Short Film Review: Picture Paris (2011, Dir. Brad Hall)

Picture Paris -- Won Cannes

While I was scrolling through the HBO GO app last night, I was suddenly reminded of the 2011 short film, Picture Paris. I had heard a little about it back while it was screening in TriBeCa, but aside from hearing that Julia-Louis Dreyfus was starring in a short about a restless mother’s dream trip to France I didn’t know much.  After all, all I could really think of involving JLD and French was Elaine’s father mumbling the Les Miserables song, Master of the House, from the The Jacket in the second season of Seinfeld

Needless to say, after reading that Picture Paris was about a woman’s dream visit to Paris becoming tarnished when everything goes wrong, I couldn’t say no. I turned it on, and I have to say I was not disappointed.

The film begins with Ellen Larson (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), facing one of the most fundamental human crises. She must figure out how to start her life over and re-invent who she is. With her youngest child going away to college, Ellen’s role as a mother is coming to an end, and after nearly 20 years of caring for someone else’s life she is now left to deal only with her own.

Ellen begins to fixate on Paris, and completely envelopes herself in French culture. She takes french cooking classes. Listens to language CD’s, and dreams of the day she and her husband will be able to visit France. Yet the day finally comes when her son finally moves away to school, and from there things take a surprising turn.

I have to say I loved Picture Paris. The story was compelling. You truly felt for Ellen and connected with her on a surprisingly human and familiar level. From all the simple interactions with her son, the kisses good-night, when she said goodbye to him at college, and even the motherly nags for texts to let her know he was safe, reminded me of my own interactions with my mother. Because of this familiarity, I felt like I understood what she was going through, which only created an even stronger bond between me and the character.

From there, the sets, and the cinematography in Picture Paris were stunning, and seemed to perfectly capture every feeling and emotion that Ellen was experiencing. Two particular scenes that stuck out in my mind was when Ellen was preparing a meal for an old friend, and another where she was riding on a boat, alone. I don’t want to say any more specifics about the scenes (in an attempt to avoid spoiling anything,) but when you watch the short, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

The only issue I had with Picture Paris was at the end. Seemingly out of nowhere a character became the “chorus” and started to break the fourth wall. Something about this interaction really threw me off. While It turns out this person had also been the narrator giving us tidbits of information throughout the film, something about the way it was done seemed a little superfluous to me.

Although, breaking the 4th wall IS supposed to make the viewer a uneasy. When any character in a movie who is supposed to be nothing more than an electronic projection begins to address the viewer directly, it disrupts our involvement in the film and our perception of the characters. So, I’m not even sure if this is an issue… but something about the way it was done in this particular case seemed to disrupt the pace of the rest of the movie.

Aside from this one tidbit, however, Picture Paris, with its beautiful cinematography, wonderfully incorporated soundtrack, and emotional and engaging acting definitely wins cannes.

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