City Paper is not for tourists
Shooting entirely on location, filmmaker Claire Simon explores Paris’ bustling Gare du Nord, the busiest train station in Europe, sampling the social and ethnic change facing the city and, perhaps, all of France. In this drama, Ismael, a young Ph.D. candidate, is studying Gare du Nord for his thesis; he wanders the platforms and shops, interviewing and chatting with people there. The work deeply intrigues him, so when he crosses paths with Mathilde (Nicole Garcia), an older, despondent history professor—whom, we learn, is undergoing cancer treatment—he eagerly shows her around. The two begin an unlikely romance that Ismael suddenly and mysteriously ends, leaving Mathilde anxious, in love, and wondering. Though slow to start, the film engages viewers with long, documentary-style shots of the station, which dovetail nicely with profiles of the characters Ismael and Mathilde meet. The plot begins to wander when other, ultimately distracting narratives are introduced: the overworked real-estate agent (Monia Chokri) struggling to balance career and family, the TV comic (Francois Damiens) hoping to find his daughter. Gare du Nord struggles trying to say so much about so many people, but at least by situating itself in this busiest hub of travelers, it’s found a worthy setting.