Fiona (Fiona Gordon) is a librarian living in Canada’s icy north, who receives a worrisome letter from her 93 year-old Parisian aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva). Rushing to Paris to help her, she soon finds her aunt has disappeared, her luggage has gone missing, and she is being romanced by an eccentric homeless man named Dom (Dominique Abel).
Lost in Paris is a genuine delight. It is a charming and very funny physical comedy about an odd little romance between two unlikely lovers. It is both eccentric and inventive, and centres on great performances and tremendous comic timing. It is the latest collaboration between the comedy team of Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel, who not only star in the film but write and direct it as well. It is visibly influenced by the great physical comics of cinema, most obviously French master Jacques Tati, although its humour extends to some beautiful dialogue sequences as well. I found it enormously likeable, and at a lean 80 minutes in length it does not waste time on extraneous material.
Gordon seems the highlight to me. She cuts a striking figure in green skirt and sweater, carrying around an enormous bright-red rucksack, and has the most remarkably distorted posture and gait. She comes across somewhat like an enormous spider that is awkwardly masquerading as a college professor.
Physically Abel seems less exaggerated, but that suits his character perfectly: a somewhat unpredictable, hopeless romantic named Dom. He lives in a small tent by the Seine, fishing food out of bins and scavenging for what he can find. It is Dom who finds Fiona’s lost rucksack floating in the river, and it inspires him to romantically pursue her. The film never over-plays the romance between Fiona and Dom: its focus throughout is on making its audience laugh, and it definitely succeeds in that aim.
Emmanuelle Riva plays the elderly aunt Martha, who is desperate to escape being taken to an aged care facility. Her role is significantly smaller than the other two leads, but it is hugely effective. After last seeing her in Michael Haneke’s deeply effective drama Amour, it is a slight shock – a delightful one, mind – to see her performing in such a bright and frivolous project. Lost in Paris was Riva’s penultimate film project before her death in January 2017, which makes it a slightly bittersweet performance to watch.
One could potentially criticise the film for its relatively slight plot, but that would be to overlook the main comedic goal. There are numerous set pieces staged here, from getting stuck in a train station security gate to being knocked off a bridge and in the river, or giving an improvised eulogy at the wrong funeral. One striking scene occurs relatively early, in which Dom and Fiona share a dance at a riverside restaurant. For the rest of the film – both before and afterwards – they are both such undignified, ungainly characters. For one dance they are simply sublime: agile, passionate and perfectly coordinated. The film works as well as it does because Abel and Gordon have focused on their own strengths for physical comedy and framed everything else around that strength. The entire film is constructed in a robust manner to serve the humour above all else. Does it make it the best plotted film in cinemas? Of course not, but it does make it one of the funniest in recent memory.
Lost in Paris is a hugely enjoyable confection. It is crisply staged, perfectly timed and wonderfully performed. It gets in sharply, efficiently delivers a range of properly funny gags and jokes, and gets out with a minimum of fuss without over-staying its welcome. Few motion picture comedies are as immediate and consistently pleasing.
Lost in Paris is playing in Australian cinemas from 6 March as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival. Click here for more information and local session times.