Midnight in Paris

The film opens with a glorious montage of Paris scenes, 1920’s era Jazz playing underneath, and I know that I am being transported…lifted out of my common existence for a bit and carried far away. I just have no idea how far……

On this night I will party with Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald while Cole Porter belts out tunes on the parlor piano. I will listen with mouth agape to the profound ramblings of one Ernest Hemingway. I will arrive at the salon of Gertrude Stein just in time to hear her critique the work of a passionate young Spanish painter. Pablo Picasso. At every turn they are there waiting for me; the luminaries of 1920s Paris. It is a most marvelous adventure as I stumble upon Salvadore Dali….he is quite a character…T.S. Eliot…the exquisite Josephine Baker. I must be dreaming…

Gil is a writer. He came to Paris once when he was a young man. He can’t remember why he left. He is enchanted by the city. It nourishes something deep inside him. His fiance and her family, on the other hand, seem determined to be uncharmed by the city. Cynical and without imagination, they exploit  but refuse to understand. One quickly gets the sense that this is their approach to Gil as well.

One evening he takes a stroll to clear his head. As an ancient clock clangs the hour of midnight, a car pulls alongside him and whisks him away into the world he feels he was born for, Paris in the 1920s. The “perfect era”. It is his dream I have been walking in, not my own. Though for all the delight it brings me, it might as well have been.

He meets a girl, Adriana. She was mistress once to Modigliani, then Braque, and now Picasso. A haunting beauty (played mesmerizingly by Marion Cotillard), she captivates Gil. And she finds in him a safe place to confide that she too longs to have lived in a different time. La Belle Epoque of Paris; the 1890s. We will pay a little visit to this world as well, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at the Moulin Rouge. She will decide to stay here. Gil will not.

In between the gorgeous cinematography and the continual delight of bumping into these remarkable personages, there are questions to ponder. Questions about fear. About dreams. About settling, taking the path of least resistance. About escape. And about, as Hemingway says, what is true.

Midnight in Paris is one of the most enjoyable films I have ever seen. My fellow theater goers and I laughed out loud in places. Gasped and sighed. Owen Wilson gives a most nuanced and winsome performance. And though I will not spoil the film by revealing how it all turns out in the end, I will tell you that there is a very satisfying last scene…on a bridge…with a girl…in the rain…

To ponder: If you could visit any past era, any location, where would you go? I would love to know.