Paris Cinema: Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’

It's not midnight, but it is most certainly Paris (Photo by Associate ET Dygert)

Spoiler Alert: Stop reading if you don’t want to know how the movie ends.  But don’t worry it won’t make a difference.

At last, a long weekend and a break from the Real Job.  Experienced Travelers need respite from everyday life so Woody Allen’s latest movie “Midnight in Paris” was just the ticket for a hot July afternoon.

Welcome to fantasy Paris, where people find taxis in the rain, and parking spaces in front of elegant five-star restaurants where they habitually dine (and not on the prix-fixe menu, either)   Suffice it to say that Experienced Travelers should suspend disbelief and enjoy the scenery.

Place Contrescarpe at the heart of the Lost Generation's playground

“Midnight in Paris” delights Francophiles with familiar locations photographed in a dreamy golden hue that sets a perfect mood for this magical fantasy tour. There’s Montmartre, the Clingancourt flea market, bridges on the Seine and even Carla Bruni in the Rodin gardens.  It’s as beautiful as your fondest memory of Paris.  (The ETs wonder if  Carla stopped after work at nearby Cantin to spend her Actor’s Guild minimum wage on cheese for the Palace)

Click here to see a detailed filming location list from the Mairie de Paris (large PDF file – takes a moment to download)

We get a typical Woody Allen story and stock characters, with Owen Wilson in a tatty tweed sport coat and wrinkled chinos, seeking life’s answers and being misunderstood by everyone.

Hollywood screen writer Gil (Owen Wilson) wants to fulfill his literary ambitions by writing a novel, and romanticizes Paris of the 1920s.  He’s engaged to upper-crust princess Inez (Rachel McAdams) who is firmly planted in the present – and most of the exclusive stores in the rue Saint-Honoré.  They tag along on a business trip with her unenthusiastic parents, where they meet Inez’ annoying, pretentious former boyfriend. One night, in a drunken stupor, Gil is transported in a classic Peugeot, back to the 1920s where legends like Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso and Gertrude Stein help him find his true self. It’s light on plot, but that’s not why we paid a ruinous $10 plus popcorn to see it on a large screen.

The well-heeled shop in the Place Madeleine while more pedestrian ETs lunch on public benches

This crowd gets no sympathy from ETs who know better.  They are blasé enough to treat the Hotel Bristol like a Holiday Inn Express, wealthy enough to order room service for breakfast (imagine the Found Money!) and crazy enough to consider an impractical  18,000 euro chair. No one rides the metro, there’s no fumbling for museum passes, fighting with ATMs or sightseeing from l’OpenTour busses.  There is no fear of the American Express bill to come, and no one mentions ruinous exchange rates.  Suspend disbelief – suspend, suspend, suspend.

The ETs stopped by Ernest Hemingway's Paris doorway. Gil did the ETs one better with the vintage Peugeot.

After all, this is Woody’s homage to Paris, city of lights.  The opening picture-postcard sequence sets the mood for a magical city that we could not begin to afford.  And thanks to Gil’s obsession with the past we get imaginary visits to the Steins on rue de Fleurus (Kathy Bates *is* Gertrude), drinks with Hemingway at Polidor, a Josephine Baker floorshow at Bricktop’s, working girls in the Place Pigalle and a humorous sequence with Djuna Barnes dancing the Charleston.   A basic knowledge of Lost Generation history helps.  “She’s back in Paris.  The trip to Kilimanjaro didn’t work out.”

Place du Tertre: A moment from 1920s Paris or the ETs last trip?

When all was said and done, I felt that Woody overlooked a nod to the important personage who, one hundred years earlier,  created the underpinnings for his protagonist’s self-awareness.  The resolution is taken right from Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”. It’s the same story; frustrated artist in search of self-realization through art realizes that the story to write is his own.  The past fuels the artistic endeavor of the present.  Of course I haven’t found a single writer or reviewer who mentions this parallel, and I will be accused of Proustian obsession by certain people who shall remain nameless.

Midnight in Paris for lucky ETs

My viewing companions gave the movie a 4.  I generously rated it a 7.  Every time the camera swept across the city I love best, I got weepy.  Like Gil, I went on a trip through the past – when I had the best omlette of my life at that café, how I crossed the Pont des Arts there, and climbed those steps to Sacre Coeur.  Recherchez, dear Readership.

(So what did you think of the film?  Leave a comment and let us know!)

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13 Responses to “Paris Cinema: Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’”

  1. Joanne Says:

    Place du Tertre: A moment from 1920s Paris or the ETs last trip?
    Hmmmm: Since it includes wine, I’m betting on the ETs last trip!

    • Julie Says:

      Allright Miss J – we’re busted. Next time we go, it’s Montmartre at night, not during the day with the roaming throng. Meal report coming on this dinner. Thx!

  2. LJ Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was the first film I’ve seen Owen Wilson in where I actually liked him. The set design was wonderful as were the street scenes. Yes, it was fantasy, but it was delightful fantasy. The nicest part was that it was a movie for adults that required some intellect but contained no profanity. How refreshing.

    • Julie Says:

      LJ, thanks for your comment! You’re right. The movie was a delightful fantasy with some intellectual interest. I imagine that not knowing about the writers and artists of the time would have someone wondering what it was all about. My movie cohort pointed out the crook in Owen Wilson’s nose – did you see it? Once I spotted it I couldn’t stop looking….

  3. LMW Says:

    Last two paragraphs are possibly the best the ET has ever written! “It’s the same story; frustrated artist in search of self-realization through art realizes that the story to write is his own…Every time the camera swept across the city I love best, I got weepy. Like Gil, I went on a trip through the past – when I had the best omlette of my life at that café, how I crossed the Pont des Arts there, and climbed those steps to Sacre Coeur.” Gems! I’m left feeling a bit weepy myself; longing for a city I don’t know…

  4. rex bierley Says:

    The movie was all the better with Owen Wilson playing the Woody Allen character. Thank you, Mr. Allen, for finally stepping aside so that I could enjoy the movie and not lament having to sit through yet another self-indulgent neurotic journey through your psyche (was there a nod to self-recognition?, that is, a successful movie script writer who lacks the talent to write something meaningful!).

    BTW: Every time I leave Paris, I have the experience of loss that is akin to parting from a lover. Knowing the city awaits your return is little compensation for the sadness that accompanies separation.

    • Julie Says:

      Rex it sounds like you suffer from the same Paris maiaise that strikes the Experienced Travelers when they’re away from Paris. There is one antidote…. a speedy return! Thanks for your comments and glad you liked the movie!

  5. Allison Grant Says:

    I give this movie an enthusiastic 10 – for Hemingway, who was hilarious! And for all of the nostalgia I felt during the photo montage, as you mentioned. Thanks!

  6. Paris Street Markets: rue Mouffetard (5e) « Julie's Paris Says:

    […] it up.  Hemingway lived nearby at 74, rue du Cardinal-Lemoine, and like the fantasy in the movie Midnight in Paris. We hoped he would appear so we could help him with his shopping which we assumed meant getting […]

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