Friday, October 14, 2011
Woody Allen's 'Midnight in Paris' - A Movable Feast
‘Prufrock is my mantra’ shouts Gil (Owen Wilson) before jumping into a 1920 taxi with T S Elliot. We will come back to the chronological absurdity of the scene later. Gil here is shouting about the crux of the film - ‘Midnight in Paris’. This latest offering from the old warhorse Woody Allen deal with the theme of ‘Prufrock’ or ‘The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ by Elliot. This anthem of longing, frustration, confusion and ennui has been described as ‘the perception of a diminished world unable to satisfy a hungering sensibility’. Gil is suffering from this problem and is hankering for the literary and aesthetic stimulations provided by Paris of 1920s.
The film is one of the realized products of Woody Allen type of cinema-witty and wistful. Such films are generally a frantic description of a slice of time in the lives of the protagonists, who are perpetually bewildered and slightly dissatisfied practitioners of intellectual professions like writing, painting or acting. During that slice of time these protagonist undergo an even more heightened level of bewilderment and dissatisfaction. This makes a Woody Allen film a jaunty ride of gentle wit, fluent intellect and rising confusion. The bumbling journey to the resolution is often both hilarious and poignant. ‘Midnight in Paris’ is, in the words of New York Times film critic A O Scot, “a credible blend of whimsy and wisdom.”
This film opens with a couple on holiday in Paris with her parents. Gil and Inez (Rachel McAdams- you get a feel of Woody Allen’s taste in women – Scarlett Johansson, Naomi Watts etc) are the couples Gil is a dissatisfied screenwriter from Hollywood harboring the desire to be great novelist and is working on a novel about a ‘nostalgia shop owner’ Gil would like to live in Paris. Inez would like to live in a high-end American suburb, like her parents. He wanders in the streets and one night when clock strikes midnight, an old car drives up to him and he is invited to a party. He discovers that he is with the literary greats of his dreams and aspirations. The mechanism of this time travel is left tastefully unexplained. Movie requires a degree of cultural literacy like any Woody Allen Movie. One will enjoy more if she is aware of ticks and clichés of these greats.
Owen Wilson manfully fills the shoes of quintessential New York liberal intellectual played so often with feverish jumpiness by Woody Allen himself. Wilson lends his goofy charms to the angst, ennui and sometimes stupid hankerings of his character. He provides a strong template for investigation of the complex emotion of nostalgia. The film conveys both the futility and utility of nostalgia. It clearly indicates that nostalgia is a filtered sensation- keeping in the pleasant and shedding the mundane. Gil is excited about 20s Paris where Picasso, Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Hemmingway , Dali and many others have created a robust if slightly rambunctious atmosphere of heady creativity and jazzy aesthetics. But for his time-travelling love interest Adriana, who on her own part was continuing with both Picasso and Hemmingway, Golden age was anything but her present (i.e. 20s Paris). Thus, the reality of this seductive experience is well recognized but this is done without portraying it in bad light. Gil did find exhilaration in ‘his’ golden age which is marked in stark contrast to his mundane and unsatisfying existence in 21st century. However, he finds a degree of resolution only after dealing with his problems in present times. Woody Allen is able to point out the deficiencies of nostalgia mongering but does so without really rejecting it.
Performances are pitch-perfect and bring out the potential, charm and confusion of the concept of the movie. Rachel McAdams has looked beautiful and uncompromisingly spoilt. Marion Cotillard as Adriana is strong in a very strong character. Casting of literary greats from the past is uncanny and Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein totally conveys the core of ‘an American, practical, no-nonsense, possessed with a nose for talent, kind, patient’ mentor. French First Lady Carla Bruni is also present as Rodin Museum Guide.
The director uses cities he loves as key factor in his movies. Like ‘Vicky Christina Barcelona’ Manhattan and Manhattan Murder Mystery; Midnight in Paris is as much about the city as it is about actors and their travails. Like the other movies, Midnight in Paris also starts with a montage of scenes from the city. These montages are reflective of his deep love for these cities. Midnight in Paris ends with the dialogue by Gils new friend ‘Paris is the most beautiful in the rain’ and he agree totally-so do we. In the movie we witness Hemmingway using his remark on Paris as ‘movable feast’. Woody Allen’s gaze is unfalteringly loving. He sucks the viewer into the mood of the fan. Great cities have an atmosphere shaped by the great hand of time. Joie de vivre of the denizens is the other critical factor. Woody Allen knows that and is able to establish that no party, no conversation no soiree goes away in such cities and lives on in ‘ripple of time’. Greats of the city are waiting to be discovered and charm you at every corner. Nostalgia is, after all, not a bad thing. A tender sensation- good for romance- great for stoking poetic hankering.