September 14, 2011

Midnight in Paris (USA 2011)

"His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings."

This quote from Ernest Hemingway's Paris memoirs "A Moveable Feast" refers to another great American author, F. Scott Fitzgerald. But it could just as well be applied to the comedic talent of one of the great film authors of our time, Woody Allen. Hemingway's book is also the main reference point for his latest film "Midnight in Paris", in particular the scenes set in the 1920s. The butterfly comparison could also be used for the film itself. It is just as light, beautiful and bursting with life and its main character has the same urge for freedom and self-actualization.

The film starts with a picture postcard montage of Paris images - set to his trademark jazzy score - that will already put off the more cynical viewers who can't bear such an idealized portrait of a city that has gang riots going on in its suburbs. But unless you're willing to indulge in such fantasies, you won't be able to enjoy "Midnight in Paris". Pretty soon the main character, a dreamy Hollywood screenwriter on vacation with his snobby fiancée, will travel back in time to the era of his dreams, the 1920s, where he will meet such legendary artists as - besides Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds - Cole Porter, T.S. Eliot, Pablo Picasso and Luis Bunuel. To the latter one, in one of many delightful references, he even suggests the idea for a film Bunuel would eventually make in 1962. Such moments of exuberant imagination may be too much for some viewers. But maybe those people should consider stop going to the movies then because movies are, after all, made both by and for dreamers...

At least for people like myself  "Midnight in Paris" is a wish-fulfillment-fantasy which is why I can't hardly be objective about the film and its apparent lack of a "deeper meaning" that some critics in Cannes complained about. I certainly know how Owen Wilson's character feels like when he is walking the streets of Paris at night. One of the best moments of my life happened in the fall of 2002 in a city that rivals Paris in beauty: Rome. We were out with some friends from my student exchange program having a great time after a delicious dinner in a wonderful trattoria when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, heavy rainfall was setting in. Did that do any harm to our joyful mood? Absolutely not. We sought shelter in an old alley where we watched the raindrops falling on the centuries-old cobblestones. We even stopped talking. It was great. So yes, I believe that magic exists - especially in cities like Paris or Rome. We only have to be open enough to find it...

The other thought in the film that is not entirely unfamiliar to me is the nostalgic feeling of being born in the wrong time. The only difference to Woody Allen is that - would it be my screenplay - I would not travel back to the 20s but to the Paris of the early 60s to meet Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and the other legends of the then flourishing Nouvelle Vague. I would probably sitting in a sidewalk café on the Left Bank right now smoking a cigarette and - wait a second? - writing a review to a film I have seen recently at the Cinémathèque...

Woody Allen has not been taken seriously anymore recently but anyone who - at that age - has such a consistent output of charming, entertaining and intelligent films deserves nothing but the utmost respect. Not without any reason does Roger Ebert call him a treasure. As soon as he will stop making films (let's hope not that soon), the loss will be deeply felt. His films are the most beautiful celebrations of life, love and art - and "Midnight in Paris" is another prime example.


Night and the City: Marion Cotillard, Owen Wilson

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