Sunday 6 November 2011

Midnight In Paris

We’ll Always Have Paris!

Midnight In Paris 2011 Spain/USA
Directed by Woody Allen
Screening at UK cinemas.

Warning: Spoilers abound in this review.

I don’t often get to see Woody Allen films these days but, when I was a kid and then a teen, he was one of my heroes. Stardust Memories was one of my favourite of his movies, although I loved the majority of his work (including his “early funny ones”) and I also liked to listen to his stand up material.

These days I don’t get to see his work much because, frankly, it usually only appears on local cinema screens for one week over here in the UK if you’re lucky, if at all. For Midnight In Paris, I’d missed the week it did at my local cinema but travelled into the heart of London to catch it down there while it was still around.

Midnight In Paris belongs in Woody’s slightly more outrageous “fantasy” work if I had to try to place it or position it with any of his other movies. It’s like the plays he was writing in the 60s and 70s which had a certain fantasy element which the audience really needs to buy into and suspend disbelief with. These movies are now more prominent within his body of work but I guess he started this kind of fantasy cinema with his movie The Purple Rose Of Cairo and it’s very much a signature of his more wilder flights of fancy that he tends not to be at all interested in the mechanics which make his fantasies work on screen (or whatever venue they are in - stage play at the theatre, script in a book) and some younger audiences these days, who seem to be obsessed with the intricate plot devices to make their fantasy worlds more “believable”, may have trouble with this fact.

For me though, it’s always a breath of fresh air that Allen doesn’t bother to explain his worlds... you just have to accept them or not and move on. Midnight In Paris is a case in point.

The film stars Owen Wilson as Gil, a struggling writer who is about to marry his sweetheart but, as you will probably guess from the earliest stages of this film, he’s going to be left seriously questioning that relationship before long. While on holiday in Paris he finds a portal to the past, whereby if he waits at midnight in a certain spot, a car will arrive for him and whisk him away for a few hours back in time to 1920s Paris where he falls in with the likes of Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter etc. Hanging out with the literary set gives him the confidence he needs as a writer and, when he falls in love with Pablo Picasso’s latest lover, played by Marion Cotillard, he realises that he can’t continue on with his headlong rush into marriage (especially after Hemingway clues him up that his fiance is having an affair). After he and his new 1920’s sweetheart travel back in time to meet Toulouse-Lautrec, and he sees the effect this has on her, he also finally sees that he can’t live his life in the past and that the present is always somebody else’s golden age and that he needs to live in it while it’s here.

As usual with a Woody Allen film, the direction, cinematography, script, performances and general execution of this production are all top notch and I wouldn’t expect anything less from this genius of contemporary American cinema. Woody Allen is one of the true artists of film and, while it’s easy to forget his genius due to the lack of exposure his films tend to get these days, it’s still a basic truth that the brush strokes he paints his celluloid canvass with are as relevant today as they always have been. And the strength and truth of his work is not something which can be brushed off lightly, even though his films usually have an intrinsic lightness or fluffiness in their demeanour (if not their subtext).

And frankly, you’ve got to love any film where the main protagonist hangs out in a bar with young Man Ray, Bunuel and a rhinoceros obsessed Salvador Dali (in a great little cameo by Adrien Brody) and then, when he later meets up with Bunuel again, gives him the idea for The Exterminating Angel. What a great little film this latest slice of Woody Allen’s brain turned out to be. I’m so glad I made the trip into London to see it... and I’ll definitely be picking this one up on DVD and giving it another watch next year. Great movie. Nice idea. Treat yourself to an hour or two in the company of the smart set of 1920’s Paris. A definite recommendation from this reviewer on this one!

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