The spirit of Jacques Tati is alive and well in LOST IN PARIS, a charming comedy of coincidences (or is it fate?). As stylized as it is heartwarming, it is an unexpected love story set against the magical backdrop of Paris, with every movement, from a roasted red pepper on the loose, to a love scene with the characters on a split screen executed with sophisticated syncopation and a burbling sense of fun.
Our heroine, Fiona (co-director/co-writer Fiona Gordon), is on a mission to save her beloved Aunt Marthe (Emmanuelle Riva), a retired danced, from enforced removal to a retirement home. Leaving behind the frozen wastes of Canada, and her librarian job, she arrives in Paris with a determined attitude, sensible sneakers, and an oversized red rucksack topped with a tiny Canadian flag. Once there, she loses the rucksack in a touristy mishap, can’t find Marthe, but does find both the Mountie (Frédéric Meert) of her dreams and Dom (co-director/co-writer Dominique Abel), the blithe homeless man who finds her rucksack and becomes smitten with this gangly Canadian after an evening of reckless dance moves of surpassing fluidity on a bateau mouche.
The word fairy tale comes to mind while watching the heightened reality of the Crayola-bright color palette and methodical absurdity. Presented with a straight face, it verges on the surreal but steps back with a gentle twinkle in its cinematic eye before crossing that line as Fiona negotiates Paris while contending with her faulty French and sinuous awkwardness. This is a film that embraces the improbable as a matter of course, where octogenarians can break into an ebullient pas de deux while remaining seated, and where by the end, everything seems eminently possible.
Gordon possesses a face that is a plasticine wonderland of extravagant expression that is the acme of the film’s mastery of a refined physical comedy that would never stoop to anything so mundane as a pratfall. No, her entire being is an emoticon, but never a cartoon. Though we may smile at the outsized weeping that melts even the coldest bureaucratic heart, we can’t escape the pathos of a woman crushed by circumstance. Abel is more elegant, even with a rope for a belt, and a pup-tent for a home. The elegance of a man comfortable in his skin, and content with his lot. When love strikes, it swallows him whole, and the interplay of annoyed Fiona and devoted Dom has a sweetness that belies the fact that he is actually stalking her. Plus, he knowns his way around Paris, gently nudging Fiona in the right direction without ever quite invading her space.
LOST IN PARIS is a tribute to love and to freedom. Fiona, in an irony only reinforced by the recurring image of Paris’ Statue of Liberty, is never more alive than when she has been divested of her belongings. And Marthe has never been more resourceful than when evading the well-meaning social worker who wants to shut her away. It’s also some of the most delightful bit of whimsy you will find on screen.