Monday, August 22, 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Midnight in Paris

Directed by Woody Allen

Screenplay by Woody Allen


Gil Pender - Owen Wilson

Adriana - Marion Cotillard

Inez - Rachel McAdams

Ernest Hemingway - Corey Stoll

Paul - Michael Sheen

Zelda Fitzgerald -Alison Pill

F. S. Fitzgerald - Tom Hiddleston

Gertrude Stein - Kathy Bates

Helen - Mimi Kennedy

(SPOILER ALERT in the LAST THREE paragraphs)

A vacation is meant to be an escape from mundane reality, or short-lived dwelling in a fleeting moment of fantasy. Once a getaway turns into a desired place to settle down, however, it eventually loses its charm and blends stealthily into that banality that you so want to break out of. That's the dilemma facing many--escapism is such a temptation that you want to hold on to forever, but when it becomes a part of everyday life, it's no longer what it used to be.

Enter Midnight in Paris's Gil Pender, an aspiring screenwriter-turned-novelist, who wishes to live permanently in Paris, a desire that his mercenary-minded fiancée Inez shrugs off as a temporary acting-out of frustration over writer's block. For Gil, Paris is a breeding ground for artistic inspiration and the ingenuity of classic souls, in particular those of the 1920s, Gil's idolized "belle epoque." Hence his trip to Paris with Inez, he reasons, will ease him into a creative mood.

Even in Paris, however, Gil finds himself trapped in the shallow distractions of American materialism, represented by Inez and her conservative parents, which he feels hinder his creative labor. Adding to the plague are Inez's friend, Helen, and her husband, Paul, an insufferable pseudo-intellectual, who just can't resist the urge to enlighten every single philistine on the planet. So although on a retreat to his dream city, Gil still craves an escape.

After some touring, instead of another miserable night out dancing with Inez, Helen and Paul, Gil chooses to roam around the city and gets lost. Then, when church bells strike midnight, a mysterious antique car emerges from nowhere, invites him in, and drives off to a bar. Soon it dawns on a puzzled Gil that he has just landed in a revived 1920s Paris. He subsequently meets his literary idols and then-expatriates in the city--F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and a night later, Gertrude Stein.

Aside from those literary legends, Gil's even introduced to Pablo Picasso and his mistress Adriana whose free-spirited allure enchants him in a heartbeat. His encounters also include those with Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Luis Bunuel, and when transported with Adriana to the 1890s, Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. And during the whole layer-after-layer time travel, there's no indication whether Gil's just dreaming. Needless to say, it doesn't seem real--but then, it's not entirely illusory, either.

As Gil's obsession with the Lost Generation's bohemianism, disgust with the superficiality of Inez and her very American family, and feelings for Adriana reach their peak, he begins to realize that he's not the only one fantasizing about the golden age: it turns out, for Adriana, the 1890s are what the 1920s are for Gil. In the end, Gil parts ways with Adriana as she decides to live in la Belle Epoque.

But even after contradicting his nostalgic self by reminding Adriana that, after all, "life is unsatisfying" and "that's what the present is," Gil doesn't go back to those exhorting him to be "grounded." Midnight in Paris doesn't conclude with Gil happily living the rest of his life in Paris--but with him opting to live in the moment, even if it still seems to the likes of Inez and her parents to be bordering on vain escapism.

That's the beauty of Allen's latest heartwarming installment to his extended love affair with Europe: living in the present doesn't have to be dream-deprived. While a prolonged departure from everyday and unrelenting refusal to embrace daily life can lead to naive delusions, allowing a dose of escapism, and even thriving on it, doesn't necessarily hurt. Or at least that's what Allen's vicarious wish-fulfillment through Gil Pender tries to convey.

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