Thursday, July 14, 2011
Midnight in Paris
It’s that quality which maybe most attracts young and middle aged men to Paris in order to ditch everything, take up residence there and discover themselves through the creation of great art and literature. It’s about making oneself a peasant for one last crack at attempting something meaningful. Art may be made from suffering but it is also made from freedom. Henry Miller described it best in his opening of The Tropic of Cancer as he haunts the streets of Paris: “I have no money, to resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”
Midnight in Paris is thus three love letters rolled into one. It is a love letter to Paris, a love letter to writing and a love letter to the past. It’s a tale of whimsy without being too whimsical. It’s Allen’s most lovely film in years.
The film revolves around Gil (Owen Wilson playing the Woody Allen surrogate), a Hollywood script writer who has escaped to Paris with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) in the hopes of leaving behind the creation of meaningless entertainment and crossing over into grand literature through the writing of his novel. Gil is in love with the idea of Paris, thinks it is even more beautiful in the rain and longs for the glory days of the 20s when the city was alive with great art, literature, music, what have you.
His novel, not appreciated by Inez or anyone else he describes it to, is about a man who runs his own nostalgia shop, selling meaningful items from the golden age of entertainment which have now, in the present, been reduced to no more than worthless camp articles.
There he meets Inez’s old friend Paul (Michael Sheen). Paul represents one of Allen’s favourite targets: a pedantic pseudo-intellectual who belivies himself to know everything about art and culture to the point where he will argue his point over that of the tour guide. One night, not wanting to go dancing and having sampled too much wine, Gil goes for a walk by himself around Paris. He rests on a stoop and as the clock strikes twelve a vintage car pulls around and tells him to get in.
He is escorted to a party where he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Yes, that Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. They explain to him that some people have come together to throw a party for Jean Cocteau. And is that Cole Porter on the piano? Gil thinks someone is pulling his leg until the Fitzgerald’s, finding out that Gil is a writer, invite him to meet Ernest Hemmingway, who doesn’t want to read his book but will indeed take it to Gertrude Stein for a once over. Gil, overjoyed, goes to retrieve the manuscript but finds that, upon leaving, the glorious 20s party has morphed back into a standard dry cleaners.
And so every night Gil finds an excuse to sneak away so that, when the clock strikes midnight, he will be picked up and taken away to the 1920s. While there he meets Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, Man Ray and Picasso who is currently dating Adriana (Marian Cotillard), a French beauty who quickly becomes the star in Gil’s eye. She is initially taken by passages of his novel and dreams of getting out of the dreary 20s and escaping back further into the past herself. She dreams of escaping to a golden era where everything was better
What this amounts to is one of Woody Allen's more quiet, tender and lovely films. In the same vein as Sweet & Lowdown, Midnight in Paris remembers fondly a time in the past when great art and literature were created by a commune of great minds coming together. It then ultimately comes to the tender realization that to pine for the past is not enough. One must pay homage to it in order to keep it alive while still finding beauty and poetry in the present to keep the tradition moving forward.