[ONE NIGHT ONLY] Pierre Adenot's swoony, cocktail-shaker orchestrations open and close this "film collectif," promising a pop version of Old-World romance that this failed omnibus of 18 vignettes never delivers. In a stumble down the Champs-Élysées, premiering tonight thanks to the NW Film Center, various directors compete to see who can make the worst segment.
Taking the prize in hatefulness, the Coen brothers present a degrading skit in which tourist Steve Buscemi is beaten senseless, allegedly to comic effect, in the Tuileries subway station. Alexander Payne, of the overrated Sideways, continues his condescending mockery of the working classes by making cruel fun of an overweight mail carrier (Margo Martindale). She narrates her vacation story in gauchely over-enunciated, American-accented French. We're meant to laugh at her ignorance, yet it's Payne who's a snickering twit.
In "Le Marais," Gus Van Sant chimes in with a contribution on his all-time favorite subject: lissome gay dudes making eyes and acting like moo-cows at each other. Portland's own Elias McConnell looks mighty fine sporting a blond buzz-cut and dangling a hand-rolled cigarette in the corner of his mouth, but the boy can't act. While McConnell was perfectly natural in Elephant, here he's rigorously posed (like a Bruce Weber model), and Van Sant's fetishizing feels like something Humbert Humbert would do. Opposite McConnell, the longhaired Gaspard Ulliel has most of the lines, including this gem: "You like jazz? Charlie Parker, yeah, and Kurt Cobain, too?"
A few actors transcend the merde: Li Xin as a kickboxing hairstylist is a scream (in Christopher Doyle's Hong Kong-inspired pastiche); Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands lend a rueful charm. Best of all is Fanny Ardant as a matron at a bar who purrs and slurs her way into a flirtation with Bob Hoskins. Certainly, Ardant could teach Gus and the boys a thing or two about playful eroticism.
Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave., 221-1156. 7 pm Wednesday, May 30. Schedule permitting, Gus Van Sant will introduce the film.