Fantasia Review: ‘A Mermaid in Paris’ is a fun, heartfelt fantasy

Unlikely couples are the hallmark of romantic comedies. People who hate each other, people from disparate backgrounds, and occasionally, a man and a mermaid.

A Mermaid in Paris is, I’m sure shockingly, from this last group. A man, Gaspar (Nicolas Duvauchelle) finds the wounded mermaid Lula (Marilyn Lima) on the banks of the Seine one night and proceeds to nurse her back to health. In the process, they fall in love.

It’s not exactly a new setup, but when you filter this story through the mind and aesthetic of Mathias Malzieu you end up with something that looks like a cross between the classic 80s film Splash and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 classic Amélie.

Let me be clear: this is absolutely not a complaint.

Malzieu’s background in music and animation is apparent from the first frame. The world that these characters is a little to one side of ours, featuring stylish mid-century formal wear, dresses with bright patterns of colour, women with pink hair who smoke cigarettes on 30cm long cigarette holders.

Tchéky Karyo / A Mermaid in Paris
Tchéky Karyo / A Mermaid in Paris

Tchéky Karyo is there, playing Gaspar’s father Camille, and just look at his hair. Camille is the last of a 100-year-old society called The Surprisers, and he operates an underground club out of his barge docked along the Seine, a legacy that Gaspar hopes to inherit.

In case that isn’t twee enough for you, Gaspar also owns an apartment full of sentimental nick knacks and drives a tuk-tuk as his main mode of transportation. No, he doesn’t drive a tuk-tuk for a living, he’s a singer in the night club, it’s just his car.

Gaspar is a heartbroken man at the start of the story, of course. We never learn exactly what happens but, between the passing of his mother and several mentioned girlfriends, he is the one man who is immune to Lula’s song, a song which proves fatal to those who hear it and fall in love.

Marilyn Lima’s Lula is terrified at first, as men have killed her kind since the dawn of time, but her transition from fearful of staying to heartbroken at leaving is one of the films highlights.

If there is a complaint to be made here it’s that the middle part of the film is somewhat thin, Gaspar and Lula go from unsure to clearly made for one another fairly quickly, it that’s a nit pick on my part. If you can get on board with Malzieu’s aesthetic (which I found gorgeous) then you shouldn’t have any issues buying into the story, and even if it is a little thin in some places it’s also heartwarming enough that that doesn’t really matter.

A Mermaid in Paris may be a familiar premise but it is well directed and acted and absolutely gorgeous to look at. What more do you need?