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Published: Friday, 5/22/2009

Movie review: Paris 36 **


Think of Andy Hardy putting on a musical revue with Nazis poised to invade and you get an idea of how old-fashioned and thematically confused Christophe Barratier's movie, Paris 36, plays out. The song and dance numbers are mostly wonderful; the dramas between them are entirely weak.

The Chansonia music hall in Paris is preparing its New Year's Eve bash with a dollop of melancholy because that will be its final performance. Nestled in a working-class neighborhood, the Chansonia's fate symbolizes what's in store for Paris as a whole. The show must go on, and the club's manager, Pigoil (Gerard Jugnot ), believes a hit might persuade its villainous new owner, Galapiat (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), to keep the Chansonia open.

A new chanteuse named Douce (Nora Arnezeder) has the voice and pizzazz that could make a difference. Galapiat covets more than her talent, and perhaps his wealth would make Douce forsake her art. The scenario smacks of Moulin Rouge without Baz Luhrmann's audacious spirit, while the political subtext gets smothered by sentimentality.

Barratier stages the musical numbers with flair, paying respects to Busby Berkeley's choreography at one moment and Edith Piaf's legend the next. Even the exteriors possess a charming falsity, as if another production is scheduled to move them around to shoot a different movie. But nostalgic appeal and Barratier's melodrama wear thin, and the juxtaposition of art and politics never reaches Cabaret levels.

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