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Friday, September 30, 2011

Midnight in Paris

A Nebbish Jew in Paris
Woody Allen's films have always been soaked in sarcasm; even dripping with an understated sense of irony. The man has a hold on the human sexual condition, and is, at best, the consummate writer. Dating back even to the days of Take the Money and Run, Allen's keen observation on mankind's lack of a moral trust has driven his screenplays forward (thought, sometimes, right into the ground). With Midnight in Paris, he moves his characters forward and into the ground, simultaneously. There's a grimy sense of resolve to this film, that makes it seem less like a love letter and more like a middle finger, and the end of an era in Allen's career - his Euro-flavor of the decade might be wearing off. Or, at least, wearing thin. 

Gil Pender (an immaculate Owen Wilson) is an American writer trying to rediscover his voice in the midst of denial. Denial regarding his own depression, his failing engagement to the seemingly perfect Inez (Rachel McAdams), and his fledgling career as a novelist. He's worked as a screenwriter for Hollywood, at least that's how he'd say it, for quite some time now and has a feeling that's all he'll amount to. Though, there's something to be said for that. But, never mind. He's unhappy, and that's common in Allen's world. He's undersexed, and that's also fairly common. To say that the abstract version of the idea of "cheating" is a recurring theme in Woody Allen movies is to reiterate that he writes them next to a thesaurus. It is what it is, and that's enough for him. 

Midnight in Paris might be the most bitter and negative of his most recent films. Odd, pairing Match Point among the crowd, but the film flows like a long-winded backhanded compliment. There's a seething undercurrent of depreciation for France, and maybe Europe in general. Even worth noting that the realistically fictionalized characters that inhabit Gil's fictionally realistic world are American tinkers and tailors, most of those responsible for the make of culture we know today. Yes, there are those classical European poets and painters we would all recognize a mile away, but there's a sense of America in this version of Europe that can't be shaken. So much so that Europe and her makers are stereotyped and painted more broadly than Paris itself. An American's tourist perception of what these people, and these places, might be. They are accurate, as far as we know, but to those who were there, we might be just as broad a picture to them, now, as we were, then, to us. Make sense? Because that's the tone Allen takes with his audience in this picture. Hints of New York flow under the Parisian bridges, even in the way the film is designed. For the first time in Allen's Euro-genre, there's nothing European but the setting. Not even the cinematography. Even the music feels ironic. 

The film, however bitter, is a travelogue for those having never been to Paris. Mentions of Bordeaux and Giverny might not be enough for those who have fled the Eiffel to seek the refuge of their once forsaken Liberty Bell, though there's a remark in Allen's writing of this story that amuses me the most - everybody leaves but him. 

He walks the city streets at midnight (in Paris. Get it?) and stumbles across a time warp, taking him back to the 20's. He talks shop with Hemingway and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), he dines with Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel, he witnesses Picasso have a nervous breakdown, and meets F. Scott and the lovely Mrs. Fitzgerald. He lives a writer's wet dream, and several other writers' lives, in the span of only a few evenings. Obviously, there's no going back from that. But maybe that's what Allen has been trying to say all along? There's this time he's spent across the pond, trying to find a new voice in his career, but not matching the success he found in a different age (the golden age of film in the 70's, much like the golden age of literature and art in the 20's). It's all open to interpretation, much like fine literature and high art, but it's worth noting that Allen's films are getting more and more grim.