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Midnight in Paris

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).

"Rue du Chevalier de la Barre stairway as in Midnight in Paris Montmartre"

The stairway on Rue du Chevalier de la Barre: a splendid place for a romantic scene no matter what century.

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.

"St Genevieve bell tower as in Midnight in Paris"

When the bells of St Etienne du Mont chime in the midnight hour, a vintage car passes down Rue du Montagne Sainte Genevieve, and the Ghosts Of Paris Past come to life.

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”.

"By the Seine Pont de Carousel as seen in Midnight in Paris"

The foot of the Pont du Carousel, opposite the Louvre: where Zelda Fitzgerald half-heartedly tries to escape from it all.

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.

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6 comments to Midnight in Paris

  • Sophie

    Did you miss something? One of his best movie!

    • Movies

      Differences in opinion are not a capital offense. On the contrary, they make the arts so much more exciting. When did you last have an animated debate about a mathematical equation?

  • I loved the movie, but you make a good point about the script issues with Owen’s character after he’s transported. I guess I’m willing to overlook those things (although significant)because it’s still just so enjoyable to watch — all of the Paris scenes, the famous characters! I especially liked Marion Cotillard’s performance. As usual, enjoyed your insights!

  • Sara

    I enjoyed this film! It blends film noir with Stardust Memories, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and a bit of Annie Hall. The scenes of Paris were enough to help make one fall madly in love. The music was superb! Having all the artists and writers show up was the ultimate name dropping contest! Their caricatures were hysterical! Casting Adrien Brody as Salvatore Dali was amazing, combined with the surreal discussion about a rhino.

    I think Owen Wilson is the greatest Woody Allen by far. He has some sort of naivete that seems to fit perfectly with who Woody seems to be and the combination of Owen’s good looks with Woody’s humor is riveting!

    Of course the “nostalgia” theme and the -I really want to be somewhere else because it’s too boring here- give the story a whole other layer of meaning. For we artists and writers it’s one of the things that sparks our creativity, so I loved this discussion and the never ending unraveling the story provokes. While he’s entertaining you, getting you to laugh hysterically about it all, you’re actually getting the point he’s attempting to make! There is no one who is so brilliant! Enjoy!

    Have a great time!

  • Richard D. Shaw

    Not to come across as Paul in this movie but I have been to Europe, on pleasure, 41 times. I have visited most of the major cities at least once and have seen many movies that have been filmed in these cities. Having said that……

    Midnight in Paris may be my absolute favorite. Your critique is correct; however, it is not relevant to my point. The beautiful scenery, the rather light-heartedness of the plot, the frequent clever dialogue, the background music – to me added up to a very enjoyable movie experience. Walking away from the theatre, my reaction was simple: Mr. Allen, well done!

    • Movies

      Thanks for dropping by Richard. I’m not a big fan of Woody Allen, at least not of his much later films, but I also did enjoy this movie because of the way he presented Paris.

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