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The Cars That Ate Paris (The Cars That Eat People)

Wednesday 18 August 2010, by Abla Kandalaft

The Paris in the title is basically Australia’s version of Royston Vasey in Peter Weir’s uncharacteristically weird ozploitation classic; a small town whose inhabitants cause car accidents to use salvaged valuables and bits of scrap metal as currency. The Parisians fear outsiders nearly as much as they fear the local young people who are running as wild as they can within the confines of the small town. Passers-by, drifters and visitors or either killed or sucked into the Paris community and given an odd job to contribute to the local economy. Such are the fates of brothers George and Arthur. The former dies in the crash while the latter becomes an orderly at the hospital, a job he seems to embrace like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
In fact, Arthur just shuffles about like a confused gerbil, seemingly surrendering to whatever fate the Parisians have in store for him. Actor Terry Camilleri is really likable in his portrayal of wide-eyed, endearing Arthur, at times looking so consistently dumbstruck I was surprised he hadn’t started drooling half-way through. In fact Arthur is shuttled around like a pawn into various jobs, which he qualifies for by appropriate changes of costume.
The film doesn’t really go anywhere and some moments are inexplicably long. However it is best thought of not in terms of storyline, plot or other such devices but as a series of moments and interactions, satirising small town life in a way that is so over the top that nobody could really call it insulting. The film is so decidedly odd that amusing bits seem downright hilarious in context.
The highlight is probably the Paris masquerade ball or dress-up disco night or whatever celebration it is, during which the asylum interns are wheeled out wearing cereal boxes as masks.

Dir: Peter Weir, 1974

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