Midnight In Paris quietly arrived in Sarasota today at the Burns Court Cinema, a small film venue that books mostly indies, art, and an occasional foreign film. This was very fortunate for me, as this film, directed and written by Woody Allen, wasn’t booked at either of Sarasota’s big film chain multiplexes. The hall in which I watched the film was indeed small – 10 rows of four seats on each side of a center aisle. Your basic 80-seater.
As for Paris, I’ve been there three times. I’ve walked its streets like a true boulevardier. I’ve stretched a thimbleful of coffee into a few hours of people watching on the sidewalk cafe at the Deux Magots on the Left Bank, and I’ve even been aboard one of those glass enclosed tour boats (Bateaux-mouches) that slowly make their way up and down the Seine River for a romantic dinner cruise with my main squeeze at the time. In short, Paris, the city of lights, is a very romantic city, especially the Rue Cler neighborhood that I usually stay in. As Ernest Hemingway once said,
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
While Woody’s Midnight In Paris might not qualify as a feast for either the palate or the senses, it is certainly worthy of being called a delightful and delicious cinematic pastry.
I wrote the above intro to this review before I actually saw the film. Little did I know the Woody would use the same Hemingway quote mere minutes into this film. Then again, I didn’t know that Hemingway himself would be a character portrayed by an actor in the film either.
I’ve decided to give this review a secondary title and I’ll call it Woody’s Wish List. Since Woody has more years behind him than he does in front of him, it is altogether natural to look back toward’s one younger days. Or to wish for something that never happened. Our personal memories always to seem to have a glow to them that we didn’t quite see when we lived through those times. But even further back from our own lived in memories are the times we’ve only dreamt about or read about in a book.
The film Midnight in Paris is Allen’s homage to a city he adores but doesn’t live in. For the movie going audience it a series of lovely postcards from Woody to us – all set in Paris and environs. The film even begins with about three or four minutes of these visual bon-bons. But it is also themed about living in the now as well as the wished for or desired period of time.
The wonderful cast starts with Owen Wilson (How Do You Know) as the young writer, Gil Pender, who finds that Paris has much more to offer than he had either hoped for or imagined. He’s paired with the now blonde Rachel McAdams who was delightful in Morning Glory, and quite good here (granted it is a smaller role) as his fiancée Inez. Ostensibly, they’re here in Paris free-loading on her parents who flew in so her Dad could do some business. They take in the sights beginning with a voice over by Gil as Allen shows us the visual pleasures of Paris. Woody even finds a way to incorporate Monet’s Gardens in Giverny into the film (see the title card above).
Along the way, Gil expresses his dream of moving to Paris to enjoy the city’s pleasures, to finish his novel, to escape the grind of Hollywood, and to live the bohemian life that he’s read about and dreamed of. He’s really longing for the Paris of the 20’s which, in his view, represent the most idyllic and superb time to have lived. Inez calls it a fantasy and a waste of time. Gil responds by saying something like – not really but I would miss the anti-biotics – which is another great (bordering on classic) Woody Allen penned line.
Gil and Inez will meet Paul and Carol while out dining. Paul is ‘pedantic’ to say the least, pretentious to take the middle road, and as Gil describes him – a pseudo-intellectual – who seems to know everything about everything to such a degree that he’s boring.
Paul’s purpose is to provide Gil with an opportunity to distance himself from the foursome making it an off-screen three-some, or even a two-some. After a wine tasting, Gil turns down an invitation to go dancing, instead he wanders off and gets lost.
At this point, Allen introduces the whimsy, the fantasy, and the elements on which this film is based – that Paris at midnight is magical. Without offering us any kind of explanation, we, as well as Gil, are transported back in time to the Paris of the 1920’s. We will meet all of the biggest names of the literary and art world of that era – the very names that Allen probably read about 50 years ago when he was in college.
The magic is that these people take Gil in and make him a part of their world. To drop more of these names would constitute a spoiler of a sort, so I won’t name any of them other than the previously mentioned Ernest Hemingway. Gil at first is in a state of disbelief. he thinks he’s being conned. But eventually, the champagne, the smoky cafe, the intellectual talk, and the fact that he, Gil Pender, is somehow living in the time and place that he’s desired for so long help him to change his mind and become a believer.
That’s your set up. Of course reality must rear its head, and Inez and her folks, Paul, a delicious guide from the Rodin Museum (played by Carla Bruni below),
and a saucy sales girl, Gabrielle, played by Lea Seydoux (below),
from an antique shop all come into play. Owen Wilson’s Gil Pender has a delightful manner that will remind you of Woody Allen’s usual on-screen persona, only without the dour, or the sour. Gil is really a good guy, he’s likeable, and Wilson does a great job in this role.
Allen’s script is delightful. He is going to deliver a message, and it is not too subtle, which is unusual for him. But it isn’t hammered home. Instead you will feel seduced from reality to fantasy and back but without anyone thinking they been taken, or deceived, or fooled.
So the film is about the magic of Paris and Allen’s love affair with that city. His story is told through Pender’s wishful thinking and you will feel the same awe, surprise, and delight that Pender does. Before closing, I must also mention Marion Cotillard, who as the Parisienne femme , is outstanding. She steals every scene she’s in.
Yes, Allen has taken the magic of Paris, and the magic of film-making and has delivered his best film in years. Even the way the films ends – not with a couple walking off into a sunset holding hands – instead they walk off into a delicious Paris light summer rain. I liked this film very much and will have no problem, recommending it. For sure – I’ll be seeing it again.