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 some of the deepest desires within human beings -the feeling of nostalgia, the desire to “go back.”
The film opens with a several minute sequence portraying scenes of the great locations in Paris, 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 and a nostalgia shop, though the idea is frowned upon by her 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, claiming a pseudo-intellectualism about the history of great works of art and artists, including Rodin. Gil thinks he is laughably incorrect.
Gil gets drunk one night and wanders alone as a car from the 1920s pulls up to him at midnight, and whisks him away to a Jean Cocteau party in 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 following Gil -at the lavish court of Louis XIV. Gil becomes romantically interested in an artist named Adriana. 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 back to the Belle Epoque, even further back in time. There, they meet Gauguin and Degas and other great painters of the day. Though, they all wish to travel back to the golden age of the Renaissance. Gil realizes the golden age fallacy is nothing more than a dream. Adriana decides to remain in the Golden Age in the 1890s, while Gil returns to his present-day, after getting some feedback from Stein on his novel -she suggests his fiancee is cheating on him with the pedantic character of Paul. He returns home and breaks up with his fiancee. In the closing scenes, he walks along the Seine with Gabrielle, the antique dealer.
Woody Allen initially conceived of the idea 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, Hemingway’s reflections on life in Paris, though recall that the book was published posthumously in 1964, after Hemingway’s death. Again, Allen plays with our conception of time. The score to the film is also brilliant, featuring Cole Porter tunes and other collections of 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, witty, brilliantly written, contains an excellent score, and displays stunning cinematography. It is a charming film worth watching again and again.