By Diana Dabrowska
An abusive uncle tries to rape his beautiful Lebanese niece, Lina (Manal Issa). The Lebanese girl manages to defend her dignity and runs away from home. She gets lost in the darkness of the night, while Paris in the background begins glow. Meeting different men and lovers, young Lina discovers the faces of the French capital—a space that is exciting, free and emancipated.
Parisienne is a coming-of-age story about a young immigrant, and while it takes place in the ’90s, it still feels very up-to-date. Beneath its sensual textures, Danielle Arbid’s film offers a commentary on how immigrants try to understand and adapt to a new reality and culture, a task that turns out to be quite difficult. How to adapt, and yet stay true to yourself? How not to be perceived as only a stereotypical poor immigrant who steals jobs and men? On her way to adulthood, Lina explores it all: friendship, work, love, sex, education, drugs, dance, complex family issues, art, and politics that range from the extreme right (royalists, skinheads) to the left (Maoists, artists).
As that list suggests, Parisienne is too long: the pacing gets lazy, and the action is repetitive. Arbid smartly leaves space for the viewer to observe her heroine, but it’s a pity that she didn’t devote more time to the character of the lively art history teacher (Dominique Blanc) and the inspiring idea of art that teaches us self-acceptance (even of ugliness, which is an inherent human condition that we should embrace). Still, the real revelation of the film is the seductive and stunningly beautiful lead actress, Manal Issa: her transformation is captivating, convincing, and seemingly effortless. She’s a delight.