canada Dominique Abel

LOST IN PARIS Review: Silent Comedy Didn't Die

Friday, August 04, 2017 Rob Samuelson

Martha is on the run.

Photo credit: Lost in Paris/IMDb

In hot pursuit of the 88-year-old Paris resident, played by late French screen legend Emmanuelle Riva in one of her final roles, is a nurse who insists that Martha must move into a nursing home. Martha’s not having it. She sends an urgent message to her Canadian niece, Fiona, and off she goes into an adventure through the streets, parks, and monuments of Paris to drink champagne (and do a little more, if you know what I mean) with the city’s most whimsical bums and generally get into trouble.

But Lost in Paris is not just Martha’s movie. It is a series of connected vignettes that also belong to Fiona (played by co-writer and co-director Fiona Gordon) and Dom (the movie’s other co-writer and co-director, Dominique Abel) as they saunter, bumble, and dance through Paris in a loving update on the great comedies of the Silent Era. Without the work of 1920s funny men like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd -- along with the 1960s films of nearly silent comedian/clown Pierre Étaix, who himself adapted the Silent masters’ work for French audiences -- this film would not exist.

What a joyful thing to be indebted to. Gordon and Abel may not have the financial resources to stage the daredevil antics of Keaton and Lloyd, but they have internalized those comics’ timing, wit, athleticism, and eye for inventive visual gags. Fiona is a polite, repressed dork of a character, a woman who has seemingly never ventured out of her tiny, snowed-in Canadian town until her beloved aunt’s message found its way to her. Wearing an embarrassingly enormous red hiking backpack with a tiny Canadian flag atop it, she’s a bundle of nerves. That nervousness informs every movement she makes, and Gordon is remarkable at building this shy and quiet character through body language. Her shoulders point forward, every step she takes is ginger, and she uncertainly tries to fit in with her unfamiliar surroundings in Paris by doing things like emulating the running-in-place motion of a jogger. A clumsy stumble into the Seine River suggests that maybe she shouldn’t have done that last bit, particularly because she loses her backpack, purse, money, and all personal identification in the river -- that complicates her planned return flight to Canada.

Luckily there’s Dom, a homeless man who lives in a tent the “New York” section of Paris, where a scaled-down replica of the Statue of Liberty stands. While Gordon takes all the Keaton- and Lloyd-style stunts, Abel as Dom is pure Chaplin, right down to the Tramp-style clothing and sheepish attitude about his blundering ways. He finds Fiona’s backpack, including her traveling money, and goes on a spending spree before he coincidentally crosses paths with the rightful owner of his bounty of cash and the ill-fitting yellow sweater he has stretched over his wiry frame -- coupled with a sparkly gold tie the restaurant makes him wear to gain entrance to its delicious offerings, Dom strikes quite the figure.

Gordon and Abel turn into movie magicians when their characters interact for the first time on the dance floor a fine-dining restaurant located on a river boat. Fiona’s jittery and nervous energy becomes something refined and impeccably graceful when these two strangers dance. Dom’s doofus shenanigans are channeled into a focused dancing partner while a grooving jazz score guides them. Other restaurant patrons bounce to the beat, serving as the goofiest backup dancers in the world. What Gordon and Abel accomplish in this moment is something their Silent inspirations would never have dreamed of being able to do in their heyday. They incorporate diagetic music (stuff their characters can hear) and express themselves to that music in a way that is wildly funny and awe-inspiring in the same moment.

Most of the rest of Lost in Paris is uproarious, with athletic and farcical set pieces popping up every few minutes -- Fiona’s and Dom’s amateur detective skills are put to the test at a funeral home in one of the film’s funniest bits -- but nothing quite achieves the specialness of their first dance. It sags briefly when it attempts a more bittersweet tone toward the end of the second act, because that is the longest stretch of the movie without an imaginative gag to carry it. However, it saves itself by ably discussing thoughts about aging and wanting to live life to the fullest while you still can. Because who wants to go to the grave with regrets when you could be doing complicated choreographed dances with men who have just stolen your money?

Directors: Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon
Writers: Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon
Starring: Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, Emmanuelle Riva, Pierre Richard
Rating: 4/5 stars

Available in limited release and soon on home video from Oscilloscope Laboratories

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