VOD film review: Paris 13th District
Direction and performances8
Matthew Turner | On 26, Mar 2022
Director: Jacques Audiard
Cast: Lucie Zhang, Makita Samba, Noémie Merlant
Directed by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet), this anthology is adapted from three stories (“Amber Sweet,” “Killing and Dying” and “Hawaiian Getaway”) by the American graphic novelist Adrian Tomine. Co-scripted by Audiard, Léa Mysius and Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), the film takes place in the eponymous 13th district of Paris, centred on a collection of tower blocks known as Les Olympiades, the film’s original title in France.
Lucie Zhang plays Emilie, a call centre worker who immediately falls for handsome teacher Camille (Makita Samba) when he rents the spare room in the spacious apartment she’s (sort of) inherited. Their scorching hot chemistry ensures the pair end up in bed almost immediately, but Camille pours cold water on their burgeoning romance, declaring he’d rather be flatmates-with-benefits and then rather cruelly underlining his position by bringing home someone else.
Meanwhile, 30-something law student Nora (Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Noémie Merlant) has her university life shattered when her resemblance to online adult star Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth) goes viral, forcing her to jack it all in and become an estate agent instead. There, she meets Camille, but she also forges an online connection with Amber, after visiting her pay-per-view website and reaching out for advice.
Audiard suffuses the atmosphere of the film with palpable sexual attraction, as well as a dizzying swirl of associated feelings, from lust, desire and ecstasy to regret, embarrassment and anger. The result is a heady cocktail of emotion, as the audience is drawn into the characters’ messy lives.
Eschewing the usual Parisian locations, the film looks gorgeous throughout, courtesy of Paul Guilhaume’s stunning black-and-white photography, which feels like a cinematic nod to Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979), while also gently evoking Tomine’s own black and white artwork (the film’s beautiful poster underlines this connection).
The film is effortlessly sexy. That’s both a result of the cast’s laissez-faire atttitude to nudity and Audiard’s astute eye for the intimate details of sex scenes – you’ll remember a scene involving cling film long after other moments from the film have faded away.
Occasionally, the film feels like Max Ophuls’ 1950 classic La Ronde (about a broader series of inter-connected lovers) in microcosm, finding similar ground in the contrast between the way people behave depending on who they’re with. At any rate, it places great importance on those moments of sexual connection, something that achieves a still greater poignancy with the knowledge that it was shot on the eve of the second Covid-19 lockdown in Paris.
However, underneath the pervasive sexiness – it is almost certainly the sexiest film you’ll see this year – there’s also a powerful message about the importance of treating people the right way, and how we so often fail to do that, even with those we love. This is highlighted in one of the film’s many stand-out scenes, when Camille visits his family and responds in entirely the wrong way when his 16-year-old sister (Camille Léon-Fucien) asks if he thinks she should become a stand-up comedian.
There are other terrific moments too, from the heart-breaking discussions between Emilie and Camille (including one on a rooftop that forms the film’s poster image) to a deeply moving scene where two characters “sleep” together via Zoom, facing their laptop screens in bed.
In short, this is up there with Audiard’s best work, a touching, funny, steamy and romantic drama with something to say about modern relationships. The superb score from French electronic music composer Erwan Castex is the icing on an already delicious gateaux.