Woody Allen, 74, hasn’t taken any steps back in his career. He keeps up an enviable work rate, releasing on average a film a year. In total, he has directed 46 films since the 1960s.
His latest, which opened in Cannes, “Midnight in Paris” earned him an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay. In this tribute to the city of light, and the greatest artists of the 1920s, we are invited to visit the brain of Woody Allen and get carried away with his view of the world.
Successful Hollywood screenwriter Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) visits Paris with his pushy fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her very wealthy conservative American parents. Gil finds in Paris an inspiration for the completion of his first novel about an antique shop, but Inez finds in his passion a useless romantic daydream, especially when he reflects leaving his career behind and moving to Paris. Inez wants to live in Malibu after their wedding. By chance, the couple is accompanied by Inez’s friend Paul, a pseudo-intellectual who speaks with a demeaning confidence without real insights, but Inez finds in him the man Gil should be.
One night, Gil wanders the streets of Paris while Inez goes dancing with Paul and his wife. At the stroke of midnight, a vintage car pulls up, and the passengers, all dressed in 1920s clothing, invite Gil to join them at a party. Gil is transported into the 1920s which is an era he is fond of, but on the first night he tries to grasp what’s happening to him as he starts meeting with the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, and Ernest Hemingway who agrees to show Gil’s book to Gertrude Stein. Gil also meets Picasso, Bunuel, Dali and many others.
This type of nostalgia is not unusual in Woody Allen’s films. If he’s not playing the role himself, the main characters speaks his tongue which is exactly what Gil is doing. The dialogue is typical of Woody Allen’s way of thinking.
The film is also obviously a tribute to Paris and European cinema. It’s true that Gil finds himself against the world, against his never-satisfied in laws, discouraging fiancée, and pseudo intellectuals like Paul, but it’s a circle one can step away from. Throughout his career, Allen has always taken a stand against those who pretend to know a little too much. He ridicules them in this film.
At the same time, Gil’s nostalgic reminiscences help him step out of the denial of his current relationship. They clear his mind. He starts realizing that he has nothing in common with Inez; in turns, he grasps at the best out of his fantastic experience.
This is the second film this year to transport us to old Paris Both Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo are both drenched in nostalgia, inspired by art, but they end up in opposite places. Allen, shows respect for the filmic past and his favorite artists; Scorsese’s film is an homage to Georges Méliès, the French cinema pioneer. Both hint at the power of the movies to heal and transform our lives.
It is a very enjoyable film with thorough and very witty insights to the way great intellectuals of past decades may have been. They’re portrayal is unpretentious and realistic. It is also devastatingly funny.