With a title like The Cars That Ate Paris, one would expect Peter Weir's first feature-length film to be about a band of carnivorous automobiles chewing up the French countryside whilst en route to the Champs-Elysées to gobble up le premier ministre. Instead, the Paris in this film is a remote Australian town, and said Cars consume in a completely metaphorical sense. Well, almost...
While on a trip into the country, Arthur (Camilleri) and his brother, George, make a detour onto a treachorous dirt road leading into Paris, Australia, seeking a caravan park for a night's rest. The pair are driven off the road by bright lights and a loud, terrifying sound, and George is killed. Arthur finds himself in the local hospital, where he is subjected to questioning by Paris' resident mad-scientist, Dr. Midland (Miles), and given a word association quiz that's sole purpose seems to be to instill the idea that Arthur and George's crash was, indeed, an accident. However, we soon see that the townsfolk have a lucrative little hobby involving ambushing motorists who have the misfortune of driving into their town, stripping the vehicles of all valuables, and either donating the survivors to Dr. Midland's scientific research, or, as in Arthur's case, forcing them to stay on as Parisians through brainwashing and bullying. The Mayor (Meillon) "adopts" Arthur as a son, gives him the job of parking superintendent, and plays on Arthur's fears of driving (a year earlier, he'd killed an old man in road accident and has since been terrified to be behind the wheel of an automobile) to keep him in the fold. However, the local toughs, who cruise around the town in souped-up cars made up of scraps from the ambush victim's vehicles, immediately take offense to The Mayor's new employee. As Arthur slowly becomes aware of the town's sordid dealings, he becomes determined to escape, but there's miles of wilderness, a gang of bloodthirsty thugs, and the town's obsessive Mayor standing between him and freedom.
The Cars That Ate Paris is a very odd and intrigueing film that, in lesser hands, would have probably been best presented as a short feature. However, Weir makes the most of his limited budget and somewhat thin premise by filling in the dead time with some wonderfully shot scenes that wratchet up the tension while maintaining our interest until the next darkly comedic bit comes along. I liken this film to The Wicker Man, in that it shares that film's rather esoteric blend of humour and horror, but fails to settle into either genre, instead, crafting it's own eccentric niche'. I had a great time with this one, especially since I went into it with zero expectations. Weir is a great director, whose resume speaks volumes (Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Mosquito Coast, Galipoli), but one would have never thought he'd had such a brilliantly bizarre film in his ouevre'.
Home Vision Entertainment, a company that specialises in little known but ultimately exciting and rewarding films, presents Paris in a gorgeous widescreen anamorphic transfer that looks absolutely stunning. The only gripe is that the audio is a bit uneven, especially during the scenes in which the local marauders putt around the city in their mini-cars. Other than that, this is a remarkable job.
The DVD also features an entire bonus film; the made-for-television thriller, The Plumber. While it's essentially an oft-revisited tale of home invasion and paranoia, it's still a fun flick, and Weir's style translates to the "small screen". The Plumber is also presented in widescreen, but the transfer's a bit dodgy, and features a fair amount of grain and artifacts. Still, as a bonus, it's quite welcome, and a solid piece of entertainment.
In addition to the two feature films, we are also treated to in-depth interviews with Weir about both Paris and The Plumber, rounding out a truly exceptional set that one would hardly expect for a such an obscure film.
HVE has, in my opinion, released some of the most challenging and exceptional films, second only to Criterion, and The Cars That Ate Paris is one more step in the right direction. Well done, and highly recommended.