14e Arrondissement

Munching through a bowl of chili with Dominic last night, we put on a DVD that’s been hanging around on our shelves for months. A friend of D’s lend it to him but it never really appealled: 21 short films about Paris.

It had a pretty star-studded roll call. Tom Tykwer. The Cohen Brothers. Gerard Depardieu. Walter Salles. Juliette Binoche. Bob Hoskins. Fanny Arendt. The whole nine yards of arty Hollywood/France.

It was pretty aimless for the first 20 sections. We thought about turning it off several times. But as Dominic was washing up – having abandoned the whole thing – the screen went blank and a voice asked in French: “Ok, who’s reading next…?” and a dreadfully mangled French accent started speaking.

By the end of “14e Arrondissement” I was in floods of tears.

I can count the number of times I’ve cried like that on one hand. Once driving down the M40 when they suddenly played ‘Jerusalem’ on the Radio and for no apparent reason I could not stop sobbing. Again at the end of “Billy Elliot”, the film, when eventually my mum told me that I’d cried enough.

I still can’t quite understand what moved me so much about this middle-aged, overweight American postal worker on her 6 day trip to Paris. But I think it is her balance of sadness and joy.

It’s a rare bit of emotional alchemy perhaps – more to do with me than the film. But it’s beautifully sweet. Margo Martindale – so moving.

(Video no longer available)


  1. robin

    January 7, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    You’re not alone, by any stretch. (I, and some of those sitting nearby, had the bad manners to do our blubbering in our seats at a very crowded matinee.)

  2. Valerie W

    January 7, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    We can’t live our lives with the familiar and in isolation
    We all have to make the leap of faith into what’s the
    unknown to us. Life is living and experiencing and if we
    don’t do that then we end up dullards sitting in a chair
    staring out the window boo hooing our lives. To me the
    woman in the film was looking at Paris from within her
    safe shell, but once she looked outside she could experience
    Why not tell the person standing next to you how you feel
    about what you see. You may never see that person again or
    it may be the start of a new acqaintance. Who knows. Anyway
    here’s to the start of a new calendar year. Live, love and
    go experience Alistair.

  3. alistair

    January 7, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Hello Valerie – you’re one of my faithful annotators, but I’m not sure I agree with your rather high-handed treatment of that woman.
    I don’t think she was cowardly at all. It was her beautiful awkward bravery that made her so heart=breaking to me. All the outward signs – a bit fat, silly about food, mistaking Simone de Beauvoir for a man – they are inconsequential. We are all hidebound by our lives in some degree or another. Some more obviously. Some on a more subtle ( but probably more pernicious) level.
    There is no judgement necessary in this case. Carol in the film is touchingly human in her aspirations, her efforts, her mistakes and her epiphanies. My heart opened to her. Perhaps that’s why I cried.
    Whatever you do (living, loving, experiencing) be kind in 2009.

  4. Maddy

    January 8, 2009 at 11:15 am

    It’s hope that makes us cry
    Others’ or ours
    Hope is always affecting

  5. Gilberto

    January 8, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    There is a “Carol” in everybody.I cried too.

  6. Valerie W

    January 8, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Thanks Alistair,
    I didn’t mean to be critical, just looking at her from
    my life.She was in no means cowardly. I do think she made
    a leap of faith just going on that trip by herself. I
    applaud her for in the end realizing the experience was
    all around her and whatever it was to her was great. It’s
    not what others think of our experience but what we draw
    from it. Like listening to a piece of music, what you hear
    is not what I hear, but sometimes it can be similar.
    Life is great and I’m loking forward to whatever it brngs
    me this year. Sometimes good comes, sometimes bad but I’ll
    have faith I’ll adjust and move forward.
    I’m a positve person so kindness is a part of that. Happy

  7. Malcolm

    January 8, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    no stranger to spontaneous tears here, sudden and surprising, urgent as an imperative of nature. most of the time in hindsight i can understand what triggered them. usually it’s overdue catharsis. “the well is full and so my eyes must brim with tears”

    perhaps it was the early hour when i watched that clip, but part of me was half expecting some wicked punchline, as if the whole thing was a setup to spoof the cliche of falling in love with Paris. some analytical part of my mind coldly dissecting the moving images, noticing the editing, the choice of shots; feeling somehow that the visuals were a bit too pat and manufactured.

    the arc of the story being told (and read by me) though did tug at me. her longing to see some storied city for herself, her determination to realize the dream through taking French lessons and saving for the trip. her decision to embark on the adventure by herself balanced against the poignant wish to have someone to share the experience with. all resonated with me, stirred subtle curdling aches in my chest.

  8. Malcolm

    January 8, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    doh! did some hiccup swallow my comment or is it sitting somewhere waiting for approval?

  9. St

    January 9, 2009 at 3:48 am

    At first I was shaking my head listening to her ups and
    downs getting annoyed at her thoughts. Then when she sat
    down in the park. I realized then that the trip was not a
    step to do something different or seeking independence, but
    away to some how sort out and understand life whether it
    was good or bad the decisions made.
    By the time she started to speak again in the park, I was
    hoping and cheering for her that she some how came alive
    and realized you live life to the fullest and learn to
    accept what you experienced in life. At the end I was so
    happy that she realized this and fell in love with Paris,
    but I really believe that she fell in love with herself and
    accepted her life and what has happen.

  10. Lynn

    January 9, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    My best friend has this DVD coincidentally waiting (at my request)so that we can watch it together when I next visit him, so I haven’t watched your clip, Alistair, as it will spoil the pleasure.
    I so love Paris.
    And I so recognise the full-felt tears. “Billy Elliot” did that to me, too, as does, time and time again, “Fields of Gold”, especially the promises/broken bit.
    And…happy new year, Alistair!

  11. Lynn

    January 9, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Oh, and speaking-of-cinematic-pleasure, may I recommend Atom Egoyan’s “Exotica”, which is one of my favourite films ever?

  12. Valerie W

    January 9, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Billy Elliot, I forgot, I love that film. It just did a
    turn on Broadway here but didn’t get to see it.

  13. Karyne Whalen

    January 11, 2009 at 4:21 am

    What a beautiful film clip. It moved me too. I related to this woman, Carol. I went to Paris for a week in March 2007 to celebrate my 40th birthday-alone . It was one of the best travel experiences I have had. (I have been to Europe before) I immediately fell in love with Paris too. Vivent! I remember how ALIVE this city and people made me feel. I plan to go back, hopefully this March. I love that she spoke in French the entire clip…that is an amazing feat no matter how poor her accent was! One thing I love about the Parisan’s is that when you attempt to speak French to them, they appreciate it and will throw in a few English words! Here in Canada, when you go to Quebec, most Quebecois are not receptive and will refuse to speak any English! ( I’m generalizing of course!)I love how Carol evokes so many of common emotions/struggles/living that we all experience…it encapsulates it all so well. A beautiful film and thank you for sharing. Joie de vivre!! Bonne Annee 2009 Alastair! Karyne Whalen

  14. Jodie

    January 24, 2009 at 2:00 am

    I watched this film two years ago – I had been living in Paris for about six months, coincidentally in the 14th. It had been a very difficult time for various reasons – I both loved and hated Paris all at once. So when Carol sat on that bench with her lunch (and for some reason, people eating alone always gets me…) and realised that “I love Paris and Paris loves me” – I cried my eyes out. I was the last one in the cinema, blubbing away. Even thinking about it now makes me well up! I’m glad it wasn’t just me that found her story so touching – and as a previous poster mentioned, I think we can all relate to her in some way.

    Karyne: Funnily enough, my experience is the exact opposite to yours. I have lived in both Paris and Montreal and found Montrealers to be far more welcoming and encouraging when it came to speaking French. Although, I think this may have had something to do with my “cute British accent” – which was commented on a lot – most of my Quebecois friends had come across many American and Canadian anglophones, but not so many from across the pond!

  15. Douglas

    January 29, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    I have just welled up at my desk watching that which may be career limiting but never mind.
    What a lovely film. We’re all all alone. No-one else can ever really know us. Time spent engaging with others is a tiny fraction of the time spent with ourselves, whatever we do. the inner voice is incessant; if you can come to terms with that – at the same time as having self knowledge of the sadnesses inherent in one’s own circumstances, whatever they may be – then fulfilment may be within reach.

  16. George Vye

    February 16, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Thanks for putting this beautiful episode up. We could not sit through the movie and had not seen this most beautiful part.
    We have spent our 53rd anniversary there and the city has meant much to us in all our years together.

  17. Cyril S

    April 28, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    I was amused and touched by this section of the film
    so much that i urged a friend in London,
    fluent in French, to watch it as it
    reminded me of my own attempts to practice the
    language with her in the course of my short run of
    lessons at the local Alliance Francais many years ago.
    Also the humour and irony of her obliviousness to
    be travelling to Paris to eat Chinese food and
    hamburgers and her wonderful face and demeanour,
    made it very special to me also.

Leave a Reply