Four years after making his first English-language feature, the acclaimed writer and director Jacques Audiard returns to his roots for his latest drama Paris, 13th District, or Les Olympiades to give it the French title. Loosely inspired by the work of American graphic novelist Adrian Tomine, the script is co-penned with Léa Mysius and Céline Sciamma and follows the intersecting tales of three millennials within a high-rise Parisian neighbourhood. Streetwise but stuck in a dead-end job, Émilie (Lucie Zhang) rents out a room to teacher Camille (Makita Samba), and they quickly become flatmates with benefits. Meanwhile, mature student Nora (Noémie Merlant) arrives in the city to continue her law degree.
Though stunningly captured in a crisp black and white, this is a film that very much resides in life’s shades of grey. Through its trio of richly textured central characters, it presents a well-observed depiction of the insecurities that come with being a well-educated but floundering young professional in the digital age; the guilt of not seeing family often enough, anxiety of not quite having our shit together, whilst desperately clinging onto the dregs of the ‘fuck it’ mentality of reckless youth. Audiard’s stylish direction is soundtracked by the contemporary beats of electronic music artist Rone, amplifying emotions as the sensual narrative delves into love, lust, threat and regret.
Due to the collaborative nature of the writing, an authenticity is achieved in the perspective of the lens, which is further realised in the collection of performances. ‘I channel professional frustration into intense sexual activity’ confesses Camille when questioned about his romantic dalliances. Samba channels this attitude in his acting, his level-headedness transforming into impulsiveness to make him a captivating presence. Merlant, who became widely known thanks to her role in Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, perhaps has the biggest challenge. Introduced in the second act, she integrates Nora into a compelling subplot of mistaken identity, exploring the complex dangers of 21st century technology. As this particular tangent develops, she shares scenes with multi-talented musician and actress Jehnny Beth who gives a charismatic turn as a local camgirl. Perhaps best of the lot is Lucie Zhang in what is remarkably her film debut. Émilie adopts an acerbic aloofness as a shield of self-preservation, but when her guard comes down, she is open and vulnerable; her magnetic energy embodies everything that Audiard is trying to say with this piece.
A subtle study of romance within the complicated confines of modern city life, Jacques Audiard’s Paris, 13th District is a beautifully devised monochrome masterpiece, and introduces the exciting new talent of Lucie Zhang to the big screen.