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Film review: 'Lost in Paris' directed by Dominique Abel

Lost in Paris

Lost In Paris is best identified as an Abel-Gordon film, a designation to itself. The team of co-directors produce films with a distinct look, feel, and manner, one which arises partly from their common interests and background. Fiona Gordon is a Canadian who went to Paris to study mime and clowning (unironically). There she met Belgian fellow student Dominique Abel, who shared her love of old burlesque comedy (Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton) and hoped to make films which expanded on their whimsical, inventive physical humour. The two have collaborated ever since.

The team of directors and co-writers also play the two lead roles of Fiona and Dom, providing most of the predominantly physical comedy in this goofy but charming mixture of romance and comedy of errors. Dowdy Canadian librarian Fiona receives word that her elderly aunt, a former dancer who lives in Paris, has gone missing. She travels to France to help, but finds herself constantly lost, confused by the unfamiliar city, and prey to frequent mishaps. Fiona is amusingly out of place in Paris, with her abysmal French, unfashionable clothing, and enormous red backpack sporting a small Canadian flag on a stick. The use of rustic Canadian Maritime music for much of the soundtrack underscores her clash with Paris.

The character of Dom is found living in a small tent by the river, apparently homeless and scrounging for goods. When Fiona falls into the Seine, losing all her property, he retrieves her backpack, and the meet by chance at a restaurant where Fiona is recovering from her near-drowning. They make an immediate connection, demonstrated with a wonderfully absurd, clumsy parody of a sultry and romantic tango in the restaurant, Fiona hilariously gawky and Olive Oyl-like as she reluctantly tangoes in oversized athletic shoes; Dom almost as ridiculous in the sweater, clearly women’s wear, which he has stolen from Fiona’s backpack.

Much of the plot involves Fiona’s repeated mishaps as she searches for her aunt, and the development of her awkward and tentative romance with Dom. Meanwhile, it turns out that Fiona’s Aunt Martha is not lost, but has chosen to flee her nursing home to tour Paris one last time. Martha is delightfully played by iconic French actress Emanuelle Riva, in a comedic part that stands out among her mostly dramatic roles.

While Fiona and Dom are mistakenly informed that Martha is dead, and attend the wrong funeral at which Dom gives a wildly inappropriate eulogy, Martha is enjoying her freedom and meeting with her elderly lover, Norman (French comic actor Pierre Richard). Side by side on a park bench, they let their actions speak for them, performing a charming seated dance in which only their feet move, another physical bit of the Abel-Gordon type. The three finally reconnect at the top of the Eiffel Tower, a meeting which concludes in a well-choreographed, Chaplinesque bit on the upper rafters. The conclusion is simple but poignant: Martha dies, happy that she has enjoyed a good life, and Fiona and Dom choose to stay together.

The film references are easy to spot. For example, the brief shots of Fiona’s Canadian library in midwinter, in which a comically extreme gust of wind and snow blows through each time the door is opened, seems to come directly from W C Fields’ hilarious short film, The Fatal Glass of Beer. The seated dance routine is reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s “fork dance” at the dinner table, and the Eiffel Tower balancing act is pure Chaplin. None of the classic scenes are copied directly, however; they are all used as inspiration for new and inventive bits of slapstick. For those who enjoy this particular brand of comedy, Lost in Paris is an outstanding, lighthearted update of the genre.

For further viewing:

Abel and Gordon’s 2011 comedy, The Fairy (La Fée) is done in much the same style as Lost in Paris, but with a more fanciful plot. Dom, a grumpy hotel night concierge, is approached by Fiona, who claims to be a fairy and grants him three wishes.

From there, the story wanders aimlessly and without much consistency, providing a backdrop for the elaborate physical antics and outlandish plot twists. Includes a great soundtrack, featuring 1950s music from Louis Armstrong and Dinah Washington, and swing music by Duke Ellington and others.