Written and directed by Jacques Audiard, co-written by Nicolas Livecchi, Léa Mysius and Céline Sciamma, Émilie meets Camille who is attracted to Nora, who crosses paths with Amber. Three girls and a boy, they’re friends, sometimes lovers and often both. Starring: Lucie Zhang, Makita Samba, Noémie Merlant, Jehnny Beth and Oceane Cairaty.
Recently there’s been a lot of discourse around sex scenes in film and Paris, 13th District would be a perfect film to argue their value. While others use them gratuitously, cheaply or in an attempt to be shocking or salacious, this film explores sexuality in a natural and sensual way. The entire style of the film is perfectly fluid, it’s a brilliant representation of modern attitudes towards relationships and sex. Jacques Audiard as director holds a sincere confidence, bringing a style that’s sharp and clean but also extremely relaxed and casual. What that balance means is that he can build an atmosphere which is playful or carefree but also sincere. The way in which this film moves is energetic and enchanting, there’s a wonderful use of split-screen which feels modern and yet a throwback to 60s cinema. It grabs you straight away with that crisp black and white, Paul Guilhaume’s cinematography is beautifully textured, and effortlessly holds your attention until the credits roll.
On top of its superb direction and aesthetic is a truly terrific story, one that portrays the ups and downs of casual sex, relationships, friendship and mixing all of those mentioned. It’s funny, emotional, dramatic and charming; centred around four very different characters who don’t have a tonne in common but find strong connections. The intermingling of different paths is a classic form of storytelling, it can get messy or convoluted but here they pull it off flawlessly. It’s no surprise that the writing is top notch with the team that’s behind it. The progression is smooth, there’s constantly more to add, its timeline moves quickly, developing the characters and relationships at a fast pace, but never feeling rushed. It’s captivating and enthralling from start to finish.
There’s no weak link with this film and the cast are certainly no exception. Lucie Zhang and Makita Samba get the most screen time and both provide perfectly flawed individuals. Zhang’s Émilie can be lazy, short-tempered and jealous but is also witty, sharp-tongued and loyal. Samba’s Camilla brings a mix of arrogance, intelligence, confidence and cavalier. Noémie Merlant brings an unusual intensity with Nora, she evolves throughout her time in the film, and is fascinating to watch how she’s continually realising new things about herself. Jehnny Beth put everything out on the table, she’s both strong yet incredibly vulnerable, she provides a great example of dispelling cliches of sex workers, showing a rounded personality. They’re a fantastic bunch of characters, they’re fun and compelling to watch, and still have plenty to offer even when the film is finished.
Paris, 13th District is the epitome of what you want from a modern film on relationships. It moves with such an impressive fluidity, the style is sharp and fresh while the story feels natural and charming. It’s fun and witty but it also holds a genuine emotion, it combines very different people in a smooth, captivating manner. Zhang, Samba, Merlant and Beth are a brilliant combination, giving each character their own issues and flaws, which are incredibly relatable and grounded. The choice of black and white doesn’t always work but here it rivals Roma for one of the best uses in modern cinema.