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April 15, 2022

Paris, 13th District


Les Olympiades
Jacques Audiard - 2021
IFC Films

Following his under seen western, The Sisters Brothers, Jacques Audiard has returned to France with a more intimate film within a circumscribed space. The French title refers to a very specific part of Paris that was designed to attract young professionals, and within that area, a group of apartment towers named after countries the participated in the Olympics. While there are young professionals living and working there, there are also immigrant neighborhoods, particularly of the Chinese diaspora. The film is sources from short stories by the American graphic artist, Adrian Tomine.

The film is about three characters whose personal and professional identities shift in part from their direct and indirect relationships with each other. To describe this as a romantic triangle is both reductive and inaccurate as mercurial as the two pairings are with the man vacillating between two women. One of the women, Emilie, is caught up with online hookups and casual sex, while Nora is unsure if she even wants a sexual relationship. The man in the middle, Camille, tries to be accommodating to the uncertainty of both women.

Echoing the volatility of the relationships are the characters' respective professional lives. Emilie, of Taiwanese descent, used a French pseudonym in her customer service job at a call center, later working in a Chinese restaurant after getting fired. Camille, a black Frenchman, leaves his job as a high school teacher to work on his Ph.D, only to quit to become a real estate agent. Nora has left Bordeaux to study law in Paris, only to get her life upended when the wearing of a blonde wig caused her to be mistaken and harassed for resembling an online porn star. Out of curiosity, Nora goes to the website where her "twin", Amber Sweet, hosts online sessions. An unexpected friendship develops between the two women.

With the exception of a brief scene in color introducing Amber Sweet, the film is in black and white. As another critic has pointed out, visually Audiard's film recalls Mathieu Kassovitz's La Haine from 1995, albeit a film about three young men in the margins with little hope for the social mobility of Audiard's trio. The film ultimately seems like a retrenching for Audiard after the financial failure of The Sisters Brothers and the more ambitious productions of the last decade. Of interest is that one of the cowriters of the screenplay is Celine Sciamma. Noemie Merlant, from Portrait of a Lady on Fire appears as Nora. In her feature debut, Lucie Zhang as Emilie has already received two award nominations as well as one festival award. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Ms. Zhang was born in the 13th District.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 15, 2022 05:26 AM