In Paris, 13th District, four attractive young people’s lives intersect as they try to navigate love and their careers while living in the same neighborhood in Paris. Camille (Makita Samba) is a disgruntled former teacher, working on his doctorate and looking for a place to stay. Émilie (Lucie Zhang) is looking for a renter, trying to keep a job and avoid her first-generation parents. Nora (Noémie Merlant) is new to town and attending law school. In a wig, she looks very similar to a popular cam girl, ‘Amber Sweet’ (Jehnny Beth) which completely throws her life out of whack. Directed by Jacques Audiard, the film tries to capture modern millennial life.
The film’s first quarter follows Camille and Émilie’s meeting, coupling, and eventual dissolution, as the former moves out when he feels Émilie wants a relationship and not just sex. The banter between them is loaded and calculated, yet riddled with honesty. Zhang and Samba play off one another well, though their motives come through as annoyances.
Merlant, known for 2020’s brilliant Portrait of a Lady on Fire, doesn’t appear until 30 minutes in. She brings an emotional virility to the character, one still searching for who she is at 32. Her storyline is probably the freshest, centering on her life after being mistaken for Amber Sweet at her university. Her embarrassment causes her to seek out the real Sweet and they develop a friendship.
The entire film is shot in black and white, bringing out an even more serious and self-aggrandizing quality to the film’s melodrama. Audiard’s direction comes off as critical of this generation of millennials– ones surrounded by negativity and free sexual expression, hooked on their phones and not willing to communicate with one another. He does not offer the same grace of empathy that Danish director Joachim Trier affords his central character in The Worst Person in the World. By holding that slight animosity, Audiard builds a wall between his characters and his audience, making them seem, at times, like one-dimensional assholes.
Written by Audiard, Portrait of a Lady on Fire filmmaker Céline Sciamma, and Oh Mercy! writer Léa Mysius, the entire film is based on three short comic stories by American writer Adrian Tomine. The script seamlessly works in this new setting, in fact, there seems something innately “French” about each storyline. There is a lot of nudity and sex scenes, a good portion of which doesn’t move the narrative along. Though not fully exploitative, the nudity for nudity’s sake gets old fast, especially when Camille and Émilie have storylines that are not fully explored or realized.
Though not on-screen long, Camille Léon-Fucien’s turn as Camille’s aspiring standup comedian teenage sister with a stutter is one of the best parts of the film. Her natural energy in front of the camera shines through and brings some much-needed levity. Unfortunately, her storylines and some of the other outer personal lines of the main characters are not explored enough.
Overall, Paris, 13th District doesn’t reveal anything new about love or relationships in this day and age. However, the performances, especially from Merlant and Léon-Fucien, are enough to keep watching.
Paris, 13th District is playing in select theaters on VOD. Watch the trailer below.