The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lots of car accidents.

The residents of a poor Australian town known as Paris come up with a scheme to cause car accidents to those traveling through it which will allow them to salvage what’s left of the vehicle and resell it for goods or cash.  Things go smoothly for a while until Arthur (Terry Camilleri) and his brother George (Rick Scully) become victims to one these ‘accidents’. George dies, but Arthur survives and is too traumatized to get back into a car again or leave town. He takes up residence with the town’s mayor (John Meillon) who gets him a job as a parking enforcer, which causes problems when Arthur gives a citation to some rowdy young people who do not take kindly to this and seek a violent revenge.

This decidedly odd story marks director Peter Weir’s feature film debut and it’s hard to know what genre to place it into. Originally it was intended as a wacky comedy, but then dark elements were added in. Eventually it was distributed as a horror film, but it didn’t do well at the box office, so it was reissued as an art film and only fared slightly better. The film has managed to obtain a cult following and the story is original with funny moments, but the unexpectedly gory ending could leave some viewers cold as it did when it was first screened at the Cannes Film Festival back in ‘74.

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One of the best things about the movie is the casting of Camilleri in the lead. He’s very soft-spoken and has an almost transparent demeanor, which helps heighten the interest because you become intrigued at seeing how this schmuck is going to potentially take down this small town criminal organization, which would’ve been fun, but unfortunately the plot doesn’t get played-out in quite that way.

Meillon is solid as the mayor and I enjoyed seeing how his character puts up this calm façade while simultaneously trying to bottle up all the tension that he has inside. Bruce Spence is effective as the town crazy as well as Chris Haywood playing an average-joe who seems quite benign and good-natured at the beginning only to become increasingly more menacing as the film progresses.

The entire movie was shot on-location in Sofala, New South Wales which has a population of only 208 people and quite possibly the narrowest main street of any town in the world. Weir captures its rundown look well and helps convey how poor and isolated the residents were, which allows the viewer to understand why the people resorted to such desperate measures. However, I didn’t like how these same people immediately flee the town the minute the young adults get out-of-control. People who’ve lived somewhere all their lives become emotionally bonded to it and will not move the moment something goes wrong. They would try to control the threat if they could and only up-and-leave months or years later if they had to. Besides where would these people go as they had no money and limited job skills.

If you’re into offbeat comedy then this one may do for a slow evening although those looking for something in the horror vein will be disappointed.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 10, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: The Australian Film Corporation

Available: DVD

One response to “The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)

  1. Weir creates a strange little world for his innocent, Arthur, to wander into. It’s a long way from The Trueman Show, but both have blameless men put into strange mileus. Australia has a tradition of movies about weird towns that you should steer clear of – Wake in Fright, Summerfield and Welcome to Woop Woop spring to mind. This is a film from an Australian industry learning to make films again after decades in recession. It’s a quaint relic – funny rather than scary. I think ‘black comedy’ covers it.

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