Midnight in Paris (2011) Director: Woody Allen
Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s late masterpiece. It is a simple fantasy film that appeals to one of the deepest human desires -the feeling of nostalgia, or the deceptively potent desire to “go back” to a Golden Age.
The film opens with a several minute sequence portraying scenes of great locations in Paris (a nod to Allen’s earlier works in New York City), dubbed over with brilliant French jazz music. Gil Pender, a Hollywood screenwriter, and his unbearably materialistic fiancee are in Paris with her snobbishly wealthy parents. He is trying to finish writing his novel about a man in a nostalgia shop, though the idea is frowned upon by his fiancee’s family. Gil has an interest in moving to Paris, while his fiancee prefers Malibu. A shallow and pedantic friend gives them a tour of Paris, proclaiming a pseudo-intellectualism about the history of great works of art and artists, especially Rodin. Gil thinks he is laughably incorrect but he is alone in that assessment.
Gil drinks to the point of drunkenness one night and wanders alone as a car from the 1920s pulls up right in front of him at midnight. It whisks him away to a Jean Cocteau party from the past -Gil has magically traveled through time- where he meets Cole Porter, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway (played by Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (played by Kathy Bates), and others. In the flashback scenes, the camera uses a warm tone to evoke beauty and memory. The next night, he goes to Gertrude Stein’s home and meets Pablo Picasso, Dali (played by Adrien Brody), Bunuel and others while his novel is discussed. They talk about their longing to return to the Belle Epoque in Paris.
Back in the present-day Gil’s father-in-law becomes suspicious and hires a private investigator who humorously gets stuck in the past while following Gil -we encounter him later at the lavish court of Louis XIV. Gil becomes romantically interested in an artist named Adriana from the 1920s. In the present-day he reads a book in which she confesses her love for Gil, which he found from a woman named Gabrielle, an antique dealer in Paris. He buys earrings and travels back one more time to give them to her, they kiss, and take a carriage ride back in time to the Belle Epoque. There, they meet Gauguin and Degas and other great painters of the day. Though, in the Belle Epoque they all wish to travel back to the Golden Age of the Renaissance. Gil realizes the golden age fallacy is nothing more than a pipe dream. Adriana decides to remain in the Belle Epoque in the 1890s instead of returning to her home in the 1920s, while Gil decides to return to his present-day. He returns one more time to gather feedback from Gertrude Stein on his novel, and she suggests his fiancee is cheating on him with the pedantic character of Paul. He returns home and promptly breaks up with his fiancee. In the closing scenes, he walks along the Seine while embracing a new budding romance with Gabrielle, the antique dealer he met earlier in Paris.
Woody Allen initially conceived of the idea for Midnight In Paris beginning only with the title: “Midnight in Paris” and he built the whole story around it. He originally thought of Gil as an east coast intellectual, but as casting began he changed it to fit the west coast Californian, played by Owen Wilson. The film alludes frequently to Hemingway’s A Movable Feast, or Hemingway’s reflections on life in Paris though the book was published posthumously in 1964 after Hemingway’s death. Again, Allen plays with our conception of time throughout the plot. The score to the film is also brilliant, featuring Cole Porter tunes and other collections of brilliant jazz music. The film’s poster is a nod to van Gogh’s 1888 Starry Night.
Midnight in Paris is a perfect, sentimental, comedy-fantasy film. It is funny and witty, brilliantly written, it contains an excellent score, and it displays stunning cinematography. Midnight in Paris is a charming film worth watching again and again.