Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Time(s) of His Life: Midnight in Paris

'if you could have dinner - or party - with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? and if you could live in any era, which would you choose?

Eternal existentialist Woody Allen has taken those two beyond cliche confections and made a delightful, if typically ego-driven comedic confection, mixed in the metropolitan bowl that is Paris.

"Every street, every boulevard, its won work of art" - so says protagonist Gil Pender, Hollywood screenwriting hack who's looking to make that cliched transition into Great American Novel territory. he's accompanied in Paris by his fiance, the fiendishly materialistic Inez (a fine turn by Rachel McAdams) and her equally unbearable parents. The presence of know-it-all blowhard Paul (Michael Sheen) and his fawning companion Carol (Nina Arianda) make his misery near complete.

There is, however, an escape. A chance walk through the narrow streets at midnight finds our hero lost and at his wits end when a mysterious yellow vintage Peugeot (a 1920 Landaulet, to be more precise) pulls up to the curb and the passengers bid him come in, he begins a journey back to the "Paree" of the  Roaring 20s, peopled by the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald and his troubled, live-wire wife Zelda, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein. Man Ray, Dali, Cole Porter and Picasso.

The latter's muse, Adriana (Marion Cotillard, in yet another irresistibly idiosyncratic performance) takes a shine to the anachronistic author (no one in the alternate dimension seems to notice the radical difference in his outfits or his references), even as his fiance is wasting no opportunity to belittle him in favour of the aforementioned Paul. Turns out that as happy as Gil is in this stylized 1920s Paris, Adriana has an ideal era of her own - the Belle Epoque years that closed out the 19th Century, with its skirt-twirling, high-kicking can-can girls and more artists - this time Toulouse-Lautrec, Gaugin and Cezanne among others.

having to choose between his fantasy and hers, its obvious which side Gil is going to come down on. Nevertheless, the present offers both its own realizations and welcome distractions, but for those, you really ought to watch.

You ought to watch also, though its certainly been done, the opening montage of up-to-the-minute images of Paris, shot form nearly every conceivable vantage point, and in all kinds of weather. The questions of the beginning. have been taken to their illogical extremes, but even the savviest, most jaded viewer won't mind going along for the ride. In any case, "it never gets any better than it is right now" seems to be the film's core message. Go, and see if you agree.

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