Anthology films always seem like such a great idea: Hey, let’s get Rossellini and Godard and Pasolini and, uh, Ugo Gregoretti together. They’ll each contribute a short—it’ll be brilliant, right? The execution, however, usually fails to live up to the conception; even if you assemble the aforementioned heavy-hitters, you still end up with a regrettable, rambling mess like Ro.Go.Pa.G. (1963). The genre’s poor track record didn’t stop the originators of this omnibus tribute to France’s cultural epicenter from commissioning a whopping 21 directors (!) for cine-essayettes, each set in a different Parisian neighborhood. Once again, history repeats itself: Just because you’ve got A-list artists doesn’t mean you’ll produce anything but an overlong hodgepodge. There are a million stories in the naked City of Light. By the end of Paris, je t’aime, you’ll feel as if you’ve suffered through each and every one of them in a single sitting.
Most directors simply play the auteur game, burping up variations on their usual preoccupations: Both the Coen brothers and Alexander Payne resort to cartoonish misanthropy, Gus Van Sant ogles cute boys, cinematographer Christopher Doyle indulges in brightly colored Asiaphilia, Tom Tykwer concocts another romantic time-space-continuum mishmash. Every once in a while a gem like Olivier Assayas’s Clean redux and Gérard Depardieu’s bitter, elegiac two-hander for Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara pops up, but the highlights are too few and far between. You expect quality to vary from segment to segment, but the misses outweigh the hits by a depressingly high margin. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — David Fear