The Cars That Ate Paris * * * * ½
In recent years director Peter Weir has built a reputation with some very solid films in the Hollywood mainstream (Witness / The Mosquito Coast / Dead Poets Society / Fearless / The Truman Show / Master and Commander) . These films are crafted by the obvious hands of someone who knows how to make films, and some with great mystery and watch-ability. However, they still don’t seem to come close to touching his early voice in film experiment. His short string of masterful and groundbreaking works in the Australian cinema outback of the 1970s are light years ahead of what tricks most modern directors can do now, even if they are trying to imitate past films. I was recently turned-on to wonders such as “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and “The Last Wave” by Chad T. Johnston. We were both floored to un-earth a mysterious world of classic cinema where a unique and creative concoction of sight and sound haunt the storytelling landscape and the viewer. These are the kind of films that we absorb like a great all-you-can-eat buffet or a rich dream. These are films that afterwards we say out loud, “How in the world does that film even work? How do you make something like that?” These are films that single-handedly out-shine some directors’ entire catalogs.
Weir’s first feature film, “The Cars That Ate Paris”, can now be added to that list, in my book. And it just might be my favorite of his...and perhaps in my top 25 films as of an hour ago. This is a film about the tiny town of Paris, Australia and its car-obsessed inhabitants that won’t let anyone in or out of their little world. It is just so strange, compelling and wickedly entertaining that I felt like I was eating a whole box of assorted and outlawed Little Debbie Snack Cakes for an hour and twenty-six minutes. It’s for certain not as powerful at making my jaw drop nor as mysterious as Weir’s previously mentioned films that followed this debut, though it certainly filled me up. It also comes with such wicked comedy, bizarre and zany characters that I find this one to be on the same quality of WOW films from the living master. Accompanying the DVD I’ve acquired is a 1978 Australian TV short suspense Weir film called “The Plumber”. I can’t wait for my work day to be over to rush home and hit play. And in the coming weeks I can’t wait to fill in the gaps on a few of his later films that I somehow let pass.