Sunday, June 5, 2011
The last time Woody Allen opened a film with such a loving tribute to a city was in “Manhattan” (1979), shot by Gordon Willis. “Midnight In Paris,” shot by Darius Khondji, opens with another breathtaking urban overview, this time of the French capital. Visiting Paris is Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a hack film writer trying to write a novel; his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams); and his materialistic future in-laws. None of them understand Gil's literary ambitions or his desire to stay in Paris. That desire is in part due to the city’s legendary status in the 1920s as a place where American writers, artists and musicians discovered their artistic potential.
In taking midnight walks alone, Gil finds an antique cab that regularly stops at a corner and whisks him off to his golden age, Paris in the 1920s, populated by members of the Lost Generation following World War I. Arriving at a lively party featuring Cole Porter at the piano, Gil eventually encounters Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddelston) and his unstable wife, Zelda (Allison Pill), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) and other creative geniuses. Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), American expatriate and novelist who maintained a salon, reads and critiques his novel, focused, appropriately enough, on nostalgia.
Gil also meets and courts Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who has had affairs with Hemingway, Picasso and Modigliani and is also afflicted with nostalgia for a different period, the Belle Epoque of the 1880’s. Ironically, they meet painters Cezanne and Degas, who want to go back to the Renaissance. Gil doesn’t share Adriana’s desire to stay in the 1880s and begins to gain wise perspective on the temptations and inadequacies of nostalgia. While his forays around in Paris with some of the 20th century’s greatest artists is presented most entertainingly in this charming film, Gil comes to realize that it is only in the present that he can find creative and personal fulfillment.