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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

24 May

Peter Minuit buys Manhattan, 1626

On this day in 1626, the German-born Peter Minuit bought the island of Manhattan off native Americans for 60 guilders (somewhere around $1,000 at 2013 prices). He had been sent to the New World the previous year by the Dutch West India Company to research possible new products to trade, and had taken over as governor general of the New Netherland colony. The tribe he bought the island off had little concept of anyone having a right to ownership of water or air and, being nomadic, their notion of the territorial right to land was also hazy. There is no record of the native Americans giving up Manhattan for a selection of trinkets, as myth has it, though in the sale of nearby Staten island clothes, agricultural tools, household appliances and musical instruments were all part of the transaction. In 1631 Minuit was suspended as governor general, most probably for lining his own pockets at the expense of the Company. Minuit went on to become governor of the New Sweden colony.

Paris-Manhattan (2012, dir: Sophie Lellouche)

In Woody Allen’s film Play It Again, Sam (he wrote though didn’t direct), Allen’s lovelorn and suddenly single character receives life lessons from Humphrey Bogart. In Sophie Lellouche’s romantic comedy Paris-Manhattan, her lovelorn and tragically single heroine Alice (Alice Taglioni) receives life lessons from Woody Allen, or his voice at any rate, lifted from some of his most familiar films, when she gazes at his poster on her bedroom wall. Alice is gorgeous, funny, clever and solvent, so the fact that she can’t find a man is one of those “only in the movies” situations, which Paris-Manhattan is deliberately all about. And the fact that there is a suitable guy, right under nose – the alarm installer who’s in her dad’s pharmacy more often than seems strictly necessary – is another one. Later on there’s a scene set at the family’s Friday night Sabbath dinner – the family is Jewish, of course – when Bruel’s Victor (how the alarm installer ends up at a family dinner is yet another one) makes an off-the-cuff remark about existence and nothingness, which gets Alice’s Allen antenna twitching, and from there it seems that love is a foregone conclusion. But not before Lellouche dumps a whole load of farcical obstruction in their way, to delay their progress. The obstructive business isn’t so much Woody Allen as Richard Curtis, though even non-believers in Mr Love Actually should admit that Curtis has the edge on Allen when it comes to rom-com, so let’s let that slide.

On the face of it, this is the sort of well dressed, well mannered, nice-looking bourgeois comedy which the French do so effortlessly, though they often travel as well as a tricky Bordeaux. This one works, largely because the two stars, Taglioni and Patrick Bruel, are entirely at home playing characters you really root for. Enjoyment also comes from a beguiling soundtrack – Ella sings Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered on a few occasions – and the fact that Lellouche has these two dancing the “will they won’t they?” to rhythms lifted from Woody Allen films. There’s more than a touch of Manhattan Murder Mystery in here, especially in the scenes in which Alice and Victor and Alice’s parents all start digging into the private life of Alice’s sister and break into her apartment. And is it a spoiler to say that Woody Allen turns up, too, in a cameo so short that it looks like somebody might literally have buttonholed him in a hallway and asked if he wouldn’t mind, you know, just speaking the lines on the card. Maybe he was in France, in the middle of Midnight in Paris, the dates are about right. However they got him in there, for the half a minute or so, he has barely got his Woody Allen shtick warmed up before the scene is over and he’s gone. It’s a nice detail in a film that is full of them, a film that, analysed coolly, is total fromage. File under guilty pleasure.

Why Watch?

  • A light, bright romantic comedy
  • The winning performances of Alice Taglioni and Patrick Bruel
  • Woody Allen’s tiny cameo
  • The swinging jazzy soundtrack

Paris-Manhattan – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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