A Paris story that could have been more

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE -

aerial pic­tures of the city when a woman sud­denly grabs his arm: “Ex­cuse me,” she says, “but it looked like you were about to … fall.”

“Not to­day,” Emile jokes, but he is about to fall — in love. As ro­man­tic set­tings go, you can hardly beat float­ing above Paris in a bal­loon. Still, this will not be an easy flight for Émile, nor for the Scot­tish woman who has reached out to him. She’s Mrs. Cait Wal­lace: 31 and wid­owed. Af­ter slid­ing per­ilously close to poverty, she has taken a job as a chap­er­one. Her charges are Alice and Jamie, the adult wards of their wealthy Glas­gow un­cle, who has sent them on a grand tour of Europe.

Colin is a tal­ented lit­er­ary en­gi­neer her­self, even if she’s work­ing with some rusty con­ceits. Emile and Cait are both lonely adults, barred by their own ver­sions of re­spon­si­bil­ity from pur­su­ing hap­pi­ness. They are as right for each other as any of the per­fectly matched parts forged for the Eif­fel Tower, but they will be the last to ad­mit that. While Émile car­ries on a joy­less af­fair with a beau­ti­ful opium ad­dict, he knows he must find a young woman to sat­isfy his dy­ing mother’s hopes for a house full of chil­dren. Cait, mean­while, is so haunted by her failed mar­riage that she feels “stuck be­tween floors, be­tween rooms, be­tween youth and old age, a per­son with­out sta­tus, with­out a hus­band, with­out a fu­ture. Was this liv­ing or merely wait­ing for the in­evitable?” She looks for­ward only to “a life of pol­ish­ing pews and ar­rang­ing flow­ers, of pru­dence and par­si­mony.”

We never get to see just how well Cait could pol­ish a pew, but she proves a rather in­com­pe­tent chap­er­one, which sup­plies most of the story’s hu­mor and calamity. Alice is pretty and Jamie is good-look­ing, and, naive as they are, they’re both crafty about slip­ping away to pur­sue their re­spec­tive li­bidi­nous ad­ven­tures in the City of Love.

If you have never read a novel by Jane Austen or watched a cos­tume drama on BBC, “To Cap­ture What We Can­not Keep” will pro­vide a string of shock­ing plot twists. But it’s a shame the story is not more am­bi­tious, a lit­tle more charged by the rad­i­cal di­men­sions of its cen­tral im­age. Although sev­eral fa­mous fig­ures make cameos, they ap­pear so faded by time that they of­fer lit­tle im­pres­sion, and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary artis­tic move­ments of the era are re­duced to scenery.

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