Director Christopher Barratier had an enormous hit at the French box office in 2004 with The Chorus, a saccharine tale of an inspirational teacher at a reform school setting up a choir for the boys. Working now on a much bigger budget, Barratier returns with Paris 36, a period musical drama, which again comes coated in sentimentality and serves as a disappointing homage to Jean Renoir’s 1936 The Crime of Monsieur Lange.
The setting is a working class district of Paris during the economically depressed mid-1930s. Leon Blum’s left-wing Popular Front government has been elected and strikes, protests and rallies are sweeping the city. When the local music hall is closed down, its workers, led by veteran stage manager Pigoil (Gerard Jugnot), union organiser Milou (Clovis Cornillac) and impressionist Jacky (Kad Merad) decide to take over the building and put on their own productions.
In terms of nostalgic spectacle, Paris 36 is a diverting enough entertainment, thanks to the handsome widescreen cinematography and imaginatively designed sets, even if enjoyment is diluted by tedious subplots such as Pigoil’s efforts to be reunited with his accordion-playing son Jojo. Look out though for newcomer Nora Arnezeder in the role of the ingénue chanteuse: her voice and screen presence suggest that she could be the next Marion Cotillard.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 27 Feb-Thu 5 Mar. GFT, Glasgow from Fri 13-Thu 26 Mar.