Fantasia Fest: A Mermaid in Paris is a cinematic French pastry
Let this whimsical fairy tale be your reward for surviving the hell of 2020.
It’s easy to pigeonhole a genre film festival like Fantasia as being only horror-centric. It’s true that there are a lot of films devoted to that aspect, but for all the kaiju and slashers and undead, there are also genuine fantasy-based delights that have no trace of scare in them at all. One such delight is the French film A Mermaid in Paris, from French musician-turned-writer-turned-filmmaker Mathias Malzieu.
Malzieu’s first feature, the CGI-animated Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart won the César (France’s Oscar) for Best Animated Film. A Mermaid in Paris is his first live-action full-length effort, and it’s a whimsical, twee confection. Imagine Amelie crossed with Splash, and you’ll get the idea.
Gaspard (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is a roller-skating singer-songwriter who spends nights performing at his family’s generations-old bohemian cabaret, and days wandering forlornly around his knick knack-crammed Paris apartment, waiting to be struck by inspiration. He finds it in the form of Lula (Marilyn Lima), a wounded mermaid who appears in the Seine just outside the cabaret. Unable to get her admitted to the hospital, Gaspard brings Lula to hang out in his bathtub, where the siren also attracts the attention of his busybody neighbor, Rossy (Rossy de Palma).
Lula’s got an amazing voice. Unfortunately, her song literally breaks the heart of any man who hears it. Early on, this includes an ER doctor, whose wife (Romane Bohringer), also a doctor, wants to capture Lula and experiment on her so she won’t kill anyone else. Lula warns Gaspard that if she sticks around, she’ll surely kill him, too, though Gaspard assures her he’s been through so much heartbreak in his life that by this point he’s impervious. As you might have guessed, it turns out he may be wrong on that score.
A Mermaid in Paris is an absolute comfort movie, defined by quirky surroundings, warm colors, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet-inspired set decoration that’s full of handmade charm and imagination. Fortunately, there’s substance to all the artifice. It’s not just quirk for the sake of quirk. Each artifact in Gaspard’s apartment has a reason for being there, and there’s a reason he hoards them. With his characters and settings, Malzieu creates a fantastic world inside the everyday, but based in reality. Unlike Amelie, this isn’t a Paris in which everything is charming and unique, rather one that has pockets of wild creativity you can access if you keep your eyes and heart open.
It also helps that, like Jeunet, Malzieu has a good eye for actors. Duvauchelle is a great leading man, scruffy but charming, and has great chemistry with Lima. For her part, Lima’s mermaid is fairly well developed and avoids falling into the “born sexy yesterday” trope—something that could’ve been all too easy to fall into. The supporting characters are fun, too, from the nostalgic, chain-smoking Rossy to Gaspard’s tall-haired emcee father (Tchéky Karyo).
The term “gorgeously crafted” gets thrown around a lot, but in the case of A Mermaid in Paris, it isn’t hyperbole. Every moment of the movie is meticulously designed, and the film as a whole serves as a love letter to creativity and ambitious dreamers. Malzieu has created a sweet fairy tale set in an immersive world that’s perfect to get away to when the one we live in feels hard to deal with. Consider this movie a well-deserved bubble bath at the end of a very long week.
Or month. Or year. You get the idea.
Just bask in it.