This Sexy French Film Is Your Spring Must-See
'Paris, 13th District' should go on your watch list.
Near the start of Jacques Audiard’s new film, Paris, 13th District, Émilie (newcomer Lucie Zhang) has a surprise visitor. She’s been trying to get a new roommate, but is surprised when a man shows up at her door. She had wanted to live with another girl. His name happens to be Camille (Makita Samba), hence the confusion. Émilie acquiesces and allows Camille to come in for beers. They talk about relationships, and just as he’s about head out they say a proverbial fuck it and have sex. Then he moves in and it only gets messier from there.
Paris, 13th District—known as Les Olympiades in French and is now out in theaters and on VOD—is the shaggy, sexy movie that warrants seeking out as we head into summer blockbuster season. It’s a deceptively low-key movie about sex and connection that asks questions like: What if you start sleeping with your roommate? And: What if you start having an emotional affair over the internet with your lookalike cam girl?
Audiard—who has bounced around genres, last making the sensitive comedic western The Sisters Brothers—teamed with Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Céline Sciamma and writer-director Léa Mysius to adapt a series of short stories by the graphic artist Adrian Tomine. Collectively, they moved the action to the eponymous section of Paris, an area not marked by the usual Parisian landmarks. Instead, Audiard films a region known for its Chinatown and apartment complexes in a tender black and white.
The first section of the film introduces us to Émilie and Camille and their confusing courtship. Camille, on their first meeting, admits that he channels “professional frustration into intense sexual activity.” “Cool,” Émilie says. Her mantra: “Fuck first, see later.” Only that strategy becomes a problem when she becomes far more invested in their tryst than Camille is, making things extra awkward when he brings home another woman.
What at first seems like a cautionary tale about why you shouldn't have sex with your roommate blooms into something bigger when Nora (Noémie Merlant, of Portrait of a Lady) enters the picture. An optimist embarking on her second act, she has just moved to the city to study law. She’s older than her fellow classmates having already had a career in Bordeaux, but that doesn’t become a problem until they start relentlessly bullying her, mistaking her for a sex worker named Amber Sweet.
Despondent, she drops out of school and gets a job at a real estate agency where Camille is now working. While they flirt, she seeks out the real Amber Sweet online. Through a screen, their mutual curiosity blends into a genuine friendship and maybe something more. At the same time Camille is pursuing Nora, he reignites his friendship with Émilie, who is having casual sex via apps and generally trying to figure out what she wants out of life while waitressing.
Camille is addicted to the rush of sex without long-term commitment; Nora’s anxiety prevents her from giving herself over to pleasure; and Camille’s stubbornness and petulance is a hindrance in romance. But Audiard and his co-writers aren’t relishing in their characters’ anguish. Instead, Paris, 13th District builds toward swooningly romantic conclusions that defy expectations in their sweetness. It’s also, quite frankly, very hot. There’s a looseness to the sexual encounters that are neither idealized nor completely unglamorous. Happiness is ultimately the movie’s endpoint, which makes it all the sexier on the way there.