In the last 12 years or so, the married Brussels, Belgian filmmaking and performing couple Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon have been making some of the strangest and funniest comedies around, with such films as The Iceberg, The Fairy, and Rumba. A bizarre mix of silent comedy-style sight gags, cartoonish behavior, and metaphorically naked emotions, their work is clearly inspired by comedies of a bygone era that still play incredibly to modern audiences (the works of Jacques Tati immediately come to mind). Their latest, Lost In Paris, would have been a sweet love story mixed with a fish-out-of-water tale in the hands of any other director. But with Abel and Gordon, it’s a visual joy set amongst some of the most famous landmarks Paris has to offer.
The film opens with a flashback of a woman named Martha telling her young niece Fiona that she’s moving to Paris from their home in the tundras of Canada. Years later, Fiona (now played by Gordon) gets a letter from her aunt (played by Emmanuelle Riva, who passed away in January) urging her to come visit her and save her from people who want to put her in an assisted-living facility. Fiona straps on her backpack and head to France, but by the time she arrives, Martha has already gone into hiding from the social worker ready to remove her from her home. After taking a tumble in the Seine while trying to have someone take her photo with the Eiffel Tower in the background, Fiona is left with no money, passport or provisions of any kind, and she ends up at the Canadian embassy looking for any help (including assistance from a handsome mountie working for the embassy).
Also intertwined with Fiona and Martha’s dramas is a homeless man named Dom (Abel) who happen to both salvage Fiona’s backpack and help Martha hide from the authorities. The film eventually devolves into a series of misunderstandings and absurd moments (including a great tango sequence with Fiona and Dom, who have just met at that point). Fiona is wonderfully gawky and awkward while Dom is bendy and might be bordering on mentally ill, but knows the city so well that he’s a valuable asset to both women, who don’t end up actually connecting until damn near the end of the film.
Every moment and sequence in Lost In Paris is beautifully staged and choreographed perfectly for maximum laughs and even inspired, heartfelt drama. Abel and Gordon are the type of filmmakers whose work is addictive. If this is your first exposure to their work, you’ll want to go back and see their previous films just to see what led them to this breathtaking place. Some of the material might feel a bit broad, but they pair always find the means to bring things back to more solid ground. There’s a rhythm to their work that is so noticeable, you can almost feel it in your extremities. Sometimes filmmakers forget that cinema is a uniquely visual medium, and a movie like Lost In Paris is an essential reminder of the power of the frame.
The film opens today for a weeklong engagement at the Gene Siskel Film Center.