[Fantasia Digital 2020 Review] A MERMAID IN PARIS
A MERMAID IN PARIS l Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

There’s a magic in the art of storytelling. A magic that sometimes feels missing in this world, especially with recent events. In a sea of cynicism, awfulness, and pain, it’s difficult to find hope. It’s difficult to find the magic that we used to wrap ourselves up in as children at bedtime. With flashlight in hand and covers firmly wrapped over the head, it seems like a distant time when we’d allow ourselves that privilege to hide and escape in the realm of magic, mystery, and fantasy. While we may be a bit too old (and our eyesight not strong enough to withstand flashlight reading), A MERMAID IN PARIS provides that magical escapist balm needed to remind ourselves what it means to live again.

A MERMAID IN PARIS is directed by Mathias Malzieu and serves as his live-action film debut. Malzieu co-wrote the screenplay with Stéphane Landowski. The film stars Nicolas Duvauchelle, Marilyn Lima, and Rossy de Palma. The film follows Gaspard Snow (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a heartbroken musician struggling to find the magic once more in life. One fateful rainy night where the Seine has overflowed, he comes across a wounded mermaid (Marilyn Lima). Without thinking, Gaspard rescues the mermaid and takes her home to heal her. While convinced that his heart can no longer love, what unfolds is a journey between the two that shows how sometimes recovery happens unexpectedly. It may be painful and we may be in denial of the healing process, but we can all heal. Sometimes it just takes the unexpected to do so.

The world director Mathias Malzieu, cinematographer Virginie Saint-Martin, production designer André Fonsny, and costume designer Claudine Tychon have created for A MERMAID IN PARIS is a masterpiece. It is both a mixture of fantasy and reality easily embraced as we dive right in. Starting off with an adorable animation sequence before transitioning into the real world, it’s clear that fantasy and childlike whimsy will be present all throughout the film. And it is. For many who grew up with classic fairytales, this film will take you back. It will make you long for the days where you listened to your parents tell you a story. Where you could allow yourself to slip into that world of makebelieve. It’s this world of makebelieve and magic that really grabs onto you while you’re watching A MERMAID IN PARIS. And what sells the film.

While I wax poetic about the classic storytelling qualities this film has, there’s something undeniably modern about this. It all comes down to how Malzieu maintains that glorious balance between keeping the film rooted in reality and childlike fantasy. It’s a believable fairytale for a modern audience. And, for those of us who grew up on a healthy mixture of Disney princess movies, it’s easy for us to project ourselves into Gaspard’s shoes. We’ve all known heartbreak. We all know the doom and gloom that grips our hearts as we’ve convinced ourselves that we can never love again. It’s this relatability that keeps A MERMAID IN PARIS rooted.

Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

The true heart of A MERMAID IN PARIS is its love story. For all my talk of magic and realism, love and its many complications are what carry the story forward. The love story that develops between Gaspard and the mermaid Lula feels natural and effortless. The chemistry developed between Nicolas Duvauchelle and Marilyn Lima is undeniable, making it all the easier to take in. But this love is not foolproof. No, there’s a tragic element that follows this would-be duo. You see, Lula’s voice kills men. While Gaspard believes himself to be incapable of loving again, Lula knows time will heal him. And, when it does, her voice will kill him regardless of anything she tries to do to stop it.

The handling of heartbreak in A MERMAID IN PARIS is well-done. Heartbreak itself is a complex undertaking. There are ways to go about it that generally fall into whiny or eye-roll territory onscreen. But what we have here is something for more mature audiences. Malzieu trusts his audience. That’s why as we watch Gaspard start to heal, it hurts all the more when we start to watch as Lula’s voice steadily starts to impact him. A metaphor for the painful healing process, it is difficult not to feel sad because you’ll just want the best for the couple. Fortunately, there’s plenty of humor and whimsy to balance out that underlying sadness. That humor makes it possible for the film to maintain that balance that lends itself to its fairytale-like quality.

A MERMAID IN PARIS will be a classic. I don’t throw out that word willy nilly. The film has such a timelessness to it that it’s difficult not to believe that it won’t be a film re-watched time and time again. There’s nothing about it that I would change. Its themes surrounding love, heartbreak, and healing feel incredibly relevant. And, for those of us locked up in our homes while we’re weathering this turbulent period in history, it provides us with a glimmer of hope. A hope for those of us who do not believe we can heal from what’s happening and hope for the good things that will arrive for us in the future. And that is something that I think we all need.

A MERMAID IN PARIS had its North American premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival on August 27th. However, it will screen once more this Sunday, August 30th. So, there is plenty of time for you to get a chance to escape into that magical world.

Sarah Musnicky
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