Midnight in Paris – Woody’s letter to himself.

Woody Allen likes to make films for himself and if other people like them too, well, that’s just darling.

If he wants to  copy a Bergman, he does it. If he wants to bash on endlessly about his neurosis, he does it. if He wants to be asking the same questions about the invisible pathways between men and women at 65 that he asked at 25, he does it.  If he wants to lace almost every film he makes with wistful longings for being a novelist in Paris, he does it.

And why does he get away with it?  Why do we forgive such blatant self-indulgence that – while great – cannot ever be considered genius?

Because he makes really great films that we simply love to watch.

Woody is more his traditional self in this film. As usual, he is an open wound bleeding bi-carb infused blood. This is Woody preaching to Woody. You may LONG to live in 1920’s Paris, but in the end, where you are is where you are, and that is where you are.  The film makes the statement overtly that romanticisng days gone by is a thing everyone does, and possibly has more to do with escaping life than it does with one era being superior to another. Covertly this is a meditation helping Woody come to terms with the fact that he never had the nads to give it all up and just go live the dream and write the novel in Paris.  In this film, the ‘Woody Allen’ character (very well played by Owen Wilson who brings his own stamp to the role and doesn’t allow the enormity of Allen to take him over) writes ‘dumb’ films in America and longs to live in Paris and write serious novels. (Sound like anyone you know)

Now WE all know Woody Allen is never going to give it all up and run away and write novels in Paris, and its nice to see that he may finally have worked that out too. What he tells us here is why he has always wanted to do it (because of the history) and then he uses this film to tell us he thinks that idealism of the past Parisian romantic life may have been attached to some neurotic desire to escape his present.

No shit Sherlock.

But that’s his charm isn’t it?  Woody Allen is an open bleeding wound, and his vulnerability and blatant refusal to grow or develop is part of what delights us. No poker face, here is a man who has openly splayed his analysis before us, almost begging us to judge, revealing it in barley fresh disguises permanent print after permanent print.  And get away with it he does, time and time again, and this delightful film is no exception.

I wasn’t going to like this film. I saw the trailer, and thought – ‘Mmm – fresh!  Woody Allen dreaming of living in 1920’s Paris while his real life girlfriend flirts in front of him with the words worst pseudo intellectual prat. But I went anyway. I wanted to feed that part of me that still feels like it owes him for Manhattan and Annie Hall and Husbands and Wives. I wanted those one liners, that snobby left-wing wit, that psychobable bullshit.  And then I went to the film.

My feelings when I came out, were greatly adjusted.

I’ve just spent the last couple of hours in the very fine company of Gertrude Stein, Alice B Toklas, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, Louis Bunuel, Salvador Dali, T.S. Eliot and Man Ray. And that is how this film feels. As if you were there with Gil as he enjoyed the pleasures of company of the greatest geniuses of the 20th century. We all know the premise by now, right?  Gil is a writer of ‘successful, forgettable’ films (as he calls them) from Hollywood who longs to give up his successful career and write the great novel from Paris. He is at odds over this with his fiance (Rachael McAdams) and her friends and family.  Irritated by the pompas blast of one of Inez friends, Gil decides to take a walk and this is where the film really takes off. In some way he is able to move back in time to the 1920’s in Paris. An era he feels very attached to and that he views as the golden age for art.  In this world he is able to get Gertrude Stein to read for him and the beautiful Adriana (Marianne Cotillard) shows him that there is more to life than giving in for the sake of the peace.

The current scenes are juxtaposed against the historical scenes in every imaginable way, including enjoyment factor. Rachael McAdams is pretty good as the girlfriend, Mimi Kennedy and Kurt Fuller are competent as Inez’ parents, and Michael Sheen is much better than I expected as the terrible bore. There is a cute appearance by Carla Bruni as a tour guide.But the REAL film starts with the float back in time. A bevvy of great actors play the famous artists. Everyone from Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein to Adrien Brody wonderful as the over indulged rhinoceros obsessed Salvador Dali.   These parts of the film just race along, and were the reason I was surprised to see the end of the film sneak up on me so fast.

I imagine it must be hard to portray Gertrude Stein’s salon and pull it off, but Allen does this well. Everyone is entirely convincing and the atmosphere is perfect. Because Allen and his actors have done such a brilliant job with this film, they are able to pull off some really cute moments. Gil confronts Bunuel to suggest the premise for The Exterminating Angel and Bunuel is left asking over and over why the guests can’t leave te room. Another amusing scene is when Gil decides he has to talk to someone about his movements through time, so he approaches the surrealists, Bunuel, Man ray and Salvadore Dali to talk them through his plight. Of course, them being surrealists, they find nothing strange about his travelling through time and Gil is left again t work out what is going on alone.

This film loosely looks at the themes of existentialism, modernism and nostalgia. the topics are not confronted directly (typical of Woody Allen) but are looked at through a narrative. Gil is definitely have an existential crises at a moment in time when he is about to commit to a life he never wanted for himself. He looks at Paris through the rose coloured glasses of nostalgia, longing for a time that can never be again. When Gill travels back in time, it is to confront the greatest artists of the modernist period. Philosophical literary gems sprout from the lips of the modernists as they in each waking moment are confronting the structures and restraining forces of the traditional life they have watched removed by technology and destroyed by war.

I had a really nice time with this film when I didn’t expect to. Amazingly, this is already Woody Allen’s highest grossing film ever. I guess success like that makes it difficult to ‘chuck it all’ and run away after a dream. I forgot to mention, this film has that great jazz style of music Woody uses in all his films, as well as the lovely backdrop of the great Col Porter. Woody at his neurotic best. And like I said above, he really makes such great films.

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