Saturday, November 07, 2009

The New York / Paris / Moscow triad in New York, I Love You

Saw a film this weekend called New York, I Love You... younger cousin to Paris, je t'aime, a 2006 all-star amalgamation of short film vignettes. New York, I Love You featured shorts from a bunch of important directors, most of whom I don't know that well (though I think there are people who would say I should). They were a mixed bag, ranging from overly sentimental to very witty and concise. In any case, it felt fairly New Yorky, by and large... sometimes trying too hard, full of people you recognize, but sincere and accomodating enough that it's hard to begrudge it its flaws.

There's a little theory I've had floating around in my head for a while now, which is a theory on kinship of cities. It's the type of thing that I could turn into a thesis, if I was a very broad generalist of certain types of classical culture, and if I spent a few years hunting down the right studies, explorations, and travelogues. The theory is that there is an old Western world and a new Western world, and these are each represented by a triad of world cities. For the New Western World, I'd say it's Los Angeles, Tokyo, and London. I'll talk more about that some other time.

For the Old Western World, which I'm personally more attracted to, I'd say the triad consists of New York, Paris, and Moscow. And one of these vignettes is a clear illustration of this kinship.

The short piece called "Hotel Suite" on the film's website is about an aging opera singer who's clearly feeling spent and exhausted and lost in her nostalgia. She asks for a room on a higher floor (allegedly to escape the sounds of traffic) and is led there by a bellboy straight from the 40's. This bellboy clearly has a Russian accent, and he continuously discusses the singer's performances in Paris. This luminous setting is where three cities meet, connected by the thread of opera, one of the definitive art forms of classical Europe.

Along with opera, classic European culture is tied together by theater, haute couture fashion, and the romantic/melodramatic philosophy of art and culture. It's about the novelist, the New York and Moscow ballets, the Harlem Rennaissance, the symphony orchestra, the New York studio, the Paris loft, the Moscow Plaza... it's about New York and Moscow having the most distinctive public transportation systems in the world. It's about the culture of the University, Columbia, the Sorbonne, and Moscow State University. It's about two movies, both about finding love in the Old World.

There are other details that connect these cities in New York, I Love You... a film composer reading Dostoyevsky. A young Americanized Russian (Anton Yelchin) playing one of the key roles. Producer Emmanuel Benbihy was educated in Paris, where he learned the business of art. However, I'm not a film conspiracy theorist, and I acknowledge that these fade against the background of a fully international movie... a movie populated by Buddhists, Hasidic Jews, Chinese, and many others of uncertain ethnic origin.

At any rate, feel free to take a look at this little pastiche of a film. A lot of the reviewers may have gotten hung up on its claim to artistic merit, so they judged it a bit harshly, when it's actually more of a pop construction of cute little self-contained characterizations. For someone whose life is saturated with complex two-hour filmic odysseys, this kind of assemblage is refreshing and justifies $12.50 and a couple hours out of the weekend.

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