Fantasia International Film Festival Review: ‘A Mermaid In Paris’

Review by James Lindorf

For the past 23 years, the Fantasia International Film Festival has taken place in the heart of beautiful Montreal, the largest city in Canada’s Québec province. Fantasia, like many big-name festivals, SWSX, TIFF, and Tribeca, to name a few, will be hosting a virtual version of their festival this year. Fantasia’s 24th installment occurs on August 20th – September 2nd and will include both Live and On-Demand Screenings, live Q&As, and special events, like John Carpenter becoming Fantasia’s first recipient of their virtual Cheval Noir award. The process to purchase tickets can be found on their website. Some conversations and events can be seen on the Fantasia YouTube channel.

The first film I wanted to watch as part of Fantasia was the Mathias Malzieu directed “A Mermaid in Paris.” Which is also known as “Une sirène à Paris” in its native French. While he may be better known as a singer or author, this is the director’s second experience at Fantasia. The first was back in 2014 with the animated film “Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart.” Malzieu co-directed that Luc Besson produced film with Stéphane Berla. This time Malzieu has returned on his own with a live-action romantic fantasy film starring Nicolas Duvauchelle and Marilyn Lima.

Gaspard may live in the city of love, but he is heartbroken, and he may live in the city of lights, but there is only one he cares for, the spotlight. Gaspard is a cabaret singer in his family’s nightclub that has been entertaining guests for nearly 80 years. After the death of his beloved grandmother and mother, Gaspard has searched for a fellow singer to share his heart and the stage. One night on his way home from the club, he comes across an unconscious mermaid, beached on a dimly lit dock of the Seine. After being unable to seek traditional help for her, Gaspard takes her home. He keeps her in his bathtub while he tends to the wound on her tail. Gaspard may have met the singer of his dreams, but there’s one major problem. No, not the tail, this singer’s song causes the death of any man who hears it.

When I think back to 2017, two movies stand head and shoulders above everything else. The first is Jordan Peele’s breakout film “Get Out.” The other won the Oscars for Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, and Best Picture. That movie is “The Shape of Water.” A beautiful off-center romantic fantasy about a human and a merperson. In many ways, “A Mermaid in Paris” is the even quirkier French version of that award-winning film. Each of the main characters has an eccentric but caring neighbor. In Gaspard’s case, it the aging and very single Rossy (Rossy de Palma) who yearns for Gaspard to find love to prove that it could still be possible for her. There is the antagonist Milena (Romane Bohringer), who has an obsessive and all-consuming hatred for the mermaid, much like Michael Shannon’s character in “The Shape of Water.” In addition to some character similarities, there is also the importance of music and bathtubs in each movie.

Despite the numerous similarities, Malzieu’s film was able to maintain its sense of individuality. It may not reach the heights of “The Shape of Water,” but it is hard to equal that level of greatness. It is clear that Malzieu and Stéphane Landowski fell in love with the night club’s story, and it occasionally overwhelms the romantic and fish out of water elements of the film. “A Mermaid in Paris” is stylized, and sweet, bordering on schmaltzy, and occasionally laugh out loud funny.

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