Moving away from horror at Fantasia Festival 2020 a little, we have A Mermaid In Paris, the polar opposite of harsh, cynical and heavy horror movies. From the director who gave us animated film Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, Matthias Malzieu, we get his debut feature length live-action film, a heavily anticipated old-fashioned love story.
We meet forlorn and heart-broken Gaspard, played by Nicholas Dauvauchelle, as he finds himself navigating a Paris full of mysterious disappearances and beset with heavy rain, leading to historic flooding of the Siene. Gaspard’s path crosses with Lula, an injured siren (or mermaid) who he attempts to help, leading him on a path that may just mend his broken heart.
The film is a wonderful homage to so many bygone eras, harkening back romanticised images of the golden era of Hollywood, the prohibition era and of Paris itself. Every shot is full of fairy lights, street lights and pouring rain, golden colours and quaint and beautiful architecture. The entire film looks like a fairy-tale; every shot is a postcard of the city.
Even the settings and locations are lavishly populated, a feast for the eyes. Gaspard’s bathroom is a pastel blue filled with a plethora of rubber ducks, his neighbour’s, played by Almodovar mainstay Rossy De Palma, is a wonderful retro pink-tiled location. There’s an aquarium later on in the film that’s breath-taking in the way it’s shot and lit.
That’s just the live action, there are also some superb examples of beautiful animation interspersed throughout the film as well as seamlessly integrated into the live action, particularly in the form of Gaspard’s inherited ‘Flowerburger book’ that truly brings to life the memories and past of Gaspard with an animated pop-up moving story behind every page.
A Mermaid In Paris is rich with theming and messages. The two leads are both flawed, Gaspard is heart-broken making him uniquely able to resist Lula’s siren-song, that typically makes anyone that hears it fall in love with her, and Lula, who has found herself hurt by men in the past, uses her song to defend herself and prevent men from getting close. The implication is clear, that Lula and Gaspard are perfectly matched.
The film handles Lula being a mermaid brilliantly, her practical effects tail looks great especially with the pretty blue lights in the night-time, and the narrative finds increasingly inventive ways for her to exist as a literal fish-out-water. I particularly enjoyed the scene turning Gaspard’s bathroom from a place of fun and whimsy to a place of momentary horror as Lula freaks out at her unnatural surroundings.
But we also see ‘The Flowerburger’ a boat-restaurant with a secret cabaret reminiscent of prohibition era speakeasies, except the resistance here is with art and creativity, we see playful toys, creativity and imagination used as pamphlets and flyers. In fact, the entire film is a loving tribute to those among us who dream big and create.
Music and filmmaking are motifs used perfectly throughout A Mermaid In Paris, the songs themselves are all catchy and brilliant. But the use of music and film are important drivers of the narrative. It is with film, again presented with a great piece of animation, that Gaspard and Lula first bond and it is with music that they fall in love. A reoccurring use of a Voice-O-Gram, a photobooth for recording records, is particularly great as an intimate setting where strong relationships are formed as couples sing together.
The story itself is particularly lovely, despite there being a small element of horror involved, initially Lula, hurt and out for revenge, begins the film as an off screen figure luring men to her death, it’s later revealed that her song causes them to become delirious before their hearts eventually explode. This however presents the narrative with its major conflict, the more Lula fixes Gaspard’s broken heart and he learns to love again, the more susceptible he becomes to her song and closer to death he becomes.
In this sense, A Mermaid In Paris gives us a perfect paradox and a bittersweet conclusion, Lula and Gaspard are perfect for each other, and are, in fact what the other needs. However, they ultimately cannot stay together because Gaspard will die and Lula needs to be in the water. There’s a perfect scene that encapsulates this, as Gaspard, whose heart is about to burst, desperately tries to get Lula to the ocean by driving her in a bathtub trailer, however she’s also growing weaker and drops a walkie-talkie so they can no longer communicate, superb imagery.
Ultimately I enjoyed every step of A Mermaid In Paris’ charming journey with each individual element really helping to make something truly beautiful. I’m a sucker for a musical love story, but it’s not often we get a great one set in in the City Of Love itself!
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