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Tuesday 18 October 2011

Midnight in Paris, Film, written and directed by Woody Allen, 3* out of 5

If you were given the chance which past epoch would you have liked to have lived in? For Woody Allen and his good looking all American alter-ego Gil, the protagonist of Allen's latest film Midnight in Paris, the answer is clear: the 1920s in Paris.

Gil (Owen Wilson) is a writer who visits Paris in 2010 with Inez, his fiancée and her parents. Gil is a dreamer and romantic whose sympathy for liberal and socialist causes heavily contrasts with his future in-law's neo-conservative outlook. Inez wants Gil to come around to becoming a successful novelist and her trophy-husband. Gil in the meantime has fallen under the spell of Paris, although he only seems to take in the Paris of the past. None of Paris' modern architectural structures seem to gain access to his stream of consciousness as he wanders through its streets. If it is true that we all live our lives to the tunes of an inner sound track, Gil's is 1920s ragtime influenced Jazz. One evening, as Gil strolls through Paris on his own at midnight a limousine passes by and takes him into the international life of 1920s Paris. It is peopled with rich talented more or less idealistic Americans including Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. There are also other international artists on the way to becoming famous such as Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dali, Picasso and the photographer Man Ray. They seem to be spending most of their evenings at elegant parties given by their millionaire admirers or in romantic Paris cafés.

This is archetypal Woody Allen: intellectual, neurotic and mildly amusing, with the odd successful gag and some excellent well known actors and celebrities thrown in. An example of the latter is the current French President's wife Carla Bruni playing a tourist guide, demurely but effectively dealing with a 21st century insufferable American know-it-all pain in the neck.

Midnight in Paris is mildly amusing for people who are knowledgeable about the artistic and intellectual 20th century characters who spent the 1920s in Paris. There is however no bite in the satire The fact that the dreamer is a good looking tall blond man played by Owen Williams rather than someone reminiscent of the neurotic short, middle aged Woody Allen of his earlier films makes the inner logic of the story somewhat incongruent. Nonetheless, the beauty of classical Paris, the quality of the photography and the expectation Woody Allen has about the cultural education of the viewer, flatters the audience and mitigates the disappointment with the lack of bite. For hardened Woody Allen fans of his romantic-neurotic phase, the gentle nostalgia this film evokes outweighs the relative shallowness of its satirical ambition. 

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