Review: Lost in Paris aka Paris pieds nus (France/Belgium 2016)

God, I love when a movie really knows how to use color.  Most films nowadays experiment with monochrome or tints, but Lost in Paris is full of old school technicolor, Jacques Demy-flavor colors – luminescent greens, candy reds, blues and yellows that jump right out of the screen.  And all in the service of a delightful little pop confection – the story of two goofballs falling in love, set against a magical realist Paris that constantly teeters on the edge of fetishization without crossing the line (the “Woody Allen Line”™) .

The creation of real-life married comedy duo Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel, Lost in Paris stars the pair as Fiona, a small-town anglo-Canadian girl in search of her addled elderly aunt (a wonderful Emmanuelle Riva) who moved to Paris, and Dom, an unflappable, unkempt but suave, Parisian vagrant whose path keeps intersecting hers as she encounters misfortune after misfortune.

The plot is slight, a shaggy dog story really (shaggy aunt?), more of an excuse for the duo to bounce off of each other and a series of Parisians who just manage to avoid becoming caricatures.  The film wisely avoids such crudities – there are no villains or over-the-top performances in the supporting cast, just subtle character work that enhances the leads.  And Abel and Gordon can more than hold the screen.

Both have an amazing matched physicality, tall and gawky, capable of buffoonish slapstick at one moment but also of a genuinely graceful, lovely dance number at another.  Dom reminds me of a Michael Richards or Bill Irwin, playing his awkward frame for laughs, but always in clear control of his instrument.  Fiona, on the other hand … I struggle for comparison and find myself looking only to cartoon characters – Olive Oyl, the protagonist of Rio, or the awkward geeks depicted by Sam Kieth.  She’s preternaturally stiff where Dom is catlike, all swinging limbs, a gangly marionette trying to push its way through the world.  Needless to say, they were both fantastic.

Lost in Paris is not perfect – not every gag lands and the plot could be a little more engaging – but it does so much right.  You can always win my favor with a well-executed dance number and Lost in Paris has two great ones, one involving Dom and Fiona in a riverside restaurant and one featuring Riva and fellow French octogenarian luminary Pierre Richard doing some fancy footwork.  You can also always win my favor by exercising restraint in length – in these days of bloated, three hour superhero epics, the value of a tight 84 minutes cannot be overemphasized.

I find myself remiss in being completely in the dark on Abel and Gordon’s back catalog.  They’ve starred in several feature and short films and it makes me happy to know those are out there for discovery.  I look forward to more of what these modern day Tatis and Chaplins have to offer.

3 out of 4 stars (Very good).  Lost in Paris is being given a limited US release by Oscilloscope and opens this Friday, June 16.  Do yourself a favor and go see it.

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