Thursday, September 8, 2011



Midnight in Paris’ opens with snapshots of the city that looks to shy away from its own romance. Woody Allen’s nostalgia shop thus cranks open, the sequence being his dry remark not just on the city but of present day in itself. It’s also strenuously long, and in that it tests the viewer on his fondness towards the metropolis that its writer so rejoices in. Three years after, Woody Allen arrives with a follow-up to his sexually, metaphorically aggressive ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’. Only this time, we find it’s even more about the city than just the things that happen in it; we find it’s more about the author than just his concept. We gear up, we’re excited. It’s an autobiography of a fantasy in a trip that goes farther back than his memory lane, delving in dreams on alleys and cabs and jazz bars and dark little corners of sweet little nothings. 

Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is Woody Allen dyed blonde after a possible corrective eye-surgery. He's also taller, more coherent and less of an outrage, though he looks a little too worse for wear. Minutes into character, we find how convenient it is to have cast the seasoned comedian in Wilson, who both cheekily matches Allen’s usual peccadillos as well as establishes his own prowess in playing the quintessential overgrown adolescent. His performance is clear-cut and fulfilling, maybe a tad too reminiscent, but it’s all good – it adds to the strength of a plot somehow reinforces itself with every little detail it provides. We have the Allen (in his more recent films) stereotype in Inez (Rachel McAdams), of a woman who likes her fiancĂ© but not enough to stick to him. We have the disapproving parents, the art confrontation and an emasculating counterpart in Paul Bates (Michael Sheen) all too soon. In Sheen, we have yet another actor who seems to have mastered the Allen School of acting and dialogue delivery, a consequence of which we find ourselves struck by a cascade of performances that are only too faithful to the eccentric master. Kathy Bates is her usual, domineering self, Marion Cotillard as Ariadne, the woman of Gil's dreams, proves to be a true Diva of this generation. Allen has always loved the enemy enough to create crushing opponents to shower unrequited love upon, right from his decisive 'Annie Hall'. His Ariadne helps Gil find his way back to a reality away from dreams, a character detail that strongly coheres with Cotillard's portrayal of Mal in Christopher Nolan's 'Inception'. The name Ariadne rings a bell as well, although it was another character that was named so. Too much of a coincidence?

On the one hand, we have the dowdy, lost-for-life soul-searcher in Gil, our hero. On the other, there’s the man with the touch of gold in Paul. Allen’s women have never required reason to depart, while it usually takes him the entire length of his films to deem as futile his efforts on finding one. It’s strange how it’s both sad as well as incredibly delightful to watch the man retract to his once-wide-eyed longing for both closeness as well as closure. In his silence is a cry for help, his contentment a fantasy. And who can lend a stronger hand to lift to clarity than the prosaic representation of strength in agony of Hemingway (Corey Stoll) himself? 

“All cowardice comes from not loving, or not loving well, which in essence is the same thing.” The quote pertains to the film as well. I loved it. I’m loving it. I will love it more, but not just to deem myself brave. When did we last see Woody Allen fall in love? Was it when he drowned in the emotional seductiveness of Dianne Wiest’s Holly in ‘Hannah and her Sisters’? Or when he coveted the unattainable Halley Reed in ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’? ‘Deconstructing Harry’ had him deconstruct plausibility of emotions in an effort at catharsis that he largely accomplished. ‘Everyone says I Love you’ was an even obvious satire and he followed it up with comedies and mysteries and this and that. In that hierarchy, ‘Midnight in Paris’ is a lost-fantasy; a reinvention. It’s a diary found in the attic of his middle-aged residence that’s but full of dreams and recollections of things that he wished had happened to him. It’s a treasure chest that opens to every viewer irrespectively, and offers as reward their very own needs. 

Some people chisel, some people sculpt. Woody Allen just seems to have touched the city of Paris with a touch of life. He walks in the rain without an umbrella and paints the town in his shade with the water that drains off him. The quirky little man has a taller, blonde and stranger version in a delightful misrepresentation with the effect unhindered. And the two of them set out, stretching their feet, singing a song of their own called ‘to Paris, with Love’. With that, they have her bowled over. Much like me, much like you too.

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