The French can have an easy time getting giddy, falling all over themselves for sentimental reasons, and nowhere is this indulgence as annoying as in “Paris 36,” a melodramatic dance hall special that veers and wobbles all over the place with cocky abandon.
One moment, it’s a 19th century melodrama, the next a jaded imitation of a Busby Berkeley musical, and, if you care to run down the debts that writer-director Christophe Barratier owes political and dramatic tradition, you might also note bows to a little accordion player who lost his father (Gerard Jugnot) and stolen by his mom; a monsieur who finds his long-lost daughter; a cunning villain who will do anything to keep the dance hall star away from the dashing leading man.
DIRECTED BY Christophe Barratier
SCREENPLAY BY Christophe Barratier and Pierre Philippe
STARRING Clovis Cornillac, Gerard Jugnot, Kad Merad, Nora Arnezeder
RUNNING TIME 120 minutes
All that’s missing is the curled, menacing mustache.
Top this off with a fascist-socialist stew placed in a cauldron of political upheaval where the dominant cry is “Save the Chansonia,” which, I suppose, is another way of declaiming “The show must go on.”
One of the chansons is titled “I’ll Kick the Bucket Before My Man.” It’s unabashed sentimentalism, hackneyed tradition: “I Feel a Song Coming On,” “Let’s Make Our Dream Come True,” “Work for the Show,” and make sure that lost boy finds his daddy in time to play for him in the club.
Maybe someone could have made something novel about performers who refuse to give up and band for art, even near the brink of war (Warner Brothers created an entire industry from this sentiment, and we are still reaping rewards from watching the dances and hearing tunes from the Golden Age of American popular song).
No such luck with Barratier, whose brash confidence outguns and overshoots its mark. We may love the French and their spirit, their zest for life. But when they start falling in love with themselves, the whoopie turns to ennui.
Reach Gazette Film Critic Dan DiNicola at [email protected]