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A relatively slight but sturdy work by Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien, this slice of contemporary urban life more or less does for Paris what his Cafe Lumiere did for Tokyo, albeit with less minimalism and more overt emotion—as well as a fantasy thread derived from Albert Lamorisse's classic 1956 short for children, The Red Balloon. There's not much story here, but the characters are substantial: a single mother (nicely played by Juliette Binoche) who runs a local avant-garde puppet theater and is preoccupied with such matters as a downstairs tenant who refuses to pay rent or leave, her neglected but mainly cheerful son, and his Taiwanese nanny, a filmmaker in her spare time. The puppet theater recalls the work of the title figure in Hou's sublime 1993 The Puppetmaster, but what it suggests here has less to do with the vicissitudes of national history than with representation and metaphor. In French with subtitles. 113 min.

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