A friend of mine said she walked out of Lost in Paris in Telluride. “It’s just ... slapstick,” she said.
My response: “It’s not just slapstick, it’s exquisite slapstick.”
Bottom of the Seine
You might have seen the film-comedy duo of Dom Abel and Fiona Gordon before in Rumba, The Fairy, or The Iceberg. You would know if you’ve seen them — their made-for-comedy faces are unmistakable; Fiona with her big overbite and Dom with his bug eyes.
In Lost in Paris (Paris Pieds Nus), Fiona plays Fiona, a stereotyped Canadian living in a model village in the frozen north. She receives a distressed-sounding letter that sends her to Paris to check on a favorite, aging aunt.
There’s no answer at her aunt’s door, so she goes out for a little walk. She’s a red-haired, backpack-wearing, French-mangling Canadian tourist in the cultural center of the world. She tries for a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower but ends up at the bottom of the Seine, losing her phone, her purse, and her backpack in the process.
Meanwhile, her aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva, Hiroshima Mon Amour), 88 and a little senile, tries to avoid contact with the nurses who want to move her in to an old folks’ home. She enlists her neighbor Martin (Philippe Martz, from the previous Abel & Gordon films) in the subterfuge.
Finally, we meet Dom (Dominique Abel), a homeless guy living off the delicious scraps of the river-side restaurants in Paris. It’s not until a quarter of the way in that Dom and Fiona meet at a restaurant — he spending the money he found in a soggy purse in a red Canadian backpack next to the river, she spending the meal voucher she got from the embassy.
Great Silent Comedy
The plot isn’t terribly important. It’s essentially there to provide some structure for these great comics to do their schtick.
Long, lean, and lanky, Dom and Fiona look like they were made for each other out of elbows and sinew. When Fiona falls into the Seine, the selfie captures her legs, perfectly inverted and aiming for the water. Dom’s physical comedy is a little less physical, and a little more comic, including a fishing-line gag worthy of Bugs Bunny.
Yet, underneath the comic appearances are the grace and power of trained dancers. What’s really amazing is Dom and Fiona’s tango. It’s not comically bad, it’s incredibly good, in spite of its clownish façade.
Even the supporting cast move with the deliberate rhythm of dance. A mortician pushes a coffin as though he were in a ballet. And Aunt Martha, formerly a stage performer, gets a lovely scene with her former partner — a closeup on just their feet as they reminisce about their old routines on a park bench.
Silent comedy may have peaked in the silent-movie era. But it never entirely died. Harold Lloyd made the transition to talkies pretty well. Jacques Tati made only a few films, each a masterpiece, in his career in the forties, fifties, and sixties. And even martial artist Jackie Chan was inspired by the likes of Buster Keaton.
If you’re a fan of any of the above, you really ought to know about Abel and Gordon. Here’s hoping I find more from Abel & Gordon after Lost in Paris.