Synopsis: Denizens of a Paris neighborhood seek out sex, and possibly, love. The original title is Les Olympiades, Paris 13e. (Streaming on Amazon Prime as of May 4, 2022)
Paris, 13th District explores love, sex, and real estate in the City of Light. Well, specifically in the Olympiades neighborhood, an arrondisement characterized by high-rise residential buildings and the home of many citizens of Chinese and Vietnamese heritage.
For the characters of the movie, sex seems easy to come by, but love and real estate are another matter.
Emilie (Lucie Zhang), in her twenties, lives rent-free in her grandmother’s spacious apartment. Grandma is in a nursing home, so Emilie’s lifestyle is unencumbered by a granny’s needs and mores. But who knows, maybe she would appreciate Emilie’s nude karaoke performances. Emilie works unhappily at a call center; could it be any other way? In need of extra income, Emilie advertises a room-for-rent.
She rents the room to Camille (Makita Samba), a high school teacher. In what seems to be a terrible idea, Emilie and Camille have sex while the ink is drying on their rental agreement. Haven’t they heard of the ‘don’t sh** where you eat’ proverb? There is an appendum too: ‘don’t sh** where you rent.’ So, like, if there’s a falling out with a colleague hookup, things will get awkward at work. At least you could get away from the tension at the end of the workday and relax. Unless you’ve had a falling out with your apartment mate hookup. But Movie Loon is not here to give advice. And, fortunately, the characters don’t look before they leap, so we get to see the complications.
21st Century economics and culture combine so that our French Millenials bump from one job to another and one bed to another. In equal turns there is exhilaration and ennui.
Unfulfilled at work, Emilie finds novel uses of her under-the-radar breaks. Waiting tables at a busy restaurant, she catches a breath, scrolling through a Tinderesque app. Can you cover for me? she asks a colleague. Emilie darts out for a quick hookup and is back in time to check on customers before they even miss her.
Meanwhile, Emilie’s apartment mate, Camille has become her frenemy. He is serious about work and his sex life. At different junctures, he considers sabbaticals from work and sex. Switching jobs, he meets Nora…
Nora (Noémie Merlant), a former real estate agent from Bordeaux is in her early thirties and is a second year law student. She’s delighted with her new apartment and the start of the scholastic year. Hoping to have some fun and meet new people, Nora heads out to a school-sponsored “Spring Break” party. Wearing a beachy outfit, plenty of makeup and a platinum wig, she meets a number of male “fans.” Confused by the attentions of so many douchey guys wanting selfies, she abruptly leaves when a guy she’s dancing with makes a really lewd remark to her. She quickly finds out that she resembles a video-chat sex worker, Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth).
When classes resume, to her horror, she is harassed by men and women alike. She struggles to maintain her composure while answering a legal question posited by the prof, as students’ snigger over cell phone pictures of “her” ie., doppelganger, Amber Sweet. After this humiliation, she wants to quit school and find a job.
I guess the students could’ve used some anti-bullying and sexual harassment work shops. But Nora’s near future holds some interest for the audience: she runs into Camille whose life is equally complicated. Meanwhile, Emilie attaches and unattaches, round and round, to Camille and her own family. Listen, this is getting depressing; let’s take a moment to discuss neighbors in the nearby 5th arrondisement…
This Left Bank settlement is decidedly sunnier: the people have apartments in nicer buildings, they have great jobs and are very chic. Instead of becoming depressed about their love & sex lives, they find everything très amusant. Yes, I am talking about the good people of the much loved and hated series, Emily in Paris.
Emily totters around Paris in absurd outfits with men throwing themselves at her gorgeous heels while all of the city is amazed at her American-style marketing skills. All of the marketing agency’s male clients, who are twice her age, btw, fall for her. So does Paris’ most gorgeous and charming chef, Gabriel. She has a best friend, Mindy, whose parents are Asian billionaires who want her to return home. But she wants to sing. And sing she does, on boats and parks and cabarets. She is always ready to fawn over Emily and deliver a saucy joke or two. We hate her. But not as much as we hate Emily.
I didn’t hate the characters in Paris, 13th District. They were struggling and trying to find happiness where they could. But trudging after them gets taxing. Maybe because their individual acts of selfishness, from refusing to visit grandma or needlessly critiquing a young relative, can make it hard to root for them. But unlike Emily’s characters, who are about an inch deep, the characters of Paris, 13th District have some depth, so you can at least be a little bit invested in their outcomes.
And the ending of the movie shines. Maybe love can blossom, maybe new avenues open.
P.S. I hope that Emily from Emily in Paris gets deported and has to go back to the American Midwest.
P.P.S. Some thoughts re. POV… The director is Jacques Audiard, who at 70 years young, may not have his finger on the pulse of Millenials, n’est-ce pas? … The screenplay’s source material is based on stories from the American cartoonist/writer Adrian Tomine. The male character, Camille was added by the screenwriters. Screenwriting credits go to Audiard and Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) and Léa Mysius (Ava). Reading between the lines, the screenplay collaboration seems to have benefitted from Tomine’s source material, Audiard’s vision and Sciamma’s and Mysius’ explorations of downsizing the male gaze in French cinema.