The camera, in the hands of a lover, sweeps Paris

Midnight in Paris

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            What will he think of next? The next this time is the inspired structure of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris that allows Allen, as writer, to visit a past era he loves. In an interview in Cannes where this film opened the festival, Allen was questioned about his repeated use of the familiar tourist spots and literary icons of 1920s Paris. He replied that in his movies about New York and Paris, he films the places he has seen and loved in movies. These cities of his imagination become the landscapes of his films.
            In a grand introduction, the camera, in the hands of a lover, sweeps Paris in the morning light, at noon, at dusk, in sunshine and rain, and finally in the lights of the night. In an instant, we know just what he meant in the interview. He is filming the magic of the images stored over the years in his memory bank of the Paris he knows from the movies. But look what he does with it.
            Allen, as director, immediately trains his camera on favorite targets: The Ugly American Family utterly without redeeming features and their friend, the pedantic bore. Mother and daughter have the hard edges and dyed platinum hair of the acquisitive New Yorker. They are here to shop. Along for the ride is Inez's fiancÚ Gil Burton (Owen Wilson), a screenwriter disgusted with his craft, wanting to write a novel, and in love not with Inez (Rachel McAdams) but with the Paris of his imagination. Here is Woody Allen filming his alter ego wandering alone through Paris until, on one glorious night, as the clock strikes twelve, a yellow taxi full of revelers appears and invites Gil aboard.
            The cab carries Gil through time to his Golden Era where he wanders, awestruck, among its luminaries - Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, Toklas, Cole Porter, Dali, Sylvia Beach's bookstore. He has a delicate and lovely time with Adriana (a perfect Marion Cotillard ), and a Parisian tour guide played well by Carla Bruni who in her other life is France's First Lady. Back in his real time, Gil finds a diary in a kiosk where Adriana had once written of wandering through Paris with a young American writer.
            Allen paints his Americans in the harshest of colors and imagines the French in soft, loving tones. If he uses too many visual exclamation points to emphasize the obvious, we are still in thrall to a nerdy young American and his lovely new French girlfriend wandering the streets of an earlier time. As we watch Owen Wilson, in hip slung khakis and plaid shirt as the na´ve American, we know that after four decades of watching Woody Allen films, we in the audience have begun to see Allen himself through a lens of nostalgia. We smile at the fact that his characters are endearingly recognizable. The characters, Allen, and the audience are sliding magically through his imagining of Paris. It's delectable, nothing less.


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