A peculiar fate binds love and Paris—and apparently, romance movies. From Maurice Pialat’s depressingly sober À Nos Amours to the more buoyant Paris, Je T’Aime, directors have shown a penchant for charting out love affairs in Paris. Woody Allen’s latest film is no exception. The opening scenes of Midnight in Paris showcase picturesque views of the city: a boat crossing the Seine, the iconic Moulin Rouge windmill, café sidewalks in the rain. The montage runs too long for my taste, but it does establish the city’s grandeur—curiously, not as a city of attractions (although there’s that), but as an everyday residence, where one can gladly brave occasional showers without an umbrella. But in case three full minutes of postcard pictures isn’t enough to hammer home the idea, Woody Allen further underscores the point with an actual line in the movie: “That Paris exists and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me.”
Indeed, Paris has held firm to its reputation as a magical place, where—at least for those “temporarily passing through”—logic takes a back seat and anything can happen. In this enchanted realm, inhibitions are relinquished by the mere mention of the city’s name. Following this tradition, the film sets at its center the nostalgic malaise of urbanites, the longing to transport oneself to a different era: “That’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life is unsatisfying.” But although Midnight in Paris indicates disconnection and discontent, watching it made me feel fulfilled, in no small part because of the fantastic vicarious experience it provides. Maki and I easily identified with Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), an aspiring novelist whose literary career is built on Hollywood screenplays. Visiting Paris with his fiancé (Rachel McAdams), he feels inexplicably drawn to the city, where on a midnight stroll he discovers an anachronistic world and a girl named Adriana (Marion Cotillard).
I thoroughly enjoyed this film, but I also understand that it’s not for everyone. For one thing, not all would appreciate its myriad references, which are what make the movie so gratifying. In one scene, we meet T.S. Eliot. In another, we hear Salvador Dali exclaiming, “I see a rhinoceros!” It’s both absurd and exciting. Although selective in its viewership, Midnight in Paris promises an amusing ride, filled with surprises that make you hungry for the next adventure.
‘No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.’
‘If it’s bad, I’ll hate it. If it’s good, then I’ll be envious and hate it even more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.’
‘I believe that love that is true and real creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving, or not loving well, which is the same thing. And when the man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face…it is because they love with sufficient passion to push death out of their minds, until the return that it does to all men.’
‘The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.’
‘You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city? You can’t.’