Midnight In Paris
Much loved movie making auteur Woody Allen has tackled the trick topic of time travel only once before over his magnificently extended career and that was in his very early slapstick comedy Sleeper; Though this film was arguably made many men ago as Allen has changed and changed and changed his style, structure and goals since then to the point that his contemporary incarnation would be near unrecognizable to the Allen of the Sixties and Seventies.
Whereas those early comedies of his, such as the aforementioned Sleeper, were hectically paced, gag a minute affairs, the man that directed Midnight In Paris is one who is less inclined to go for the obvious laughs (though there are still some nice little skits thrown in here for good measure, the moment with the Private Detective towards the end was ‘Classic Allen’ in this sense) and more content to languor in the simple scenes that he has scripted.
The man’s new found tone and pacing certainly suits the setting of this his latest story, the titular city of Paris (not a spoiler). The film opens with a scene setting montage as many do – we see the city streets, the cultural landmarks, the people, etc. – but unlike in most movies this section is not included simply for its technical use; instead the way that Allen has stretched it out to seemingly cover minutes of film seems to suggest that this city is not just going to be the setting of the film, nor will it simply be ‘a character’ as the cliche goes, no Paris is to be both our protagonist and our plot for the entirety of the next ninety odd minutes.
Allen’s contemporary career has had a considerable focus on European cities (his two short forays back into the states were almost amnesiac affairs, so quickly have they been forgotten) and this change of scenery has greatly revitalized both him and his fans: Barcelona won him his best reviews in Oscar glory, the London set Match Point is my favourite film of his in thirty years and Paris has just recently become his biggest financial success despite it’s wide, international release still being some time away. These cities love him it seems and he makes it quite clear that he loves them in return; but Paris, Paris is something special even amongst these most cinematic of cities.
The film is structured, as all Allen films are, around a stuttering, semi-neurotic writer who is struggling to find his place within the current cultural climate – torn as he is between the high paying hack work of Hollywood and the prestige of writing a serious novel – and his own personal circumstances, happily then he manages to escape them entirely when he discovers that he can travel back into the cities’ prestigious past at will, when the clock strikes midnight he is transported to his golden age, Paris in the twenties. As always in Allen films the protagonist present is very much a representation of the man himself, despite being aptly played here by a charming Owen Wilson, and so it is safe to assume that Woody’s golden age is identical to that of his characters, that he is as enamored by this world as anyone would be, and the sheer joy he must have felt in re-creating it certainly comes across to the audience.
It is quite simply a delight to see all of these great artists and writers whose works have so shaped us simply living their lives; we think that we know them simply because we have read their books, poured over their paintings or been embraces by their music but it is something else entirely to see them in the flesh. I can imagine that these sections, which do make up most of the movie, may be rather bland to those unfamiliar with the people involved but if you are a fan than this is the ultimate intellectual fan-fic: having read A Farewell to Arms hearing Hemingway talk about the war is hilarious but its still done in a way that those uninitiated plebs out there will be able to follow along, even if they’re not getting the most out of it; then there are the multitude of relaxed references that simply fly out of the situation like, ‘That was Djuna Barnes? No wonder she wanted to lead!’, that will be lost on a lot of people but really make the movie for the rest of us.
Unfortunately though the film is not entirely contained within the walls of period-set Parisian bars and writer’s communes as Woody attempts to frame the whole thing with modern day material that just doesn’t work as well as it should; the main relationship, the present day visits and the ending are all serviceable they’re nice enough to quietly enjoy but they are Allen on auto-pilot, he knows how to do this stuff too easily now and therefore doesn’t seem to care too much about it, thus how can we?
The film’s ultimate message appears to be that nostalgia is overrated, there is no golden era, the present is as pretty as any time and yet the finished product doesn’t reflect that; I for one certainly enjoyed my time in the Twenties much more than I did the present day and so for me the experience was an entirely contradictory one. Though it contradicts that previous statement I need also say that the experience is an entirely enjoyable one; it’s mediocre Allen sure and you’d be better off seeking out twenty or thirty of his other films over this one, but once you do make it here you’ll have fun and sometimes that’s enough.