Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Midnight In Paris

Midnight In Paris 

Directed and Written by Woody Allen

Starring:  Owen Wilson
                Rachel McAdams
                Marion Cotillard
                Kathy Bates
                Adrien Brody
                Carla Bruni
                Michael Sheen

Eugene and I love Paris and all things French.  We are intrigued by every detail of the 'lost generation' and are really quite disappointed that we didn't live during that glorious time.  So, Woody Allen's 'Midnight In Paris' was the looking glass through which we stepped to capture wisps of a dream.  A dream of sharing the Paris of the 20's and 30's with all the extraordinary and brilliant people who created the magic that has us in their thrall

Join Back Chat as we 'Go To The Movies' and enjoy Woody Allen's tribute to Paris with us.  I would love to know your reaction to this remarkable film.  Do contact me at les@leslieback.co.za or leave a comment on Back Chat, I look forward to hearing from you.  

The film opens with a montage of exquisitely haunting scenes of Paris, some romantically in the rain.  The rain has a special meaning which we come to understand as the story unfolds.  Beautiful music and then the title appears, 'Midnight In Paris'.  All this gentle beauty contrasts with the brashness of a  group of American tourists.  Gil played by Owen Wilson, the dreamer and writer who would love to live in an attic in Paris and his fiancée, Inez, played by Rachel McAdams who is determined to live in Malibu and is in Paris to shop and shop.  They are holidaying with her wealthy, proudly conservative parents, portrayed by Mimi Kennedy and Kurt Fuller.  They all stay at The Bristol, a very grand five star hotel on the Rue Faubourg Saint Honore.  The sort of hotel that caters to every whim of  well-heeled tourists who probably believe they are having a very French experience.

Gil, having already irritated his future father-in-law with his liberal politics, escapes the constrictive atmosphere at dinner one night.  He has had too much to drink and pleads the need to get some air to clear his head.  He wanders off into the night, strolling through the streets of Paris, the city that haunts his imagination.  He has read the works of the writers who lived and loved in Paris during the 20's and 30's.  He has studied the work of the artists and the philosophers who frequented the cafés and bars on the Left Bank.   This is the 'golden era' he has dreamt about.

He finds himself on a narrow cobblestoned street with no idea how to get back to his hotel.  He sits down on some steps, which I later discovered are the steps in front of Eglise Saint Etienne-du-Mont.   A clock strikes midnight and a beautiful old car comes rolling along in stately fashion.  A 1920's Peugeot Laudaulet comes to a halt in front of him and a crowd of boisterous revellers gesture to him to join them.  He climbs into the car protesting that they must have mistaken him for someone else.  The passengers in the car, despite his protestations, simply absorb him into their marvellously rowdy champagne drinking  group.

Gil is swept along with the group to a party.  He knows nobody, and looking around the room  he is both fascinated and confused by the mise-en-scene.  Cole Porter's song 'Let's Do It' is in the air.   He shakes his head in disbelief when, for a moment, he thinks that the man at the piano performing the song is Cole Porter.  No, obviously it couldn't be!   A young woman introduces herself, 'Hello I'm Zelda.'  She calls across the room to her husband, Scott.  Scott introduce himself as Scott Fitzgerald and adds "this is my wife Zelda.  Now in a state of  utter bemusement, Gil asks 'where am I?  'Oh it's a party for Jean Cocteau', is the answer. 

During the course of this extraordinary evening, he meets a dashing and handsome Ernest Hemingway who offers to show the manuscript of Gil's novel to Gertrude Stein.  Gil is now completely accepting and in tune with the period in which he finds himself.   He dashes back to the hotel to fetch the manuscript and, oh dear, he finds himself back in present day Paris.

He spends the following day trailing after his fiancée and her mother as they trawl through shop after expensive shop.   They encounter an antique shop, a sort of nostalgia place,  run by a lovely young woman Gabrielle, who is also fascinated by the Lost Generation.   Oh, we all think, she would be perfect for Gil.  So much better than that awful shallow and blasé Inez.   We really don't like Inez very much.

That evening after dinner, Gil persuades Inez to accompany him on a trip to the past.  They wait and wait at the steps of the church, but nothing happens.  Inez, predictably, becomes peevish and petulant.  She hails a passing taxi and returns to the hotel.  Gil waits alone and as the clock strikes midnight, his magic charabanc appears.  That night Hemingway takes him to visit Gertrude Stein at her home in Rue de Fleurus.   Woody Allen so cleverly captures the spirit and history of that home.  Gertrude Stein, magnificently played by Kathy Bates, is pictured sitting in front of a portrait of herself painted by Picasso.  The whole scene is full of clues about Stein and her brother Leo who were both ardent art collectors.

Gertrude Stein is having a rather heated discussion with Pablo Picasso about one of his new paintings. This painting, La Baigneuse (The Bather) actually exists and again is one of Allen's signposts.   Gil meets Picasso's current mistress, a beautiful young French girl, Adriana, exquisitely played by Marion Cotillard.  Their sexual chemistry is immediate and tangible.   Adriana is a creation of Woody Allen's imagination, an assemblage of all Picasso's women in one lovely ensemble.

In the nights and days that follow, Gil's life is conflicted by his two realities.  By night he meets the people he has long hero-worshipped and the day brings angst and uncertainty.   Could there ever by a Woody Allen film without angst?   Allen has obviously realised that he is too old to play the part and has found an excellent replacement for himself.  Owen Wilson plays Gil with all the humour and sensitivity that Allen would have brought to the role.

An added complication in Gil's troubled odyssey is that he and Inez encounter Paul, an old flame of hers, played by Michael Sheen.   He is going to lecture at the Sorbonne and is an intolerable bore.  Gil finds him an insufferable pedant, while Inez is terribly impressed by everything he says and does.

There are many, wonderful cameo appearances throughout the film.   Carla Bruni, the wife of the current president of France, Nicolas Sarkosy, is charming as a guide at the Rodin Museum.  She has such a luminous quality and is quite lovely.   Adrian Brody is hilarious as the surrealist artist Dali.  Brody, who manages an extraordinary likeness to Dali, plays him just short of over the top.   Dali is fascinated by rhinos and declares that Gil looks like a rhinoceros and so he goes on.  Everything is a rhino.   The famous Moroccan - French comedian, Gad Elmaleh, plays a detective hired by Inez's father to follow Gil to find out about his nighttime activities.  Unfortunately for the poor benighted character, he also crosses through the time curtain with hilarious consequences.

There is a gentle message from Woody Allen to you, the viewer.   Live in the now, even if there are other times and other places that may seem more enchanting,   It is an illusion, albeit a seductive one.

Woody Allen, as is his wont, allows the ending to be unresolved and yet to be discovered.  Oh, the joy of discovering one's own ending!  This is a magic carpet ride through beautiful Paris.  Enjoy Paris in the sun and in the rain.  Enjoy the people, the cafés, the boulevards and the monuments.   But most importantly, love 'Midnight in Paris".   I just wish the film had not ended too soon.

Winner of Golden Globe award for Best Screenplay


BP said...

Forget th film, now I want to go to Paris!

Leslie Back said...

Dear BP,

I am so pleased that the review has inspired you so much.

I do hope that you will visit that magical city someday soon.

Bon Voyage!

Leslie Back