Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011) – Review

Review: Midnight in Paris is a funny, sweet and intellectually engaging comedy. Writer-director Woody Allen looks both at the psychology of nostalgia (looking back to a Golden Age) and picking the right person to love. The narrative’s protagonist, Gil, feels as though he is living in the wrong period, looking back to Paris in the 1920s as the perfect time and place to have lived (as it was populated by many of his influences). This overwhelming nostalgic feeling makes the present appear mundane – he is not able to appreciate his life, always looking back. This seems to be a common theme to many people’s lives – holding onto the past and not living for the present. Allen structures his film almost as a parable. Gil is so fixated on his Golden Age, he floats through his present seemingly unaware or just apathetic (to a degree) about how his life is developing – having an urge to change it, but maybe not quite the commitment to do it, as it is a fantasy, he can never really go back to that time and live then. But, Allen then uses time-travel to allow Gil to live out his dream, which enables him to find a truth about his life. What is interesting about the film (and I thought it worked well) is that Allen inserts the time-travel fantasy aspect into the narrative without really making a big deal about it, or even having his protagonist question it to a large extent (which leaves the audience wondering if these scenes are actually happening or just imagined, though it seems that there is a magical property in the world of the film and that the events actually do happen). The journey Allen creates for Gil reveals that while nostalgia can serve as an influence on a person’s life, that person still should live for the present and in the present. Many of Allen’s films are about relationships (probably all of them really). Here, Allen looks at a man in the wrong relationship, which he figures out as he comes to terms with his ‘life lesson’ learned as the parable plays out. Interestingly, Allen also introduces what seems like the right woman for Gil to both juxtapose his fiancé (who is not) and make the point of the parable. The film works very well on different layers of reality and relationships and has a nice charm to it – almost a sense of playful wonder like a small child’s imagination, which gave the film such an enchanting allure. Allen is also not afraid to engage his viewers on an intellectual level, with countless references to painters, poets, novelist, and other artists (many well known to all, and others that are not as well known to the average viewer). Allen does not feel the need to teach the audience about who these artists are or why they are important, rather he includes them as part of the fantasy (and really sort of like an in-joke or winking eye for those who know who they are). The film also seems to comment of art. Allen suggests through his characters, particularly the pompous Paul (who thinks he knows everything about everything, and just comes off very poorly), that art is not so much about what someone says is good or tells you to feel about it, but about how you feel about it solely and how you alone experience it and how it affects you (taking a jab at the profession of criticism and the canonization of art). Midnight in Paris, at its heart, is a story about being happy in your life as it is, not picking a relationship because it seems like that is the person you are supposed to be with as deemed by society and not reminiscing too much in the past, because you might miss the present.

Technical and acting achievements: Woody Allen makes a film every year (which is amazing). He writes such great dialog and characters that his films are entertaining even when maybe they do not work all that well as a whole. Recently, he has been making many films in Europe (and I think to great success). For this film Allen chose Paris, which is such a beautiful city. Allen definitely approaches it from a touristic perspective, which is immediately apparent in the opening montage (made up of mostly famous sites in and around the Tour Eiffel, Champs-Elysees and Louvre). But, the characters are tourists, so it makes sense. However, Allen, cinematographer Darius Khondji and production designer Anne Seibel create such a wonderful aesthetic (mixing the fog of fantasy with the period décor and look of the 1920s and early 1900s/late 1890s) for Paris of the past, populated by bars, apartments and other locations that are not touristic, making for a nice juxtaposition between tourist and immersed in the culture (reminding me a bit of Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, when she seeks out the beatnik culture in Paris). It is great just how out of place Gil looks in the scenes in when he goes back in time. Both Khondji and Seibel do phenomenal work on the film. The cast, filled with great performances in almost cameo roles, is excellent. Adrien Brody, Gad Elmaleh and Alison Pill are all brilliant and funny in small roles. Marion Cotillard is just so alluring and transfixing. She plays her role perfectly. Corey Stoll is genius in the film. His Hemingway commands the screen and pretty much steals every scene he is in. Michael Sheen plays his role so well, that it is almost impossible not to hate his character Paul. Rachel McAdams does a good job playing a woman who is beautiful and driven, and sort of the bad guy, as she is not right at all of Gil. Owen Wilson brings the right about of enthusiasm and wonder to the role of Gil to make it work.

Summary & score: Midnight it Paris is a lovely film, with both a bewitching aesthetic and narrative. 8/10

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