Nick Hart (Carradine) is an expatriate living in Paris and a struggling artist. When a rich patroness offers him money to forge some paintings, his eyes light up. A similar goggling effect is had when he falls (again) for his estranged wife, Rachel (Fiorentino).
Director Alan Rudolph launched his career with Welcome To L.A., a gentle satire of Southern California with an obvious debt to Robert Altman. During the last decade, Altman has gone into exile while Rudolph and his regular troupe of actors continue to turn out offbeat ensemble pictures that buck the blockbuster trend. Rudolphs quirkiness and charm often go hand in hand with a pretentiousness that is largely missing from this winsome look at Americans in the Paris of 1926.
The Moderns cast of characters includes a drunken Ernest Hemingway who is constantly pontificating, a bullish Gertrude Stein, and Nick Hart (Keith Carradine), a struggling American painter surviving on booze and caricatures that decorate the gossip column of his friend Oiseau. Enter Harts estranged wife Rachel (Linda Florentine) and her new husband Bertram Stone (John Lone) who has come to Paris to collect art. The two men fall out over Rachel while Hart is commissioned by the corrupt Nathalie De Ville (Geraldine Chaplin) to forge three modern masterworks in order to dupe her husband.
Rudolphs gentle satire plays around with notions of trust and originality in both art and life while gently mocking his characters. Chaplin is a notable monster. Carradine is all stares and cheekbones and Fiorentino is simply stunning. While the film pokes fun at cafe society, American materialism and modernist circles, the battle between Hart and the acquisitive Stone is played out against a Paris that is constantly fading back into the black-and-white of old photographs. Rudolph has always moved between detachment and self-conscious symbolism but the script and the milieu of The Moderns give his congenital playfulness a charm and an emotional force that it often lacks.
This Paris is more myth than history and The Moderns manages to be a rare example of a fable whose characters are made of flesh and blood.