THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS
THE CARS THAT ATE PEOPLE
In The Cars That Ate Paris, Weir displays a rare sense of black humour the only other times he has adopted such a surrealistically absurd tone is in The Plumber about an uncouth plumber who takes over a womans apartment and his debut short 50-minute film Homesdale (1971) concerning a lodge where strange things start happening to the guests. Both the blackness of Weirs sense of humour and its deadpan presentation make The Cars That Ate Paris an initially quite bewildering experience the humour is so subdued you sit wondering what on Earth is going on. Terry Camilleri talks about the traumatic experience of his killing a man behind the wheel to which mayor John Meillon replies in perfect straight face, Yes these old pedestrians are a problem. Some of the images of the society at work old ladies polishing hubcaps, shoes being bartered for groceries, a housewife lugging a tire to a door to swap are striking, all the more so for the realist matter-of-fact manner they are shot by Weir and played by the cast.
There has been a tendency to review The Cars That Ate Paris as a science-fiction film particularly the much reprinted image of a spiked and armoured VW prowling the streets. But it is not a film that is easily pigeonholed as such unless one stretches soft science definitions to view the films picture of a contemporary community eking out a subsistence based on causing car crashes as science-fiction. Rather the film is more of a surrealistic satire/allegory on Australias car culture a strange relationship that haunts a large part of Australian cinema, see also Mad Max (1979) and sequels and Dead-End Drive-In (1986).
What strikes one is the coolly quiet obliqueness of Weirs approach, his insistence on viewing the entire situation as perfectly normal. If one compares this to how an American film would have approached the idea with the milieu spelt out so everybody could understand what is going on and turned into a thriller so that it is a big dramatic shock revelation to the audience what the Parisians are up to, one just gains a grasp of how oddly offbeat Peter Weirs approach is. On the minus side, there is not much drama to the film and Weirs pace is slow.
John Meillon gives a good performance. With his little boy looks and soft voice, Terry Camilleri seems the perfect lost puppy dog every mother would want to adopt. The film is definitely shot on a low budget with unconvincing gore makeup and the car crashes only being depicted in still photos. Bruce Smeaton contributes a very offbeat score.