Paris, 1936: working conditions are dismal, fascists battle communists for control of factories, and workers just want to get paid. And in the midst of so much relevant social turmoil, Paris 36 asks us to care about a particularly uninspiring premise: The Chansonia music hall has just shut its doors, and a handful of plucky actors and musicians are determined to see it rise again.
As unemployment mounts and fascism festers, the quirky characters in Paris 36 resolutely struggle to preserve their dying way of life. A love affair smolders between a singer and a communist rabble-rouser; vaudevillians carouse, and striking workers shake their fists. Politics here are deployed only as a thrilling backdrop, while the Chansonia itself is little more than a nostalgic repository for the outpourings of a well-squeezed accordion, the charms of a pert songbird, and a shapely knee. Paris 36 is Amelie minus the charm, or Cabaret minus the relevance—an ineffectual little film that resolutely turns away from reality to cling to the trappings of a nostalgic, candy-colored past.