The Paris of Jacques Audiard’s featherlight romp Paris 13th District is pretty much exactly what you want Paris to be. Shot in a rich black and white, it’s a stylish and sexy place where mundane worries can be pushed to the side and every new person you meet is a potential lover, a relatively idealised setting that allows for probably Audiard’s most easy-going film to date, not to mention one of his most purely entertaining.
Audiard’s story – based on short stories by Adrian Tomine and co-written with Celine Sciamma – centres on three intertwining young lives within the titular apartment complex, also known as the Olympiades. We first meet two of them in post-coital bliss on the sofa – these are Emilie (Lucie Zhang) and Camille (Makita Samba). Camille has recently moved in as Emilie’s lodger, and there’s an instant uncontrollable attraction between the pair, even as they annoy each other whenever they’re not sleeping together. Emilie is emotionally inept, while Camille is an annoying pretentious intellectual, but their chemistry is scorching and the young actors are immensely charming, so you don’t doubt their relationship for a second.
Our third hero, Nora (Noemie Merlant), is introduced a fair bit later as she heads back to university as a mature student, where an already slightly embarrassing introduction to the younger students becomes mortifying when she’s publicly misidentified as famous camgirl ‘Amber Sweet’, to whom Nora bears a passing resemblance. In due course, Nora will meet Camille and Emilie, but her story is also her own, as the mistaken identity opens up an online friendship between Nora and the real Amber (Jehnny Beth) that has its own slow-burn frisson.
In taking snapshots of these characters’ slightly chaotic but also mostly secure lives, Audiard gives Paris 13th District a sort-of vignette structure that feels perfectly suited to the lives of modern young adults, even if it does sometimes make the whole thing feel rather slight. As we fade out of one story, we lose track of the character we just left behind and when we meet them again they have a new job or partner, just as you’d expect with any real-life acquaintance you haven’t seen in a while. Given that this is a story about young, modern love and lives conducted on social media and dating apps, there’s always a risk of a filmmaker feeling painfully out of touch, but Audiard and Sciamma have their fingers on the pulse in a genuinely impressive way.
It helps that everything looks so beautiful; from the sumptuous photography to the radiantly gorgeous cast there isn’t a frame here that isn’t easy on the eyes, while Audiard marshals some brilliant sex scenes that are definitely steamy but mostly elevated by the fact that they’re just plain fun. This is an often serious auteur really cutting loose with a louche, horny hangout movie that is, in the best possible way, painfully French.