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Midnight in Paris: Woody Allen’s ode to the City of Love

By Murtaza Ali • Published on February 5, 2012

[M]idnight in Paris is a subtle romantic drama with a comical touch that has a little bit of almost everything: be it magic-realism, romance, phantasm, voyeurism, surrealism or even noire. It wouldn’t be a hyperbole to proclaim that everything that Woody Allen learned and gained during his long stint in Cinema culminated in the form of Midnight in Paris – An ode to the City of Love, and its most celebrated denizens of the past. Driven by the very impetus that gives Cinema its resonant charm, Woody Allen the auteur has seen his art go from strength to strength, taking new shapes and forms, being completely oblivious of the existence of his larger than life alter ego, Woody Allen the showman, whose stimulating works have been a treat for us all for last so many decades, and who himself has been a force to reckon with, right throughout his long and illustrious career that still seems to be in its prime.

I have grown up watching works of legendary Dev Anand, whose iconic movie career spanned well over six decades.  Being an Indian, I guess it comes naturally to one! The first that I heard of Woody Allen was when someone eloquently referred to Dev Sahab as the Indian Woody Allen. It indeed seemed revolting! A showman, whom not only you but also your grandparents have grown up watching being compared to some run-of-the-mill movie maker from the Occident. But, it did succeed in getting me hooked. Today, I find the comparison to be much more apt. Dev Sahab was oblivious to the changing trends in the India Cinema, and remained royal to his idiosyncratic style. The same can be said about Mr. Allen, who became the champion of a resurgent parallel stream in American Cinema—inspired by the avant garde works of European auteurs like Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman—while others kept busy figuring out their new roles in rapidly changing American movie circles.

Vintage Woody Allen, watching Midnight in Paris is like savoring the great city of Paris with the eyes of Mr. Allen himself. Midnight in Paris made an emphatic debut at the 2011 Cannes Festival, and succeeded in leaving a lasting impact on most of those present at the screening. During a press conference at Cannes, Woody Allen had said that he wanted to show the city of Paris emotionally, and wanted it to be the way he himself sees it, and he indeed succeeds in fulfilling his dream by bringing the city to life, thanks to his  perspicacious eye.

Midnight in Parispresents a chapter in the life of a successful but disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), who

Woody Allen and Carla Bruni

yearns to break the shackles of monotony by writing a fiction novel, but is perplexed by his slender prospects as a writer beyond the glamour and razzmatazz of the sequestered world of Hollywood, while he is out on a vacation to the breeding ground of creativity and talent, Paris, and accompanying him are his ravishing fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and his affluent future in-laws. The perfunctory relationship that Gil shares with his fiancée seems to be a result of Inez’ perpetually disinterested outlook towards Gil’s ambition of graduating into a full-fledged writer by making a foray into fiction writing. The beauty of Midnight in Paris is that it poses several questions, and while many of them may be answered in the due course of the movie, the onus truly lies with the viewer to fathom the reality based on his/her own understanding. One major question that would continuously perplex the viewer is whether it is the yearning for creativity or the want for true love or the search for something even more profound that’s haunting Gil?

The movie has loads to offer even to the average viewer, especially to ones who are willing to delve deep into the realm of the unknown to savor the real delight that awaits them. The dreamlike sequences that depict Gil interacting with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, and Pablo Picasso are an absolute treat to watch. While I greatly admire Hemingway and Fitzgerald for their indelible contribution to English Literature, I just absolutely idolize Luis Bunuel not only as a Surrealist, but also as a movie maker par excellence. Who can dare to overlook Bunuel’s decorated oeuvre right from his maiden venture, An Andalusian Dog (1929), which he collaborated with another pioneer Surrealist, Salvador Dali to his surrealistic magnum opuses, The Exterminating Angel (1962), to which Mr. Allen pays a tribute in the movie, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), which won the Best Foreign Picture Oscar for the year?

Woody Allen’s inspired direction and insightful screenplay are well complemented by a very fine ensemble of support cast that includes the likes of Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody. The music and cinematography are awe-inspiring to say the least. Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams perfectly fit in their respective caricatures, and the charming presence of Marion Cotillard adds a whole new spark to the movie. The movie has already managed to bag a handful of accolades, and the Oscar nomination is indeed an icing on the cake. Midnight in Paris crosses genres, and presents Cinema at its most colorful, while also serving to be a delightful cinematic experience that has something for almost everyone.

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