Paris might be the most romantic city in the world, but for the five women in Paris Etc, finding time to be swept off your feet often comes second to running between jobs and dealing with kids underfoot. Created by actor-turned-director Zabou Breitman (who directs all 12 episodes and takes on one of the main roles) and co-written by novelist Anne Berest, it’s a realistic take on modern love and the women who have to make it work. Think a more grounded Sex and the City, only when the ground is the streets of Paris’ 13th arrondissement, love is always somewhere in the air.
Unlike Sarah Jessica Parker’s classic series about sex in New York, this isn’t about a tight-knit group of best friends. Some of the characters are related, some might just occasionally sit near each other on a subway car, and the loneliness of life in the big city is a central theme of the series. They’re from different generations and different worlds, tackling a very different range of issues, and all five have stories to tell.
Allison (Lou Roy-Lecollinet)
A 20-year-old from rural Alsace, she’s in Paris to explore life by taking on an internship in a restaurant. But the clock is already ticking – within months her conservative family expects her to return home and get married. So the pressure is on to explore life while she can, and being a young woman in Paris living with two male roommates, there’s definitely a lot to explore.
Marianne (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi)
With two children by two different fathers, Marianne’s already done plenty of living, yet her current life isn’t quite coming together. Her current beau doesn’t live with her, which until now has suited her fine, and her job as head of a geriatric clinic sees her at the peak of her profession. It all seems perfectly put together for a woman who doesn’t want to find herself tied down, but too much freedom can be just as lethal to a relationship as too little.
Mathilde (Anaïs Demoustier)
Marianne’s younger sister, she’s a 30-year-old masseuse dating a 50-year-old dentist. It’s not exactly a fiery romance – she’s not bursting with confidence and her real love is the family they’ve created, as she’s more in sync with his young son (which he had with another woman) than her lover. But with the spectre of his ex hanging over them, it’s a relationship where the fault lines are beginning to show.
Nora (Naidra Ayadi)
Married to a teacher and with two children, her life initially seems the least glamourous of the five. Her relationship is struggling (sex, or the lack of it, is definitely an issue) and one of their kids is having trouble at school, and while she’s committed to make it all work, it most definitely is work. Through her actual day job as a translator, her writing career (on hold for years) starts to bloom – but flirting with her favourite author brings its own set of complications.
Gil (Zabou Breitman)
Ten years ago, Gil left Paris – and her husband and three children – behind for a new life in Tahiti. Now she’s back to sell the family apartment out from under them, and the children aren’t happy. Will she be able to reconnect with the family she left behind? Does she even want to? And what is the real reason she left them and Paris a decade ago?
There’s also a sixth main character in this series: Paris herself. This isn’t exactly a realistic take on the city, but that’s intentional and definitely part of its charm. While everyone might seem to have impossibly fancy living quarters – Allison effortlessly find lodgings in an extremely arty building, and for someone who can’t afford to put her son into a private school where his behavioural issues can get the attention they need, Nora certainly has a large kitchen – the series’ occasional use of '50s- and '60s-era footage of Paris and its people highlights that this is still a romantic take on the city. Even if for some of the characters romance seems a long way off.
To call this a romantic comedy would underplay the personal dramas at the heart of this series – Nora has an accident early on that could easily be a life-shattering drama in a different series – but Paris Etc definitely contains its fair share of both romance and comedy. Breitman may have first made her name in France in the '90s with a string of romantic comedies, but it’s Tedeschi and Demoustier who get the biggest laughs here. And the show’s French – of course there’s sex, with the male gaze nowhere in sight and a refreshing sense of humour about the bedroom (or wherever things happen to be taking place). It’s a series about city life in all its complexity, and with these women as our guides, Paris has never looked better.
You can stream 'Paris etc' now at SBS On Demand
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