Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Ahh, the romance and magic of Paris!

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Sony Classics) Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Mimi Kennedy, Michael Sheen, Kurt Fuller, Lea Seydoux, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, Corey Stoll, Nina Arianda, Carla Bruni, Tom Cordier, Adrien de Van, Gad Elmaleh, Daniel Lundh, Marcial Di Fonzo Bo. Directed by Woody Allen

Paris is a place that embodies romance. When we think of the city, that is one of the first adjectives that springs to mind. Paris – City of Light, city of love. There is an ineffable magic to Paris; it is the city once prowled by Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Victor Hugo, Gaugin, Matisse, Luis Brunel, Gertrude Stein, Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington. It is the home of the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs d’Elysee. It is a city made to enchant and ensnare the visitor.

Gil (Wilson) feels their presences quite keenly. He is a Hollywood hack writer, known for successful but ultimately empty screenplays that have made him rich but haven’t fed his soul. He is in Paris vacationing with his fiancée Inez (McAdams) and her Tea Party parents John (Fuller) and Helen (Kennedy). There they run into Paul (Sheen), a former beau of Inez, a know-it-all who like many of that sort generally know nothing. He precedes nearly every thought with “If I’m not mistaken…” which, as we all know invariably means they are.

The others are tourists in a place that they have no emotional connection to; Gil loves Paris, particularly the Paris of a bygone age. He pictures it after dark, a soft rain falling. He goes for midnight strolls around the streets of the city. After one, he is resting on some marble steps near the Pantheon, not quite sure where his hotel is when an antique car pulls up alongside him and a young couple gesture for him to join them. That’s where the magic and romance truly begins.

I’m being deliberately vague about the rest because I don’t want to spoil the surprise of the movie. This isn’t your typical Woody Allen movie – there are no neurotic New Yorkers to be found here. Instead, this is more akin to movies like Purple Rose of Cairo and Play It Again, Sam – movies that have an element of fantasy and romance to them.

Woody Allen, despite all his jokes to the contrary, is deeply romantic at heart. He believes in magic and destiny, points that are made in nearly every one of his movies. He also requires a certain amount of literary awareness of his audiences and the references here are many and varied; from the manliness of Hemingway, to the rough-around-the-edges kindness of Gertrude Stein to the self-promoting whimsy of Dali.

He has some comments for the cultural insensitivity of Americans, and the tendency for us to wish we lived in a Golden Age when Things Were Better. He makes the point that those who lived in that time were in all likelihood thinking that things might have been perfect at some previous era to that. Maybe cavemen thought wistfully that things were so much simpler back when they were Cro-Magnon.

 Wilson makes a nice surrogate Woody, having naturally some of the inflections and cadences of Allen at the peak of his game in the 70s. He has always been an amiable sort onscreen and that easygoing charm serves him well here. Cotillard, one of the most beautiful and talented actresses working today, plays a love interest in the movie that catches Gil’s eye. Also of note is the French first lady who plays a tour guide at the Rodin sculpture garden (where she runs afoul of know-it-all Paul) and Brody who plays a famous Spanish artist with over-the-top panache.

I’m not a big Woody Allen fan, particularly lately when his movies have been extremely uneven in quality. This is by far his best movie in decades, clearly one of the best movies he’s ever made. I don’t know if it is the change in location that has inspired him but if so, let’s see him do some movies in Tokyo, New Orleans, Montreal and Barcelona. He’s definitely an acquired taste that I haven’t acquired – until now. I will admit that my view is colored by the fact that in less than two weeks my wife and I will be taking a vacation in Paris so seeing the places we’ll soon be haunting ourselves gave us a special thrill. Nonetheless, this is wonderful filmmaking, bringing back the magic and romance that movies used to bring us in massive doses – and seems to be so rare and precious today.

REASONS TO GO: As charming a movie as you’ll ever see. Perfectly captures the romance and magic of Paris. Allen’s best in decades, maybe ever.

REASONS TO STAY: You’re a big Woody Allen fan and you think Play It Again, Sam and The Purple Rose of Cairo were his worst films.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexual references and quite a bit of smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The flea market scenes were filmed at the market on the days it was normally closed with crew members and extras dressing the stalls for filming, then restoring the market to its normal appearance when filming was done.

HOME OR THEATER: This should be seen in a darkened theater with a big tub of popcorn and a soda; the magic of Paris combined with the magic of the movies.


TOMORROW: And Soon the Darkness

Avenue Montaigne

Avenue Montaigne

Jessica is a tourist in Paris and in life.

(THINKfilm) Cecilie de France, Valerie Lemercier, Albert Dupontel, Sydney Pollack, Claude Brasseur, Christopher Thompson, Dani, Laura Morante, Suzanne Flon. Directed by Danielle Thompson

Life imitates art, it is often said but the reverse isn’t always true. From time to time, art – and the artists who make it – is completely at odds with reality.

Jessica (de France) is a wide-eyed innocent who was orphaned at age four and was raised by her delightful grandmother (Flon), who had a taste for luxury but unfortunately not the pocketbook for it. She contented herself by being a ladies room attendant at the Ritz Hotel, able to rub elbows with the very rich at least indirectly.

Now on her own, Jessica comes to Paris looking for a job but without much experience. She talks her way into a job as a waitress at a café on the Avenue Montaigne, a center of the arts in Paris. At the Bistro, the famous and the lowly come to eat from the stagehands and ushers to the stars of the theater and the concert hall across the street.

Three events are taking place three days from her first day; a recital by Jean-Francois Lefort, a world-famous classical pianist (Dupontel) who has grown weary of his lifestyle and yearns to play for a less discerning audience, despite the fact that his adoring wife and agent (Morante) has him booked for the next six years. There is also an art auction as a businessman and connoisseur named Jacques Grunberg (Brasseur) is selling off the contents of his former life, which irritates his estranged son Frederic (Thompson, the son of the director) who sees his father dating a much younger woman he once had an affair with (unbeknownst to the father) and leaving the legacy of his mother behind.

Finally, there is the performance of a farce at the theater starring Catherine (Lemercier), a star on a wildly popular soap who yearns for more substantial roles. She hopes she might get one in a biography of Simone de Beauvoir that an American director (Pollack) is putting together. Although the casting director for the film hates her, she still hopes she can win the director over.

Jessica moves in an out of their lives like a sprite, befriending the elderly concierge (Dani) who is retiring after the performances. With no place to live and knowing nobody, Jessica sleeps in the dressing room of the concert hall and befriends the performances so guilelessly that they can’t help but feel comfortable with her. But as things move towards the night of the performances, each performer feels the weight of their demons moving in. Can the show go on when the showman doesn’t have the will to perform any longer?

Director Thompson (Jet Lag) has crafted a typically charming slice of life in the French capital as it relates to the arts on the Avenue. This is not a love letter to Paris – although the beauty of the city is well on display, the movie takes it more as a matter of fact that you love Paris. And who wouldn’t? Even the neuroses are charming.

De France carries the movie effortlessly, a pixie in a sidewalk café who flits from situation to situation with enough pluck to make her adorable. Lemercier also captures the neurotic television star with the right mix of frenetic kinesis, nervous tics, self-loathing and blind ambition to make her believable, but with enough heart to make her worth caring about. Dupontel is also solid as a pianist who is a prisoner of his own talent and fame.

The one drawback is that it is hard to feel much sympathy for people who are so successful, so famous, so wealthy. Not that people with success, fame and wealth are without problems, but one must take them with a grain of salt.

There is also a subtext about the relationship between the young and the elderly, starting with Jessica and her grandmother but also including Jacques and his son and Jessica and the concierge. I actually kind of liked it; too often we dismiss the wisdom of our elders because of our own arrogance. The fact is we don’t freakin’ know it all.

Any movie that takes place in a French café had better be prepared to charm the pants off of you, and Avenue Montaigne accomplishes that. This isn’t something that is going to give you remarkable insight; rather it is a fluffy entertainment, a meringue if you will. Nothing wrong with that, so if you like your movies light and charming this just might be your ticket.

 WHY RENT THIS: A delightful slice of Parisian life in the arts as seen by a wide-eyed innocent from the provinces. Some timely themes about ageism and class distinctions.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It is occasionally hard to feel sympathy for people who are successful and adored but are miserable.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief sexuality and some salty language but otherwise fine for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actress Suzanne Flon passed away shortly after filming was completed. As the end credits begin, we see a tribute page to her with the actress, offscreen, repeating a line from earlier in the film stating that she had a good life.



TOMORROW: Frozen River