Fantasia Review: A Mermaid in Paris
“You can try it any time, but it’s best to be in love.”
This description of kissing is one of an endless conveyor belt of quirky-cute observations in Mathias Malzieu’s A Mermaid in Paris. But it’s also an apt description of the film itself, a melancholy ode to power of impossible love, unflappable imagination, and overpowering nostalgia. You can watch it any time, but it’s best to be in love. Or better yet: to believe in love.
Opening and closing on gorgeous animated sequences - homages to Malzieu’s debut film, Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart - Mermaid dives into the journey of Gaspard, musician and heir to a flagging resistance-era bar-on-a-boat. Bar breaks boy’s heart. Boy meets girl. Girl is actually a mermaid who uncontrollably explodes the hearts of men who fall in love with her. You know the story.
A Mermaid in Paris has just enough idiosyncrasies to carry it through the thinner points of its story. Malzieu invests in a varied and eye-popping color palette, distracting eyes away from the seedy underbelly of Paris until the moment he pommels you in the gut with it. He weaponizes everything he can find - from a voice-o-graph to a pop-up book - in service of visual grandeur and the romanticism of our convictions. Malzieu even uses wry humor to make us fall in love: as the mermaid Lula sits in Gaspard’s bath, she casually picks up a rubber duck and bites its head off, expecting a satisfying breakfast from the child’s toy. It doesn’t work in spite of being on-the-nose; it works because of it.
Where Mermaid’s flair begins to wilt, rays of cliche poke through the otherwise radiant mise-en-scene. The film lapses one too many times into the “gorgeous but clueless lady who needs a man to get anything done” trope, particularly in an early sequence in which Gaspard literally teaches Lula how to eat. And a series of non-ending endings reveal the confusion around where this journey of love and loss is headed, though after a few false starts, the film does end up sticking the landing.
But what really sticks is the unabashed heart that A Mermaid in Paris wears on its sleeve. The filmmaking inspires as much wonder as the corridors of Paris arouse in Gaspard and Lula. And the performances, particularly those of Nicolas Duvauchelle as Gaspard and Rossy de Palma as his neighbor, commit to an earnestness that matches the film, refusing to wink for even a second.
You can watch A Mermaid in Paris any time, but it’s best to be in love with cinema. Even an ounce of cynicism won’t do here.