An affectionate ode to screwball and silent film-era comedy, "Lost in Paris" springs from the minds of Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, a Brussels-based husband-and-wife burlesque duo. Tackling writing, directing, and starring duties, the pair turn a bittersweet romantic fable into an irresistibly charming slapstick confection.
The film begins in a snowy mountain town in Canada, where timid, middle-aged Fiona (played by Gordon) works as a librarian. One day she receives a letter from her dear Aunt Martha (the late, French acting legend Emmanuelle Riva), who left town decades prior and set out for the excitement of city living in Paris. But now Martha needs Fiona's help: at 88-years-old, she's being pressured to move into a nursing home. And despite emerging signs of senility, the feisty former dance bristles at the idea that she can no longer live on her own.
Fiona has always dreamed of seeing Paris, so she wastes little time in strapping on her oversized red backpack -- complete with flapping Canadian flag on top -- and heads overseas. Her travels go without a hitch, but Fiona's arrival in France immediately leads to a series of mishaps that's capped off by her tumbling head-over-heels into the Seine, losing her backpack in the process. She eventually does get to Martha's apartment, but finds that her aunt has vanished.
Meanwhile, Fiona's pack, along with her money and passport, have fallen into the hands of an affably impish homeless man, Dom (Abel), who makes his home in a small tent by the river. After a chance meeting at a seaside restaurant, where the two engage in a delightfully awkward tango, Dom finds himself irresistibly drawn to the sweetly bumbling Fiona. A playful tale of love, pratfalls, and mistaken identities ensues.
Considering their history together, it's no surprise that Abel and Gordon have a lovely, prickly chemistry. Gordon's gawky, Olive Oyl-esque physicality blends wonderfully with Abel's somewhat more graceful presence. The duo fill their tale with beautifully staged physical comedy and deadpan sight gags, blending the sensibilities of Chaplin, Jacques Tati, and Pierre Étaix. A bit late in the film bit atop the Eiffel Tower even calls to mind the daring antics of Harold Lloyd.
The humor is matched with a colorful visual style brought vividly to life by cinematographers Claire Childeric and Jean-Christophe Leforestier. With "Lost in Paris," Abel and Gordon don't have any aspirations higher than bringing a smile to their audience's faces, and that proves to be more than enough. In this case, getting lost is a pure pleasure.