Monday, May 30, 2011

Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris

I seldom critique films here, preferring to devote myself to reviewing theatrical productions (with occasional forays into restaurants and travel), but from time to time I do make an exception. This is one of those times.

I just saw Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, and I loved it. Admittedly, since I am a fan of Woody Allen’s films to begin with, I was predisposed to enjoy this film from the very start. But I enjoyed it even more than I had expected.

For me, this film pushed all the right buttons. To begin with, I have long been interested in literature, art and music, particularly in the writers of the 1920s and 1930s and the painters both of that period and of the Belle Epoque period of the 1890s. And this film is a delightful send-up of some of the greatest writers, artists and musicians of those times, including Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Matisse, Dali, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bunuel and Cole Porter (to mention but a few).

Moreover, all of the action takes place in Paris (one of my very favorite cities) over a period of more than a century. Allen’s personal life may be far from admirable, but there is no denying his genius as a cinematographer and, in the past, whenever he has taken it into his head to create a film expressing his love for a particular city, the results have been spectacular. It worked when he did it for Manhattan and again for Barcelona. And it works again for Paris.

In the film, Gil (Owen Wilson), a successful Hollywood script writer but one with higher literary aspirations to be a novelist, has traveled to present day Paris together with his fiancee and her family. It is there that he bemoans the fact that he had not lived nearly a century earlier, during what he thinks of as the “Golden Age” of literature - that time in the 1920s when so many American expatriates (as well as Brits and Spaniards and Italians) descended on Paris to make it the literary and artistic hub of the world. And it is then that he is miraculously transported back in time to that very age, where he meets many of his bygone literary and cultural heroes (including all of those I mentioned above).

Once there, however, he discovers that to one who actually lived in Paris in the 1920s, it might not have seemed such a “Golden Age” after all. Indeed, to one who lived in Paris in the 1920s, perhaps it was the Belle Epoque period of the 1890’s that was the real “Golden Age.” (And Gil does get to time travel to that period too.) And to one who was truly alive in the 1890s, what was his “Golden Age”? The Renaissance, perhaps? Indeed, might it not simply be the case that the idea of some prior “Golden Age” is really no more than a fantasy or, worse yet, evidence of some dysfunctional mental disturbance, reflected in one’s inability to dwell and cope successfully with one’s own present day reality?

So there is a bit of a message in the film too. But don’t take it all too seriously. When all is said and done, it’s really just great fun. I think you’ll enjoy it.

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