Sophie Lellouche’s love letter to Woody Allen and directorial debut Paris-Manhattan, begins with a homage to the great filmmakers familiar opening titles, with a simplistic white writing against a plain, black background. However they aren’t presented in the same, infamous Windsor font, and it’s this slight indifference which sets the precedence for how the rest of this picture will play out, as although certainly a charming and genial tribute to Allen, it just isn’t quite as accomplished or ingenious as his work.
Alice Taglioni plays Alice, a Woody Allen obsessive who runs the family owned pharmacy, where she believes that classic movies such as Manhattan and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) are the perfect remedy to her customers conditions. However such films can’t cure herself of loneliness, as she struggles to find a partner – despite her father’s (Michel Aumont) best efforts in finding his daughter a husband. When she meets an alarm technician Victor (Patrick Bruel) however, a sense in fortune may just be upon her.
You know how Allen is obsessed with Casablanca in Play it Again, Sam, well that’s how Paris-Manhattan is presented, even beginning with a single shot of our protagonist sitting in the cinema, watching the big screen with awe and elation smacked across her face. She even seeks advice from an imaginary version of Allen when alone, much in the same way he talks to Humphrey Bogart in the aforementioned title. This is like a homage of a homage. At points however, it can be somewhat overbearing and feels a touch contrived, with an unsubtle and unashamed inclination to name drop the American director at any given opportunity. There’s admiring his work and there’s full on obsession, and this is verging on a restraining order.
It is fascinating to see Allen’s work inspire French cinema so greatly however, as the European nation has always felt like something of a kindred counterpart to his films, evident in how wonderfully crafted Midnight in Paris was, and this title plays on the natural affinity between the two great cities, that seem to share a similar sense of allurement and romanticism, particularly in film. In a sense, its gone full circle as Allen is heavily influenced by the work of European filmmakers such as Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch, so it seems somewhat fitting to see such a cinematic style return to its origin. The setting almost feels like a character in itself too, embracing the culture greatly, as Paris provides much of the whimsicality and charm that this picture survives off. We begin with a beautiful Ella Fitzgerald number, and from that point onwards there is a permanent smile on your face, taking you right through to the closing credits.
On a more negative point, and at no fault of the performance itself, Taglioni feels somewhat miscast, as, to be completely honest, she is almost too attractive to play that typical Woody Allen lead, becoming a victim of her own beguilement. Much of the appeal to Allen’s own characters was his physical awkwardness and how he never quite seemed comfortable in his own skin, and she doesn’t have to worry about that, for sure. Such a sentiment extends to her personality too – she may be offbeat and a little quirky, but she is seductive and enticing, again going against the notion of the stereotypical Allen lead.
There is no reason at all why Woody Allen fans shouldn’t find Paris-Manhattan endearing and gratifying, as you certainly can’t accuse Lellouche of misunderstanding the influential auteur. However this is so much of a homage that it does lose some of its own identity and you simply can’t help but draw comparisons to Allen’s work, and inevitably, any such parallels can be harmful, as his work simply can’t be matched. This is a worthy effort, mind you.