Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel in Lost in Paris (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

The French have traditionally been known for some pretty fantastic cinema: from the early avant-garde of Godard, to the seventies’ sex and social comedies, and, of late, some gruesome, nihilistic, and brilliant horror. But they also have a soft spot for a twee sort of whimsy. And if you put a little soul behind it, you get the luminous Amélie. When you don’t, you get Lost in Paris. Ironically, the writers/directors/stars aren’t French. Fiona Gordon is Australian, and Dominique Abel is Belgian. But they have taken Parisian whimsy to heart in their odd, uninvolving love story.

Canadian librarian Fiona, played by the aforementioned Gordon, receives a letter from her aunt in Paris to come visit. Fiona happily complies. Her aunt, Martha (played, thank God, by the always luminescent Emmanuelle Riva, in one of her last roles) then takes off and roams the streets of Paris for no discernible reason. Fiona arrives, manages to lose her passport, her luggage (a giant backpack with a Canadian flag attached), and all her money. She also has no place to stay as Martha has abdicated her apartment. The niece wanders around Paris and bumps into Dominique (Dominque Abel), a homeless man who found Fiona’s backpack and is now wearing her sweater. Together they have what the film hopes to call adventures, but every comedic beat goes on for an interminable amount of time as the two wander around Paris–while we wait for them to inevitably kiss.

Though adept physical comedians, Gordon and Abel attempt to make a throwback to the comedy of Jacques Tati, but they come up short. And while Abel has a simple charm reminiscent of Roberto Benigni (who is, after all, a very acquired taste), Gordon has a reticent presence, to say the least. Whenever she’s on screen, there seems to be a blank space. Riva, of course, is ravishing, and every time we move back to her story, the film picks up immediately, but that’s because Riva knows how to spin gold out of air. And there’s plenty of air here that needs some serious spinning.

Written and Directed by Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon
Released by Oscilloscope Laboratories
English and French with English subtitles
France/Belgium. 84 min. Not rated
With Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, Emmanuelle Riva, and Pierre Richard