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MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, a laud review!

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011) is Woody Allen’s latest magnum opus which held its world premier at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and has met with critical praise since, proving to be Allen’s most watched and beloved film since the past twenty-five years.

Imagine the legendary tales of CINDERELLA, A MOVEABLE FEAST, THE SUN ALSO RISES and the film THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985) all stewed together to make a new stellar film, familiar yet completely original set within the ever twinkling romantic City of Lights.

The movie begins with a lengthy introduction of 1920’s Jazz music playing to still shots of ‘gay Paree’ – night, day, in the sun and in the rain- just enough mood setting to make sure you are IN PARIS by the time the opening credits end and the movie begins. Then the screen fades to black and we hear Gil (played superbly by Owen Wilson) telling his fiancée Inez of his long unfulfilled dream to live as a writer in Paris. He’s a successful Hollywood screenwriter punching out what sells, which lets face it, usually means what ‘sells out’.

During their trip to Paris, Gil starts fantasizing about giving up his financially fruitful Hollywood career to move to Paris and write the all-American novel. After all, a writer of any medium is never considered a ‘real writer’ until he/she has written and published a novel. Thus, Gil the writer’s unfulfilled dream balloons itself under the magical spell that is Paris until his repressed desire becomes impossible to ignore and he obsesses over turning fantasy into reality.

But Gil’s materialistic fiancée Inez (played by Rachel McAdams) fails to take him seriously and worries more about his profitable movie-writing career than his soul-screaming un-followed bliss. When Gil talks nostalgically about the 1920’s Golden Age of literature and wanting to recreate that experience for himself by moving to Paris to write, he is met with Inez’s rolling eyes and talks of his worrying ‘brain tumor’. Gil babbles on about getting a small apartment in Paris to write his novel and surround himself with other passionate writers and artists, but his upper-class ‘pedantic’ friend Paul (played by Michael Sheen) pokes fun at him by saying, ‘well, all that will be missing is the tuberculosis’.

The conversation continues during a walk in the gardens of Versailles about Gil’s ‘Golden Age’ longing and Paul patronizes him saying he’s suffering a case of melancholia and here we have our insight to the premise of the film, nostalgia. Paul states that all ages have longing for another Age, that no one is ever happy with the time or the place they are living in. While normally Paul speaks a lot of pompous pedantry, this is his most clever dialogue because this will later become Gil’s great epiphany at the end of the film. But first we must go on the journey to come to this enlightening truth.

Inez experiences the cliché synthetic surface of ‘romantic Paris’, waltzing in and out of The Bristol Hotel, her arms ever dangling with new shopping bags from the latest fashion du-jour, her greatest concerns over looking perfect, keeping up social appearances and Gil’s gild. Meanwhile, Gil’s soul calls him to go in search of a hidden Paris, one that still exists beneath all the layers society cakes on and persona masks that people don.

Gil and Inez are clearly doomed from the start in their differences of direction. Inez starts to spend her nights out with pompous Paul while soul-searching Gil begins to take midnight strolls through what he deems the most beautiful city on earth. Inez always wants to take a taxi and float blindly throughout the city somehow being in it without ever really seeing it. And Gil wants to work through it, to see it at every light and experience it at every hour. His favorite time in Paris is when it rains, which Inez finds ridiculous.

Gil loves Paris most when it rains because that is when it loses its façade and the viscous stickiness of the city makes itself known to its explorer. Paris is a civilized city indeed but its antique history and layers of centuries exude a place that is primitive, a place that is wild and speaks to animal desires, instinct and all inspiration. But to create real art an artist must find that moist place in order to be moved by her muse. Paris must, as Henry Miller would see it, open her legs to him and show him her sultry wetness, her deepest intimate spots. She must give him everything and only then can he penetrate the secrets of Paris and all her mystery and somehow capture it in writing. So, naturally it would only be under rain and at the stroke of midnight, the time when dreams begin and the unconscious takes over that the real organic Paris reveals itself, its topsy-turvy truth, its greatest ‘Golden Age’, to Gil.

Every night at the stroke of midnight, like Cinderella, Gil is picked up by a 1920s taxi driver and taken into a world of his own nostalgia, a veritable ‘moveable feast’ with the greatest artists of the 1920s, he converses with and befriends the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, etcetera. After frequent visits to this bygone era each night we begin to wonder ourselves if this is just a dream or if he really is in this magical other world. But when we come to find that each of the other characters are living in their own fantasy of what they consider ‘the Golden Age’ we see that for each, he/she has a different time they would rather be living in and realize a different dream. Gil suffers a love triangle between Inez and the beautiful Adriana (a call back to Hemingway’s beloved anima character from Lady Brett Ashley THE SUN ALSO RISES, played mesmerizingly by Marion Cotillard). Adriana lives in the 1920’s and her admitted Golden Age is the 1890’s, proving that Gil is not the only one stuck between two eras. There is a scene where Gil talks about his women trouble to Salvador Dali (played humorously by Adrien Brody) while the latter babbles on esoterically about a rhinoceros; Dali himself is stuck between two worlds, the surreal and real.

Well, we know the end before it begins, that these two lovers (Gil and Inez) while looking alike, couldn’t be any more different. So of course they cannot end up together. As we delve into the dream life of each character- Inez in her world of aesthetic perfection and brand-name bling, Gil and his 1920’s Golden Age of artists hobnobbing around the bohemian streets of Paris, Adriana and her 1890’s Golden Age period and hilarious Hemingway, drunk and hoping for a fight on a battlefield or in the jungles of Africa, we are reminded of our own secret desires and longings for a personal Golden Age.

So, who does Gil end up with and does he finally decide to move to Paris to write his novel? Well, you’ll have to take this stroll at MIDNIGHT IN PARIS to find out. This is Woody Allen at his midnight, top of the hour, paramount best! It’s not often I walk out of a theater these days feeling like I want to sing with a reinvigorated hope and faith in art and humanity. My skin tingled and my breathing steadied and I smiled from cheek to cheek. I suddenly felt like Gene Kelly and if it had been raining and a street lamp at hand, I would have grabbed onto it and did a ‘SINGING IN THE RAIN’ dance number for sheer joy over such cinematic triumph.

Review written by Vanessa McMahon on June 24, 2011 

photos from red carpet premier by Vanessa McMahon

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