In this Woody Allen almost everyone comes out looking good and get what they want—some, admittedly, after they have had the chance to change their narrative. Even the pedantic professor, who is smartly ridiculed by Carla Bruni—just a museum guide in the movie but, of course, every spectator knows she is the French First Lady—has his opinion about escapism indirectly confirmed by Gertrude Stein, the most well-known literary salon host in the 1920s, who advices Gil Pender, the main character, to stop being so defeatist in his writing.
This is a movie with ample references to the inter-war Paris literary scene and some background knowledge of the lives and works of people like Stein, Hemingway, Picasso, Bunuel, Faulkner, Dadí and the Fitzgeralds (for a full list see ‘for what it’s worth’) helps appreciate some of the smart comments made by them when they meet Gil Pender (and vice-versa).
The present is the best what we have—but it wouldn’t be so without the power of imagination enabling us to travel back (and forth) in time and space. Changing places, times and persons (including relationships) is the red line through much of Allen’s work as a script writer and film-maker, and ‘Midnight in Paris’ falls nicely into this pattern.
The film is about a Hollywood writer who has had enough writing scripts for ‘wonderful but forgettable’ movies, and who is looking for inspiration for his novel in Paris. He is together with Inez, his fiancée, who is, however, an ill-match and not only because of her parents voting Republican.
She takes off with the pedantic professor, he strolls on the streets of Paris and, after midnight, right into the literary scene of the 1920s. That was when Paris was ‘a world capital of letters’ (Casanova 2005), the most cosmopolitan of places, bringing together artists, writers and musicians from around Europe and the United States. Some had found political asylum there, but the majority was just looking for a safe haven away from the conventionality constraints of their national literatures. Without Paris, some of the authors we today celebrate as among the greatest like Joyce, Faulkner, Nabokov and Ibsen would never have seen the light of (print) day.
Imagine Gil’s amazement at running into this world perchance. Soon he is crossing over every night, re-writing his novel following the advice of Gertrude Stein (wonderfully portrayed by Cathy Bates), and falling in love with Adriana, a model-lover of Picasso, Braque and Hemingway.
In the end he is back ‘home’ but is a different man. He stays in Paris, gets a girl—another one—straight from his book into real life, happy end, and the in-between is very funny.
Don’t miss it. Woody Allen’s mellow side at its best