Film Review: Whimsical and Wonderful, ‘A Mermaid in Paris’ Is as Visually Stunning as It Is Romantic5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Gaspard, a man who has gone through breakups, believes he has no more love to give. One day, he crosses paths with an injured mermaid, Lula, by the Seine in Paris and takes her home to heal in his bathtub, but learns that any man who falls in love with her dies. Initially immune to her endearing charm, Gaspard slowly falls in love with Lula, who also truly falls for him.
Director: Mathias Malzieu
Cast: Nicolas Duvauchelle, Marilyn Lima, Tchéky Karyo, Rossy de Palma, Romane Bohringer, Alexis Michalik
Runtime: 102 minutes
As basic as it may seem, I am absolutely enamoured by mermaid movies. From the 1989 Disney classic The Little Mermaid to obscure 2015 Polish horror-musical The Lure, I have watched them all. Most of which are retellings or heavily-inspired versions of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. The original fairy tale, however, is far from the child-friendly Disney version so it’s fun to see just how each adaptation varies.
Mermaid films often fall under the genre of romance movies and that is exactly what A Mermaid in Paris is. Heartbroken and down-on-his-luck dreamer Gaspard (Nicolas Duvauchelle) finds gorgeous mermaid Lula (Marilyn Lima) wounded and washed up on the shores of the Seine one night. He takes her home and nurses her in his bathtub, surrounded by an array of rubber ducks to keep her company.
With stunning set design, stellar performances and a sweet love story to boot, the film is quick to steal the viewers’ hearts. Set in the backdrop of the often-romanticised Paris, we explore the city through Gaspard and Lula, seeing things through their rose-tinted glasses, highlighting the most beautiful and romantic parts of Paris.
Gaspard himself is somewhat of a man-child, still filled with a sense of wonder and hope only children possess. His house is filled with countless knickknacks and memorabilia that he collects. He also performs at his family-owned floating restaurant ‘The Flowerburger’. He is over-sentimental to the point of being stuck in his life, unable to move forward and living in a state of flux as a performer in a soon-to-be-closed establishment.
And yes, they do sing in the film although they don’t burst into grand musical numbers ala Les Misérables. Instead, the musical moments are all diegetic, coming from instruments or objects existing in the story. The musical numbers are captivating with a touch of nostalgia, giving audiences a sense of Gaspard’s nostalgia from a time before.
The love story, however, has a few hurdles, in that if Gaspard ever falls in love with Lula, he would most definitely die. Lula, as a mermaid, has a siren song that causes men to fall in love to the point of death. Gaspar is initially immune, due to the fact that his heart has been broken too many times to love again.
Although they fall in love over a short period of time, what they have is not instalove or love at first sight. Instead, it starts off with Lula actively trying to murder Gaspard. The relationship they develop over time is strengthened with a shared love for the world and a sense of imagination. Lula brings music back into Gaspard’s life, both literally and figuratively.
On top of that, they are also being chased by Milena (Romane Bohringer), a doctor who suffered a loss thanks to Lula. The film balances the two intertwining stories by switching between a washed-out, cool colour palette of Milena’s story and a warmer more saturated colour grading for Gaspard and Lula’s story. This also shows the consequences of Lula’s actions as she herself is only half-human.
The cast performances are commendable. Marilyn Lima truly captures the otherworldly aspect of Lula and plays the characters with the perfect balance of free-spirited playfulness and murderous tendencies, paired with an enthralling singing voice. The cast themselves all give great nuanced takes to their characters and create characters that are loveable and worth rooting for.
The film has a truly unique, eclectic style. The film has a great balance of mixed medium that further steeps audiences into the magical atmosphere it creates. Using animation and stop motion, it helps the world-building of the film to create a Paris that feels separate from our reality. Everything from camera angles to colour grading is so intentional in setting the ambience of the film that it creates its own pocket of reality, in which mermaids can be real.
Overall, the film leans in and embraces what it truly is. It doesn’t create an overly-contrived plot and instead hinges the story on the strength of the characters. Personally, with everything considered, this film would definitely go down as one of my favourite mermaid movies.
Part of the lineup of the recently concluded French Film Festival, A Mermaid In Paris returns for a limited run this Sunday, 6 December, and next Friday, 11 December. For more details, visit its Shaw ticketing page here.
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