(Woody Allen, 2011, Spain/USA)
Woody Allen’s continued underlying flirtation with fantastical and hyper-real situations, previously witnessed with the screen-fleeing charms of The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) and hypnotism-induced antics of The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), amongst others, returns once again within Midnight in Paris, the seasoned auteur’s forty-first directed feature in so many years. Returning full-time to the rose-tinted streets of Paris, after partially alighting there twice previously in Love and Death (1975) and Everyone Says I Love You (1996), Allen’s touristy representation of the city of lights bears a similar resemblance to the narrative it is pinned to; a prosperous American couple tagging along on a family business trip the French capital and experiencing more than just rooftop wine tastings and tours of the Musée Rodin.
Just as his ode to New York City in Manhattan (1979) threw us headfirst into a giddy montage of stark black and white panoramic shots, cut to the grandiose patter of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, here Allen spoils us with an idyllic, if slightly bushed opening celebration of all things Parisian, brimming with joie de vivre as it shifts from the Tuileries Gardens to Monet’s Giverny and, of course, the Eiffel Tower, easing us in to what can easily be described as a love letter to this picture perfect city.
Whereas London posed as a background shift to visually, but unsuccessfully, mask lackluster material four times over; Scoop (2006) and Cassandra’s Dream (2007) being two damp examples, Paris serves as refreshing, welcome inspiration, a gear shift for a director whose weathered career is jolted back to life, matching bouncy dialogue and a whimsically comical plot with the glossy climes of the sepia toned city of love. Paris, bathing in the warm glow of Darius Khondji’s cinematography and Cole Porter tunes, is here very much a character in the same vein Allen’s beloved New York has been in a multitude of prior films, and it is accompanied by a wealth of talent who channel and bring to life their fictional, and in some cases non-fictional characters; in particular Adrien Brody’s larger than life Salvador Dalí and Corey Stoll’s verbose Ernest Hemingway, constantly chugging from the wine bottle. Yet, it is Owen Wilson, reminding us that for every Hall Pass (2011) and vacant canine caper that he is still some semblance of a watchable actor, who excels as the giddy, wide-eyed Allen cipher, and is perhaps his most convincing synonym since his prolonged onscreen absence, though he has written himself into next years The Bop Decameron, set in Rome.
Just as the films poster pays homage to Van Gogh’s oil on canvas ‘Starry Night’, Midnight in Paris is very much a film made up of two interconnected halves; the routine relationship observations and semi-autobiographical nuances laced into the silky modern setting, and the sumptuous period pieces that span from 1920’s Paris to the golden era of La Belle Époque, as well as a brief 1700’s Versailles-set punch line, all infused by the evocation of Sonia Grande’s costumes and Anne Seibel’s luscious production designs. Paralleling the narrative’s unexplained escape from the present to relatively simpler times, Allen arrives back at the style of filmmaking that met a number of his films with widespread acclaim, chiefly the nostalgic melancholy of Radio Days (1987), and the juxtaposition of past and present flows as naturally as the freshly caught rain that trickles down the sidewalks.
If jet setting to European locales that appreciate his low key, shifting auteurist stature with reputable box office returns (though this has been his most profitable film stateside) means we get assured, sight-seeing flights of fancy such as this, then so be it, and despite it being somewhat of a subjective cliché to label this a return to form, Midnight in Paris is definitely Woody Allen firing on all cylinders.