Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades)
Directed by Jacques Audiard
Starring Lucie Zhang, Makita Samba, Jehnny Beth, Noémie Merlant, Anaïde Rozam
French with English subtitles
Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas, Saturday, 2nd April
Alliance Française French Film Festival | Buy Tickets
Love and other bruises

While Paris may often be described as the City of Love, the reality for its residents is a far cry from the tourist postcard, particularly for millennials grappling with dating and romance in the digital age.

Jacques Audiard’s Paris, 13th District or Les Olympiades is a beautiful and sexy film about love, romance and dating with all its highs and lows. There are no rose coloured glasses worn here, and mainly shot in black and white only enhances the reality.

Inspired by the work of American graphic novelist Adrian Tomine, the interlinked anthology of stories have been transplanted to Les Olympiades, a high-rise apartment block in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. The multicultural setting only enhancing the universality that surrounds the pursuit of love and happiness.

Initially we meet Émilie (Lucie Zhang), a sharp tongued French-Tawainese who lives in the apartment owned by Grandmother, now in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s. Émilie is on the search for a housemate to supplement her income which bring her into the orbit of Camille (Makita Samba).

It doesn’t take long for them to fall into bed bringing forth all the complications of being “friends with benefits” while sharing the same roof.

We then meet Nora (Noémie Merlant), a mature aged student who has arrived in Paris from Bordeaux. Her excitement about moving to the city and attending university quickly turns sour when she is mistaken for an online sex-chat worker “Amber Sweet” (Jehnny Beth). Bullied as a result of the mistaken identity Nora drops out of university and in fact contacts Amber for advice leading to an online friendship.

It is Camille who provides the link between the stories as the lover of both Émilie and Nora and the synergy between the stories only serves to enhance the drama.

As mentioned before, this is a sexy film, and there is a lot of sex in it which provides a platform to illustrate how the interaction between sex and our increasingly digitised world not only impacts our outlook on life and relationships, but ultimately ourselves. While Paris, 13th District is at times a depressingly accurate picture of modern dating, astutely there is no judgement here on our characters’ antics, just a statement of the facts.

At first glance the seemingly superficial outlook Émilie, Camille, Nora and Amber all have to sex and relationships initially makes them less than endearing, yet Audiard cleverly peels off the layers as the film progresses to delve deeper into their lives. Ultimately our quartet are just like us, all looking for love and their place in the world. I was surprised to find myself cheering for them by the end.

There is also a message of hope here – that despite the urgency of the online world there is still a place for slow-burn intimacy. The believability and strength of the ensemble cast, along with Paul Guilhaume’s luminous cinematography and Erwan Cartex’s Cannes award winning music lifts this to a sensuous and beautiful celebration of life, love and all its associated messiness.

Fontella Koleff

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