Greg and Zanna consider notions of attractiveness.
Quality of tail: 5
Quality of tale: 2.5
Everything is better in French. A quirky animation is ever more charming and mysterious when overlaid with a poetic French narration and the closer the narrator sounds to smoking-related throat cancer, the better. Give me an eccentric old Parisian woman with darkly drawn-on eyebrows like my fourth form French teacher Madame Cooper and a bicycle on a cobbled street by the Seine and I'm in, hook, line and beret.
Une Sirène à Paris (A Mermaid in Paris) has all the makings of a dreamy rom-com: a handsome chanteur on roller skates; an old timey Parisian nightclub that can be accessed only with the secret passphrase "Les fantomes de mes souvenirs sont accoudés au comptoir" (the ghosts of my memories are leaning on the bar); a hyper-real bohemian aesthetic that makes you feel like you've stepped into a pop-up fairy tale book, and a murderous mermaid.
Unfortunately, despite all the enchanting French fairy tale elements, I couldn't get past my irritation at what the character of Lula, the mermaid, represents. She's a fantasy woman - the only woman who can penetrate the steely walls around Gaspard's heart: astoundingly beautiful, completely naive, incapable of taking care of herself (at least on land) and yet dangerous. Gaspard's supposed immunity to love is lost when he meets a woman/mermaid that knows nothing about the world he lives in, is a blank slate on to which he can impart all his ideas about the world, someone who is physically incapable of leaving him, who he can pick up and throw over his shoulder whenever the need arises, controlling her every move despite her numerous requests to be returned to the ocean.
Somewhere between reassuring her that she can trust him because he's good with pets and scolding her like she's a mischievous preschooler for accidentally starting a fire, the pair apparently fall in love. I know you're supposed to leave your critical thinking luggage on the platform and board the romance train for rom-coms but the falling in love part of this film didn't work for me because Lula had no agency.
I'm baffled by the concept of peak attractiveness being someone you have to teach the most basic of life skills to because God forbid she have her own ideas about the world or the ability to walk out of a room you're in. Greg's been living on land for 45 years and still hasn't worked out how to locate his wallet in the mornings, organise a social gathering between friends or find literally anything in the fridge and I find those to be his least attractive qualities.
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For anglophone New Zealanders who grew up watching American blockbusters at single-screen suburban theatres, "French cinema" is a term that for many years carried with it a whiff of wankery. But now we've all seen at least 25 movies starring Gerard Depardieu, we have a much more well-rounded view of French cinema and know that while it's produced many of history's greatest films, it's also produced some that are just as lame as anything made by enormous groups of self-important men in Hollywood.
A Mermaid in Paris, one of the big films in this year's upcoming French Film Festival, starts quite intriguingly, with an animation that soon morphs into a real scene, of a guy on roller skates, on the hopelessly romantic streets of Paris at night. We arrive in a secret club, are introduced to weird characters making odd music, and quite quickly men are dying mysteriously. At that point I was invested and primed and definitely enjoying myself, but then we meet the mermaid, who is rescued by a man who takes her home and puts her in his bath, where she tries to kill him. The fact that I quickly began losing interest in such an interesting set-up is testament to how uninteresting the dialogue is.
It's a love story but it's also a chase story - and that's one story too many. My suspicion is that the chase story was tacked on, possibly because someone felt the love story lacked sufficient tension or interest, which is true, but the way to fix that would have been to improve the love story.
After the movie, when Zanna asked me what I thought, I spoke for several minutes, with some passion, about all this. I said it felt like the relationship between the guy and the mermaid just drifted along boringly for most of the film then suddenly he was in love with her, and I didn't buy it. When I'd finished, she told me her main problem with the film, as outlined in her review, was its idealisation of a stereotypical fantasy woman, and I was immediately struck by the truth of what she said and I was reminded how much more insightful than me she is and that she sees so many things I don't, or can't, and that my life is so much better because of my relationship with her.
A Mermaid in Paris is screening in cinemas from the opening night of the French Film Festival on Wednesday.