Where Midnight in Paris was Shot
If you love Paris, you should see this movie. From Midnight in Paris’ opening medley of postcard views to its romantic finale on the Pont Alexandre III, there is much to admire about the scenery, and you will be walking out of the cinema saying to yourself: Yes, Paris really is a very beautiful city.
As a declaration of love to the charms of Paris and the depth of its history, Woody Allen’s latest work is therefore a very accomplished piece. As a film, meanwhile, as drama or comedy, it works less well.
The main problem is that the script – once it has transported Owen Wilson, an artistically frustrated Hollywood hack in an increasingly dysfunctional personal relationship, from the present into the Paris of the 1920s – does not really know what to do with him there, except for carrying him from one wide-eyed encounter with a famous artist (Gertrude Stein – I mean: wow!) to the next (Picasso – I mean: wow!).
Hemingway, it must be said, is a riot and runs off with the movie in each of his scenes (confronting the meek protagonist – “do you box?” – with the mirror image of his inadequacies, much in the same way as the Bogart character did in Woody Allen’s Play It Again Sam).
If the Hemingway caricature is very skillfully sketched and extremely funny, the fact that other characters, some of them far more crucial to the development of the narrative – Wilson’s fiancee, her parents, the pseudo-intellectual Paul – remain equally flat is more of a problem.
The film is not called Midnight in Paris for nothing: all the period scenes take place at night – which largely spares the producers the effort of building expensive period sets and allows them to blot out inconvenient anachronisms (such as parking metres or bus stops).
Most of the period scenes take place indoors or in areas where non-period decor can be easily kept out of the shot: the mysterious “vintage” car chauffeurs Owen Wilson from the Rue du Montagne Ste Genevieve to a party on the Ile St Louis (where he meets Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda), a little later we see him at the Rue Malebranche sitting in a cabrio next to Cole Porter, and he woos the lovely Miss Cotillard on the Rue du Chevalier de la Barre stairway in Montmartre.
Contemporary Paris also gets a good look-in: the gardens of the Chateau de Versailles and the Musee Rodin (where Carla Bruni plays the guide) provide the backdrop for pedantic Paul’s pompous lectures on French art and history.
The Hotel Bristol – around the corner from the Elysee Palace where Bruni fulfills the duties of her day job as the wife of the French President – is the place where Wilson and his fiancee Inez spend their holiday, and the drinks party near the opening of the film takes place on the roof of the Hotel Meurice.
Inez and her mom shop for jewelry at Chopard’s near the Place Vendome and for antique furniture on the corner of Rue des Renaudes and Boulevard Courcelles (from where you get a good view of the Russian-Orthodox church of Alexandre Nevsky).
The Quai de Montebello, already used by Woody Allen in Everyone Says I Love You (where he dances with Goldie Hawn in an hommage to An American In Paris), puts in another appearance in one of Owen Wilson’s nightly walks.
Much is going on in Midnight in Paris, but little of substance, and some of the plot lines take sudden and rather baffling turns – Miss Cotillard’s decision to remain in the Belle Epoque, for example, the period she herself considers the “Golden Age”.
Her decision gives the cue for Mr Wilson to deliver what appears to be the movie’s message: that any belief in the superiority of the past is a fallacy. Before admitting himself that this is not a major insight. Well then. (If a stage comedian closes a poor performance by saying “I know I am not good at telling jokes”, does this make him any funnier?)
Whatever you may think of the message and the way it is delivered, Mr Wilson has encouraged me to share a minor insight of my own with you. Having watched the film with French subtitles, I now know that the French word for “camp” appears to be “bizarroide”. Does that say anything important about France? Probably not. I can’t help thinking, nevertheless, that inside this minor insight, a major insight may be hidden.
You might say the same about Woody Allen’s latest movie.