Great cities are at their most romantic at night, and that’s a fact. For Gil Pinder, the protagonist of this delightful film, Paris is even more romantic when the clock strikes midnight and he is transported back in time to the roaring 20s.
Midnight in Paris is the latest offering from one of my all-time favourite directors, Woody Allen. I knew I was going to absolutely love this film because I’ve loved all Woody Allen’s recent films, and Midnight in Paris certainly didn’t disappoint. Woody Allen clearly loves Paris, devoting a lengthy opening sequence simply to scenes of the city in sunshine and rain, day and night.
Paris (like Rome, my favourite city and incidentally the subject of Woody Allen’s next film) is a city in which history is palpable, an idea Allen plays with to wonderful effect. Wandering the streets of Paris alone one night, Owen Wilson’s character, a Hollywood scriptwriter-cum-struggling-novelist, becomes lost (just as he has arguably lost his way in life). As midnight strikes a 1920s car pulls up and a group of stylishly-dressed party-goers urge him to get in the car with them. They take him to a party at which Cole Porter is singing at the piano and the first person he meets introduces herself as Zelda – and immediately you know it’s going to be Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott, who lo and behold comes over shortly afterwards. Over the course of the next few nights, Gil goes back in time again and again, meeting a whole host of literary and artistic greats – Hemingway, Picasso, Matisse, Dali; the list goes on. Fittingly, it is to the Surrealists that he admits that he is a time traveller, a fact that they don’t bat an eyelid at.
But time travel is only the superficial theme of the film; nostalgia is what the film is really about. Gil’s novel features a man who works in a ‘nostalgia shop’ – a charming way of describing an antiques shop. Gil longs for what he sees as the ‘Golden Age’ of 1920s Paris, but when he gets there and meets (and falls for) Picasso’s mistress, the beautiful Adriana (Marion Cotillard), he finds that she longs for what she sees as the Golden Age of the 1890s. When they find themselves in the 1890s, hobnobbing with the likes of Degas, they find that the artists they meet long for the Golden Age of the Renaissance.
It’s very easy to be nostalgic when we’re trying to escape from an unhappy present, to look back at the past with rose-tinted spectacles. Gil seeks refuge in the past because he is stuck in a relationship with a woman he doesn’t really love – a woman who lacks his romantic nature and who is unable to love Paris the way he does. Luckily the film ends on a hopeful note; having left his awful fiancee, Gil chooses not to return to the 1920s and instead finds himself walking through the rain across the Seine with the pretty girl from the real-life ‘nostalgia shop’ he has visited by day. He realises that in the right place, the present can be Golden too.
When you love a city as much as Gil loves Paris (and as much as I love Rome!) it’s so easy to get swept up in the romance of it and to imagine that magic really can happen. And I think we all need magic in our lives, which is why I recommend this film whole-heartedly to anybody who has ever loved a city, and to anybody who, like me, has ever felt that they were born in the wrong era.
Oh, and watch out for the surprisingly lovely part played by Carla Bruni.