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Midnight in Paris

Entry updated 13 January 2020. Tagged: Film.

American film (2011). Gravier Productions/Mediapro/Pontchartrain Productions. Directed by Woody Allen. Written by Woody Allen. Cast includes Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Corey Stall and Owen Wilson. 143 minutes. Colour.

While screenwriter Gil (Owen Wilson) and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) visit Paris with her parents, Gil is hoping to finish the novel that will garner him a reputation as a true writer. Not enjoying the company of Inez's friends and parents, Gil roams the streets of Paris one night and is picked up by an antique car that mysteriously transports him back in time (see Time Travel) to Paris in the 1920s, where he meets and befriends icons of the Lost Generation like Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stall) and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates). He also finds himself attracted to a woman of that era, Adriana (Marion Cotillard). Gil is initially thrilled to be in the company of famous writers who encourage his literary ambitions, and he repeatedly returns to the past via evening visits. However, when he and Adriana are transported into a still earlier period, Paris's Belle Époque of the 1890s, and a delighted Adriana elects to remain there, Gil begins to recognize the dangers in nostalgic attachments to a romantic past. Finally abandoning time travel, he breaks up with Inez and embarks upon a relationship with a beautiful French woman.

Writer-director Woody Allen provides no scientific rationale for the recurring time-portal effect that brings his protagonist into contact with a car that drives him into the past each night and later allows him to walk back into the present. Indeed, although audiences are encouraged to accept these journeys as real, in a sense not affectively dissimilar to the Time Loop plot that convincingly shapes Groundhog Day (1993), one might also interpret them as Gil's self-indulgent fantasies, particularly since Hemingway, Stein, and the other celebrities he meets seem unnaturally eager to welcome this stranger into their intimate company. Yet for Allen, Time Travel is clearly being deployed solely for the purpose of making the point that people should never long to return to a past that they imagine is better than the present, Not incidentally, Gil's final decision to leave Hemingway and Bates behind, and effectively abandon his aspirations to traditional literary immortality, also serves to validate the art of writing screenplays as something just as meritorious as writing novels – and screenwriting, clearly, is both Gil's and Allen's true forte. [GW]


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