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With Jim Sabatini

Paris 36

Paris 36
Gerard Jugnot, Elisabeth Vitali, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Kad Merad, Clovis Cornillac, Nora Arnezeder and Pierre Richard

Rated: PG-13 
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: April 3, 2009 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics

This French/Czech Republic-based production should put a smile on the faces of most discerning arthouse cineastes.

Paris 36 uses the unsettling backdrop of pre-World-War II France to noticeable effect in the northeast section of the City of Lights, Faubourg.

This nod to the Gallic pictures of around the time of this one, May 1936, shows how many lives have been affected by the elections of the leftist Popular Front into office.

One working-class establishment, the Chansonia theatre, is heading into decline, which leaves manager Germain Pigoil (Gerard Jugnot) more than crestfallen.

It doesn't help that his wife/dancer Viviane (Elisabeth Vitali) has dropped him for someone else, while the machinations of an influential businessman Galapiat (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) have put things at a standstill. And, Pigoil's accordion-playing son Jojo (Maxence Perrin) has been made to live with his mother by orders of the State.

The diagrammed script from director Christophe Barratier finds a kindred spirit from the dilemma faced in pics like Mrs. Henderson Presents. The unhappily idle Pigoil forms an uneasy alliance with the slippery local titan, as he gets assistance from an awkward song-and-dance fellow (Kad Merad) and rising young political hotwire "Milou" Leibovich (Clovis Cornillac). Their plan looks to be branded at first, but a welcome boost comes in the form of a comely chanteuse Douce (Nora Arnezeder).

If the over-cooked story looks to run out of steam before the final act, Barratier has a diamond in the rough in the form of the "Radio Man" endowed in a shrewd robust way by comedian Pierre Richard. And, the quality of music becomes more zestfully authentic.

Not as distinctive or dynamic as Moulin Rouge or the more recent La Vie en Rose, Paris 36 nontheless manages to be trustworthy to its genre trappings. Barratier works deftly with his cast and crew to overcome any narrative hiccups, in a spry, lushly evocative way, if the camerawork (presented in widescreen), editing, and designing (the main Faubourg district nicely represented by verdant Czech locations) are any evidence. The sights and sounds of showbiz during the time of Leon Blum are earnestly displayed with all of the entertainment and tension that comes with it.

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