Christophe Honoré’s Dans Paris is both a floppy, joyful tribute to the French New Wave and an inspired retelling of Franny and Zooey, echoing Salinger’s pair of novellas cannily and effortlessly. Franny Glass has become a young French guy named Paul (an awesomely hairy Romain Duris), and her existential crisis is now a failed love affair (hey, c’est Paris). But in many other particulars—the benefits of constant prayer, the absence of a beloved elder sibling, the endless phone conversations—the story is the same.
Paul has moved back in with his father in Paris after an extended stint in the countryside with his lovely girlfriend Anna (Joana Preiss), who likes to dance around in her underwear. In an intense, disjointed prologue, Honoré relays the disintegration of Paul’s relationship with an Eternal Sunshine–y stream of flashbacks. Perhaps they’re also meant to show us that Paul was a player, because once he gets home and the film starts in earnest, the man is so depressed that he can hardly move. His doting dad (Guy Marchand) is totally out of his element dealing with such darkness; the best he can do is cook up a sole and beg his son to eat.
Paul’s brother Jonathan (Louis Garrel) is the Grand High Goofball of the family. He, too, tries to help without really knowing how, suggesting to Paul that they go admire the Christmas windows of the Bon Marche. When his brother refuses, Jonathan optimistically sets out on his own, marking his progress by sleeping with various women along the way. (Yes, it’s a short trek.) As conceived by Honoré, Jonathan is both archetypal trickster, cavorting impishly around the city, and the personification of the New Wave: He introduces the film by opening a curtain and addressing the audience.
Unlike most other movies inspired by Salinger—The Royal Tenenbaums, Igby Goes Down—Dans Paris is set in Paris (well, duh), and so instead of trading on a superficial vision of Life in Quirky Old New York, Honoré is perhaps freer to dig into the source material. What he comes up with is a belief in the transcendence of sibling relationships. Paul and Jonathan look nothing alike. (Duris, here, is a fuzzy little animal, while Garrel has a magnificent, classical head: When he tosses his hair and smirks into the camera, he looks just like one of David’s Horatii). They fight, sometimes viciously. But they’ve read all the same children’s books, they’ve mourned their dead sister together, and they conduct themselves as if they shared a soul.
Honoré, who last directed Ma Mere, wrote this script with Duris and Garrel in mind, and shot the whole movie within the span of a month: “We have everything to gain by shortening the length of time between the desire to make a film and the pleasure of making it,” he has said. That might not be entirely true—Dans Paris occasionally drags, and Honoré’s reverence for classic French cinema can get cloying—but for the most part, efficiency has worked in his favor here. The film is a domestic love story of the first order, but it is also a semi-abstract series of quiet, intense moments—a slap, a phone call, a hug in the bathtub—that tiptoe up to a climax both spectacularly and subtly emotional.