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Film / Paris 36

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Paris 36 (French title Faubourg 36) is a 2008 French film directed and written by Christophe Barratier. It is his second feature film after The Chorus.

In 1936 Paris, during the governance of the French Popular Front amidst The Great Depression, Germain Pigoil (Gérard Jugnot), Émile "Milou" Leibovich (Clovis Cornillac) and Jacky Jacquet (Kad Merad) are three jobless entertainers who decide to reprise the theatre/music hall where they once worked, the Chansonia, after their director committed suicide out of a debt he owed to ruthless businessman Félix Galapiat (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu). Due to having only amateur stage artists at their disposal, they struggle big time to attract success. Then, one day, they notice that a young woman they hired solely for her good looks, Douce (Nora Arnezeder), is very good at singing.

The song "Loin de Paname" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Paris 36 provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Author Appeal: Christophe Barratier loves French cinema of the 1930s and 1940s and moreover all things vintage from those eras, and it shows. It was already at play in The Chorus, and it would also show up with his 2011 version of War of the Buttons.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: Galapiat has Milou at gunpoint in the climax, and a shot is heard... it was actually Pigoil who shot Galapiat In the Back to save Milou.
  • Benevolent Boss: While the Chansonia is struggling, the only good thing it has to offer is Douce's singing, and she receives multiple juicy contract offers at the same time. She comes at Pigoil crying because of this, and Pigoil just gives her a hug and lets her go without remorse, even knowing that the theater is screwed without her.
  • Blatant Lies: Upon meeting Douce, Galapiat tells her how much of a "friend" he was to Dorfeuil, the previous director of the Chansonia and how Dorfeuil "begged him" to buy the theater. It's all bollocks of course, as he's a Loan Shark and drove Dorfeuil to suicide without a hint of remorse.
  • Bludgeoned to Death: Jacky gets bludgeoned to death in his bed by Galapiat's goons while he was guarding the Chansonia's money in Milou's place.
  • Camp Gay: Jeannot, the Chansonia's costume designer, has some really effeminate manners and compliments men in particular.
  • The Charmer: Milou is an incurable skirt-chaser.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Max's radio. He's initially criticized for being The Shut-In, but thanks to it, he manages to capture the zeitgeist of the time and write great songs that end up helping to finally turn the Chansonia into a successful music hall.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The young Jojo being a very good accordion player, for busking purposes initially. It allows him to add much-needed talent to the roster of the Chansonia once they really try to improve their act, and it pays off beautifully.
  • Child Prodigy: Jojo is about 10 year old, and he's a great accordion player already.
  • Cool Old Guy: Max (Pierre Richard), a friendly old composer, music teacher and conductor, and a friend of Pigoil who teaches Jojo how to play accordion. He never goes outside his house and pretends he knows the world as well as if he went outside thanks to his TSF radio receiver. He's also a very good songwriter (so good, in fact, that he ends up saving the Chansonia with his songs). He may or may not be Douce's father.
  • Dirty Cop: The police commissioner is in cahoots with Galapiat for most of the film, though he reminds him that his strike-breaking goons left a unionist in a coma. He drops his support of Galapiat entirely after said goons murder Jacky.
  • Dirty Old Man: It becomes increasingly clear that Galapiat wants his ways with Douce. It culminates with her reluctantly accepting to have sex with him, though the scene plays more like an Attempted Rape given how she resists. Galapiat realizes this and stops touching her, and instead gives her a Scarpia Ultimatum of sorts, threatening to close the Chansonia if she doesn't willingly offer herself to him.
  • Distant Finale: The end scene happens nine years later, in 1945, when Pigoil is released from prison right after the end of World War II and comes back to the Chansonia, now called Faubourg 36.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Nora Arnezeder, Clovis Cornillac and Kad Merad performed their characters' songs themselves.
  • Driven to Suicide: Dorfeuil, the first director of the Chansonia, shoots himself on the head on New Year's Eve 1936 as he can't honor the debt he owes to Félix Galapiat.
  • Due to the Dead: At Jacky's funeral, Milou puts Jacky's vest on as tribute to his dead friend.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: The first shot of Paris in the film shows, well, you guessed it...
  • French Accordion: A good part of the soundtrack is made of accordion, for obvious reasons. Pigoil's son Jojo plays accordion while his friend sings for busking.
  • Gay Paree: Thoroughly embodied in the songs, the accordion soundtrack and the fact that the film concerns a troupe of Parisian cabaret entertainers. That doesn't mean the film doesn't include issues of the time, such as the effects of The Great Depression or fascist-leaning nationalism.
  • The Ghost: Once Pigoil is released from prison, he comes back at the Chansonia and finds out his son Jojo (now nine years older) has taken over it. There are posters announcing Jojo's music numbers, but he isn't seen.
  • Giftedly Bad:
    • Jacky can pull off some reasonably good imitations (such as Fernandel), but he sucks badly at any other type of humor, especially at writing jokes, and he almost singlehandedly ruins the new Chansonia's premiere, which is saved by Douce's surprisingly good singing. He improves his act a great deal when he switches to singing with the help of Max, however.
    • Pretty much all of the artists of the Chansonia bar Douce are bad at their trade initially. The theater simply doesn't have enough money to lure better artists.
  • The Great Depression: The economic crisis really started in 1931 for France, and the effects are seen in the film with the amount of jobless people. It led to the election of a coalition of the French Left, the Front Populaire (Popular Front), in 1936.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Jacky pulls one on the S.O.C. Just as he's expected to tell them racist jokes (in the presence of Pigoil and Milou, no less), he starts mocking them and their arm-raising tendencies on stage instead, and he's promptly taken outside the meeting room.
  • Hidden Depths: Jacky is an awful comedian, but it turns out he's a pretty decent singer.
  • I Never Got Any Letters: Pigoil's ex-wife makes sure the letters that her son Jojo wants to send to his father never reach the latter.
  • Informed Judaism: Outside of his last name that's relatively common in Jewish communities with roots in Eastern Europe, Émile "Milou" Leibovich gets insulted with "Filthy Jew!" by Jacky at one point.
  • Just Got Out of Jail: After the end of World War II in 1945, Pigoil is released from prison, where he spent nine years for killing Galapiat.
    Pigoil: There were too many collabos, so they threw me out to make space.
  • Last-Name Basis: Most people who know Germain Pigoil address him by his surname only.
  • Leitmotif: The instrumental melody of "Loin de Paname" is the film's main leitmotif.
  • Loan Shark: The film's villain, Félix Galapiat, is a money lender who doesn't hesitate to employ brutal mafia-like methods to get paid his due.
  • Lovable Rogue: Milou is meant to evoke this stereotype with a communist spin on it, as he spends time charming women and going in factories to try causing strikes.
  • Meaningful Name: "Douce" means "sweet" in French. It certainly applies to the character's voice.
  • Nazis by Any Other Name: The S.O.C. is depicted not so subtly like a fascist party not unlike the small French factions that would become the most zealous collaborateurs of Nazi Germany during the Occupation a few years later. And they're racist, xenophobic and antisemitic.
  • Newsreel: Jojo, his mother and her new husband go to watch newsreels in a theater and find out about the reopening of the Chansonia this way.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed:
    • The film avoids naming the workers union Milou is a militant of, and it is based on the C.G.T.
    • The S.O.C. is fictional but based on far-right leagues. The closer historical example to it is perhaps the Parti Franciste.
  • Phony Veteran: Milou pretends that he's a Red Army veteran to everyone, but admits to Douce that he lied, he "came too late to enlist".
  • Politically Incorrect Villains:
    • Galapiat is a fascist-leaning would-be politician in addition to being a ruthless Loan Shark and breaker of strikes with mafia-like methods.
    • There's a fascist-leaning party called Salubrité Ordre Combat (S.O.C.), which Galapiat supports. They mainly want a "pure blood France". Following Galapiat's advices, Jacky starts working as a stand-up comedian for them, entertaining them with racist, xenophobic and antisemitic jokes (all written by Galapiat). He then comes to regret it.
  • Product Placement: In-Universe, Douce's first job at the Chansonia is to announce the shows and make adverts by singing.
  • Pushed in Front of the Audience: One particularly dreadful night for the Chansonia, Douce is pushed onto the scene and starts singing, much to the audience's delight.
  • Red Scare: In-Universe, Galapiat and the S.O.C. despise communists and workers' unions, which they see as enemies of France and "agents of Moscow".
  • The Shut-In: Max never wants to leave his house for some reason, pretending he knows the world as well as if he went outside thanks to his TSF radio receiver. Then, one day, hearing Douce on the radio sing a song of his motivates him to go outside, though not without a little effort (depicted onscreen with a Vertigo Effect).
  • Spiteful Spit: Upon hearing Douce saying she wants to go back at the Chansonia, Galapiat slaps her. She spits on him in return.
  • Street Musician: Jojo and his friend perform music (accordion and singing respectively) in the streets of Paris (especially on restaurant terraces) to get some money. Jojo does so in his father's back.
  • Taking the Kids: Pigoil is devastated over losing custody of his child to his divorced wife (who cheated on him, besides). He then regularly writes to him.
  • Title by Year: Both the original and international titles refer to the year 1936, shortening it to "36".
  • Title Drop: "Faubourg 36" gets dropped during Pigoil's narration about the phase in which the Chansonia finally attracts success with music numbers of much better quality and relevance to the era.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: 'Friends' is a big word, but the S.O.C.'s racist/antisemitic ideology noticeably starts to influence Jacky at some point, such as when he insults Milou with "Filthy Jew!". He soon realizes his mistake, and pulls a ballsy Heel–Face Turn on the S.O.C. assembly during what was supposed to be a racist joked-filled show for them.
  • Waiting for a Break:
    • Jacky has delusions about his comedian talent and pretends to have had many auditions, but the only true form of success he ends up reaching in that field is making xenophobic and antisemitic jokes with a fascistic political movement as audience.
    • Douce comes to Paris to try her luck in entertainment. If that means singing advertisements at first, she'll do it.