on November 7, 2011
"All men fear death. It's a natural fear that consumes us all," says a character in "Midnight in Paris"... "However, when you make love with a truly great woman, one that deserves the utmost respect in this world and one that makes you feel truly powerful, that fear of death completely disappears."
Paris is her name. She has seduced writers for centuries, and in "Midnight in Paris" writer/director Woody Allen makes love to her with his camera, in the most poetic of ways.
Or perhaps he's referring to art, to achieving such intimacy with your craft and such artistic climax that you become immortal, like Hemingway, Matisse, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Dali, or Allen himself.
Gil Pender, the protagonist in Allen's new film, has never experienced that kind of artistic height. Played quite convincingly by Owen Wilson (in a surprising and refreshing role that Allen had to re-write for him), Gil is an aspiring novelist who is visiting Paris with his girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. But while they prefer to shop and visit museums, Gil chooses to wonder about. "No work of art can compare to a city," he says.
Pender is actually mesmerized by the City of Lights and fantasizes about what he believes was Paris' Golden Age, the 1920s with the Lost Generation of American writers walking its streets, writing in sidewalk cafés, and frequenting smoky bars and flamboyant parties. One evening at midnight, trying to find his way back to the hotel, something magical happens to Gil. Really! But no reviewer should give that magic away.
Getting lost in the city seems to be a symbol for how lost he really is, as a person and as a writer, and although he's somewhat insecure and anxious (he even carries a bottle of Valium with him), he's actually a likable guy and soon meets a few bohemian friends (played by Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, among others) who give him much-needed advice about life and the creative process.
From the beginning, "Midnight in Paris" grabs you with its witty and sophisticated dialogue about art, culture and literature, and in the second half the dialogue gets even better. For instance, my favorite line comes from one of the bohemian characters, who believes that: "the job of the artist is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence."
Another piece of wisdom comes from one of the antagonists who criticizes Gil for being infatuated with the past: "Nostalgia is denial...a flaw in the romantic imagination of people who find it difficult to cope with the present." Think about that one while watching the film, for I believe, there lies the moral of this fabulous fable about the past and the present.
At age 75--with more than 40 films under his belt--Allen has created a film that literally glows. Its dazzling cinematography, inventive plot, and Parisian score, combined with the top-notch acting and set-design, makes for an almost-perfect film, one that's not only clever and thought-provoking, but also entertaining and accessible--even to mainstream audiences.