riva