Most major metropolitan areas have a neighborhood like the 13th arrondissement of Paris: densely concentrated immigrant population (in this case, Chinese and Vietnamese in what’s known as the Quartier Asiatique), high-rise apartment blocks, mom-and-pop businesses with tight margins. In urban enclaves like this, the essence of city life is felt most closely, in all its aspirations and reinvention and crowded isolation.
That’s the idea with Jacques Audiard‘s latest film, the criss-crossing mural of striving and struggle titled Paris, 13th District. Today brings the first trailer for the Cannes competition selection, which introduces the four characters haphazardly thrown into one another’s lives by the pure chance that governs the day-to-day in the bustle of a metro.
Taiwanese emigré Emilie (Lucie Zhang) has a pretty good setup, living rent-free in her grandmother’s vacant flat while ignoring the needs of her own family. She eventually develops an attraction to Black schoolteacher Camille (Makita Samba), their fragile courtship intruded on by law student Norah (Noémie Merlant) following a case of mistaken identity with the camgirl Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth, singer-songwriter and one half of the rock band Savages). The graphic novel anthology ‘Killing and Dying’ – in particular the eponymous short story ‘Amber Sweet’ and ‘Hawaiian Getaway’ – provided the basis for this unusually-structured plot.
Our own Hannah Strong was taken with the film at its Cannes premiere, finding its vantage on the minutiae of banlieue-adjacent culture. “There’s a real sense of place within the film, particularly in the apartments of Emilie and Norah, but also as they wander the neighbourhood through malls and green spaces,” she wrote in her review. “It feels like we’re being given a tour by locals, whose love for their city is only jaded by the burden of title. This apathetic insider’s view of Paris matches its drifting occupants at the heart of the story…”
Filmed in black-and-white for maximum soulful grit, told with the combination of affection and resentment all city-dwellers know as second nature, it’s a significant new entry in the canon of Paris-set cinema. For those of us who can’t just drop everything and whisk ourselves off to a street-level French holiday, it’s the next best thing.
Paris, 13th District comes to select cinemas in the UK for previews on 14 February and releases widely 18 March.
Published 3 Feb 2022
Cannes favourite Jacques Audiard returns to the Croisette with a low-key love story set around the fringes of the French capital.
The French director of A Prophet and Dheepan is drawn to stories of human resistance and struggle.