All around the world, each public transit system has its own rules. These come in both the official and unspoken varieties, the former basically consistent from place to place, and the latter usually reflecting the mores of the society each system serves. The acceptability of talking to one’s fellow passengers, for instance, tends to vary, and in some countries even making eye contact counts as a no-no. You certainly won’t try it in Paris after witnessing the consequences when Steve Buscemi breaks that rule in Tuileries, this short directed by the Coen brothers that first appeared in the anthology film Paris, je t’aime.
“Paris is known as the City of Lights,” Buscemi’s apparent tourist reads in his guidebook as he sits awaiting a train in the station from which the film takes its name. “A city of culture… of fine dining and magnificent architecture. Paris is a city for lovers: lovers of art, lovers of history, lovers of food, lovers of… love.”
Though he seems to be having a somewhat less than lovely time there, including getting pelted by a passing child’s spitballs, he endures. Not five seconds after reading about the no-eye-contact custom on Paris’ “reasonably clean” subway (a laugh line for any Parisian) does he look fatefully up, catching the eye of a girl across the tracks and sending her boyfriend into a jealous rage.
Foreigners have long felt as intimidated by Paris as they’ve admired it, a mixture of emotions the Coen Brothers play on without leaving the Tuileries platform, as does Alexander Payne in the altogether different experience of the American alone in the City of Lights he essays at the end of Paris, je t’aime. In the decade since the movie came out, we’ve seen a few other city-themed anthology films, including New York, I Love You, Rio, Eu Te Amo, and the unrelated Tokyo!, albeit none with a second contribution by the Coen brothers or a second appearance by Buscemi — whose character may have yet to recover from from his trip to Paris anyway.
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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
This is very offensive towards Parisians and French people. And it’s not funny. On the contrary, Parisians are very nice and friendly people.
Typical Hollywood anti-European bigotry. Perhaps I’ll make a film about the appallingly rude Yanks I see embarrassing their country all over the Continent.
Marco, your comment is offensive to anyone who loves art and respects the freedom of artists. Since when was it the job of a filmmaker to confirm your view of how nice people from a certain place are? By your logic we should all condemn Film Noir because New Yorkers are very nice and friendly people.
Well I have sat about at that spot. I know about the no eye contact rule which is the same in NYC but you have to keep an eye on what is going on around you. Easy to make a social mistake, I walked in the bike skate lane and got a French earful. Assholes are everywhere but as in NYC if you try to speak the language and are genuine you will be treated well. I like France and the French contrary to the reputation people from Indiana have. Let’s judge each other as individuals not as a group or tribe.
The travel guide seen at the first of this film calls Paris “the City of Lights” – that is a stupid error – Paris is the “City of Light” – not Lights. Get it right Coen Brothers