Midnight in Paris

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Here is a movie that speaks to my heart. If I ever have prolonged hallucinations or flights into madness, I would like them to consist of hanging out with Hemingway, Picasso, T. S. Eliot and Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1920s Paris. Like the protagonist of Midnight in Paris, Gil, 1920s Paris is my ‘ideal’ imaginary period in the past, which I have often escaped to in my mind. However unlike him, I have not had the privilege of visiting it through a time-travelling car at the stroke of midnight.

This all sounds very lovely and improbable, and that’s how the film sucks you in. But I think at the heart of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is not a naive escapism into a romanticised past, but rather a critique of nostalgia. As a writer, I understand Gil’s impulse to look to the past as a more favourable time for creativity. Being a writer is such a thankless job, you often feel as if the world just doesn’t want you around and thinks that what you do is an utter waste of time. We also live in a time now where everything seems to be consumed rapidly, leaving little room for the kind of contemplative space required for both writing and reading. Yes, ideas are shut down quickly now because we have so many deadlines. And yes, a cynical roll of the eye is often the result of having ‘intellectual’ discussions that were perhaps greeted with enthusiasm and an open mind a few decades ago. But the thing is, we don’t live in the past, and we don’t really know what it realistically would have been like to live in it.

As much as we are made to sympathise with Gil in his desire for a seemingly ‘better’ past, it’s ultimately his realisation that the present is to be lived in that ties the film together. Nostalgia is a wonderful dalliance for him, but it’s also presented as thoroughly questionable. And to me, Gil’s realisation is also a critique of other films that wallow in a romanticised nostalgia about the past. I love costume and historical dramas, but what I also find interesting from a critical perspective is the way that such films ‘sanitise’ the past into picture-perfect ‘postcard’ images. I suspect the reason why Midnight in Paris begins with a series of prolonged postcard-like shots of Paris is to draw our attention to this highly idealised mode of nostalgia in the cinema.

But it’s not just nostalgia about the past which is debunked, but also nostalgia in the present. Gil’s prosaic fiancé, Inez, acts as a counterpart to his own sensibility. She is all about the present and her interest in the past and the city of Paris lies in the way she can consume both. For her, things have a practical and monetary value, and this ties in well with the idea that modern tourists are perhaps romanticising popular cities like Paris as a series of ‘experiences’ and ‘images’ that can be bought and sold. Her view of Paris is equally ‘sanitising’, as she tries to ‘clean away’ the disagreeable aspects (such as the rain) and interpret the city as a pretty playground.

I couldn’t help thinking of all the blogs that do the same thing. We’ve all seen the countless images of a very pretty Paris on blogs, and as much as these images are appealing, they also paint a somewhat unrealistic idea of Paris. No doubt, those who actually live in Paris have shitty days like the rest of us, and don’t experience the city as a perfect terrain of beauty. Because there’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ city to live in, just like there’s no such thing as an ideal period to live in. Gil realises this, and by the end of the film, tries to live in the present in a way that best suits him.

I have to say, I had a bit of a personal revelation moment watching this film. I’m sure this revelation would have come to me regardless, so I think it was a matter of good timing. I watched Midnight in Paris at my brother’s place in Melbourne, the night before I flew back home to Perth. I was feeling down about returning to Perth, mainly because in my short visit I began to realise the lack of opportunities for me as a writer back at home, when compared to Melbourne. As an ‘outsider’ looking in, I realised that writers who live, work and have studied in Melbourne have connections that I simply do not have. I felt like the dream of a writing career just became even harder, like I have to play constant catch-up.

My revelation was that I’ll probably always be doing writing ‘on the side’ rather than as a full-time job. I’ve been stressing myself out so much about what I want to achieve career-wise, that I haven’t stopped to examine my dreams realistically. I felt, for the first time, at ease with the idea that my writing may simply be a personal dream rather than an actual career. That doesn’t mean I won’t fight for it and try my hardest, but it does mean I will try to balance this desire for a writing career in a healthier manner with the rest of my life. As Gil walked in the rain in the last scene of Midnight in Paris, I felt a small lifting of a burden from my shoulders, and I thought how amazing it was that some films just come into your life at precisely the right moment. So this movie endeared itself to me on many levels. It was by no means perfect, but it’s the first Woody Allen film I’ve enjoyed for quite a while as I’m not usually a fan of his mode of storytelling. I’m interested to hear what other people think of this film though – has anyone seen it?


jessica sandoval said...

This movie is one of my favorites. I suppose I should like it for something deeper and more intelligent, but I think that literally everything presented pulled at my heartstrings that made it such a perfect movie in my eyes. Adrien Brody as Salvador Dalí, "WHO WANTS TO FIGHT?!", F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, PARIS in general, walking THROUGH Paris, PARIS in the rain, and a lovely Parisian with lovely hair and a lovely accent. And Owen Wilson.

And also, the first three minutes of the movie are my favorite in any movie ever.

Rambling Tart said...

I loved this movie so much. :-) It was the last one I watched before starting my new life in Amsterdam on my way to Australia. It was the perfect "resolution" movie for me, giving me permission to not view or experience my life in anything but a wonderfully REAL way. It freed me of having to feel nostalgic over my past (in my heart I was long gone) AND of having to have a perfect experience in my next destination. Life is messy. And I think that's why I liked this movie. It showed me the beauty of being messy. :-)

sheila said...

i really loved the film, Hila, but subconsciously, i think it's because i have always felt that i am somehow a reincarnation of someone who must have lived a long time ago because i feel like i should have lived in the 20s/30s, i have this engagement with the turn of the 19th century into the 20th and i don't know what it is but i'm compelled to be nostalgic about the past and days before computers and radio and telephones when calling cards were a thing and language/etiquette was so important. and maybe it's just an irish thing, who knows, my mother and my grandmother were very sentimental, and so are my sons. maybe this feeling of supernostalgia is genetic. haha. but i really identified with Gil in this movie. perhaps, anywhere (or any time) we are not living is like a 'grass is always greener' thing but europe is soooo different to north america in the best ways and i wish i wish i wish i lived in paris. i really liked though how the character of Adriana was nostalgic for the belle epoque period; it's all relative, i suppose? but if you do find a portal to 1920s paris, please let me know. i'm glad the film helped you in some way, i think you're a wonderful writer and i love that there are still people about who concern themselves with language and writing and poetry and thought. i also think some people can sometimes be many things at once in their lives. also, i love rain, wherever it is, but i'm sure i'd especially love it in paris (so i loved the ending).

Gracia said...

For me, this film made me think about if I would be creative in such an environment if I were surrounded by clever and amazing people who could do it all far better than me. Would I be motivated to work if I thought that someone else was saying what I would like and doing it so brilliantly... or would my competitive streak come to the fore and I relish the sweet competition?

I feel that way about Melbourne when I return from a trip overseas. It can feel so far away from opportunities. But sometimes there are great things that can come from geographic isolation.

If I could head back to that period or the Belle Époque, would I cheat and steal an idea that for that time had yet to happen?

From my ramblings on a Thursday, it seems I liked a great many things about this film.

N. said...

this movie is amazing.
I love it as it shows the beauty of Paris, the beauty of life and the truth about it and about longing for things and for living in different epoques *i'm a that kind of dreamer*

I saw it in the cinema and i have fallen in love from the first minutes of it.

laura said...

loved this movie so much! such a beautiful movie.

i probably can't relate much to gil as a writer specifically, but i can definitely relate to the fact that everyone is a dreamer, and i agree sometimes it is just hard to take risk to follow your dream. sadly i don't think i'll ever be brave enough to leave my full time job for a career change. i have to give myself a push to do more creative stuff, but i'll have to unfortunately leave it as a personal side project for now..

T C said...

Saw it and loved all the scenes of Paris (both in past and in present), the costumes and actors play..except Wilson`s, i had a feeling that his manner is the same in all the films he plays. Perhaps, that is the little moment of disappointment.

soph (owl vs. dove) said...

This is such a gem of a film. The opening sequence alone... *sigh*. I first saw it on the plane home from Europe (and with memories of a beautiful Paris trip still fresh in my mind), so every time I've watched it since I'm transported back to that moment. Nostalgia on all levels!

just jen said...

Interestingly we watched the DVD on Saturday. And yep. I loved it. Tom didn't tell me it was a Woody Allen film prior to turning it on and as his name flashed on the screen I gave a, "WTF?!?" Tom knowing I wouldn't have even let it in the house had I known. Yah. Not a big fan.

Having said that, it wasn't the maudlin introspective awkward musings typical of Mr. Allen. And for that I am grateful.

I had a bit different take. I felt that Gil was less nostalgic and more naive. To me, nostalgia is a dangerous path to follow regardless. Gil's naivety allowed him to think that if he lived in a different time he would be a different person. And for me, that IS the key point here. In exactly the same way that we desire going to different places, taking on different roles (camping as city dwellers, road trips as non-travelers, country mice visiting city mice) we do this to trigger OTHER selves. Alternate lives from roads less traveled. In hopes that just for a moment we can move beyond who we are and become who we'd hoped to be.

In the end, I think, Gil realized that who he was ...especially after dumping Inez... was just fine. Hope for the rest of us who fear we are not.

Sally said...

I liked it too! (although I found it a little empty, somehow, and I think I liked Vicky Cristina Barcelona better for the visual feast it presented). But the film evoked the same feelings in me that they did in you about nostalgia. My most longed-for time is 1960s England, but I always know in my heart of hearts there's no better place than the present. Sure it's not perfect, but think of all the leaps and bounds we've made in medicine, in attitudes about human rights, for example. It's easy to daydream about a romantic past when we're as comfortable as we are, but I think my personal revelation taught me to respect the past, learn from it, but face forward as much as possible and mold the time we have.

Niina said...

Hi Hila,

I have been meaning to watch this film ever since I missed it while I was in France. Your stills struck me as a surprise because I didn´t know they even shot scenes in Giverny - what a lovely place.
I understand your revelation very well because I have only recently realized that I might never do just one thing, such as a career but perhaps juggle between the oddest combination of jobs that suit me. Oh but what a drag it is to try to explain this to curious people..

Sophia said...

I have yet to see this one since I've seen most of Woody Alen's films. I find Alen's narrative very interesting even if with his earlier attempts I was quite at a distance. I believe he's capable of speaking the truth of life through his art and deliver different messages depending on the film you watch. I was convinced also that he feels compelled to help other people realize what life is, not in a beautified or lighthearted way which was so typical of him, when he made "Match point". To me this is the ONE film that sums up life in so many levels. Of course there is fiction but most of it describes so precisly how people react and the fact that what sets their reactions is so dependent on their nature but also on their class/position in society. Generally speaking, I find that in our society anyone who attemts to work in the arts has the feeling that his/her work is less important for the rest of the world in a way... The truth is though, that we depend so much on Art for our well-being much more than we can comprehend. I'm glad you have this blog and you are who you are because I surely profit from your writing!

Ana said...

Your last paragraph really got me. I've been very worried about my career too, my plans of moving out, my life in general.

I also had to asume that my job is what will allow me to do the things I want to do, and not a dream come true. Partly because my dreams are rather disperse. (Like this comment.)

Anyway, all I wanted to say is that I really really really understand what you wrote in that last paragraph.

And that I loved Midnight in Paris too! For many reasons, specially because, as Inez says in the garden scene: I'm in love with a dream. Different city tho.

Saludos Hila ;)

SARAH said...

It's interesting how different writers come into their careers. Sometimes there's the methodical, I-mean-business kind of writers who are up at six and won't stop until they've reached a 5,000-word quota. They publish regularly. Big names. Shiny pages. Knowing these writers is simultaneously awe-inspiring and maddening.

But there are other writers, too, who stay hidden for awhile before they pop out with something wonderful. That's the nice thing about writing -- you don't necessarily need a big city or anything to write something good. So a personal dream seems just as fertile of a launching point as an actual career.

This was kind of a long-winded, idealistic comment. I've been thinking a lot about the same thing too, hoping that my writing doesn't care whether it's a personal dream or an actual career, but that it just keeps doing and growing. That's sort of a career in itself, right?

Camila Faria said...

I really enjoyed this movie too Hila. I guess I always had a fantasy that, if I lived in another country or another time, things would have been different in my life. After this movie I realized that this is a bit silly, I actually can have a pretty amazing life right now. And I know what you mean about Paris. I live in Rio de Janeiro, so, naturally, everyone assumes that I go to the beach every day and all the other stereotype views of Brazil. It's crazy!

Mary Lou (not really a pseudonym) said...

I enjoyed this post a lot! MiP was one of my favourite movies of 2011 because I'm a Literature major and I love Paris and the 1920s, so this was like porn for me! I also love bygone eras but I completely agree with what you say about idealising and selecting things to suit our narratives.
I remember one day, back in high school, in History class our teacher was fooling around and started asking me about illnesses I had when I was little. He didn't even let me finish, he just told me: you wouldn't have turned 3 years old.
And let's talk about being a woman in the past! When we read about inspirational women, those who were ahead of their times, we like to identify with them, to think that in their shoes we would have been as fearless and innovative as they were when, probably, the sad truth is that many of us would end up living the kind of lives every other women had: marriage or spinsterhood with not much in between (or dying in infancy lol).
There's no time like present (I guess...).

Marina said...

It's one of my favorite film about Paris)) I saw it at the first time just when I was there, so I loved it so much!!!
And I have also one post about Midnight in Paris)

rooth said...

Hila, I haven't seen the movie but I relate to your realization that writing may be hobby or interest rather than a career. There are other interests that I have that I wish could become a full time career but thinking harder about it, realize that I would dislike it as a job in the end because of the tedium

odessa said...

Ah, I loved this film too. Thankfully I saw it with another friend who felt the same way as I do so we immediately went to the wine bar next door and talked and talked about our dreams, Paris, Hemingway, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dali....

I especially loved the last scene in the rain, I thought it was just the right mix of whimsy and reality.

And its true what you say about some films coming to you at the right time. I also feel that way about books, which is probably the reason why I can't help but buy something every time I'm in a used bookstore. You never know which book will tell you exactly what you needed to hear, at the right moment. ;)

Kelly said...

Oh yes, Hila, I loved it! And it's funny, too...I loved all the poking fun at Hemingway's macho image, for example. I went to the theater and saw it all by myself. That was a happy couple of hours.

Teresa said...

I adored this film the first time watched it and I loved it even more when I saw it again. It's such a beautifully made movie and while, like yourself, I haven't really been drawn to any of Woody's recent films, this one spoke to me.

You are spot on about the nostalgia of the film and the realisation about living in the present and not the romanticism of the past. Although… a 1920s Paris is indeed very lovely!

The best movies are the ones we can learn and take something from.

Debie Grace said...

I love this film so much! I could watch it over and over again. Paris is such a beautiful place. It's one of my dreams to spend a part of my life there or maybe end up living there when I get married which is impossible. So this movie kind of fills in the sadness from the thought that I can never be there.

lin said...

I enjoyed this movie a lot, because of the way it romanticises and mocks romanticising at the same time. I almost didn't watch the movie because Owen Wilson usually annoys me but in this case I thought his style was perfect for the film - he gave me the impression of being earnest and knowingly taking the piss about his character at the same time. And the way the film was shot gave me that feeling as well.

Incidentally, I caught the movie on a flight to Paris so I suppose it was the perfect mood-setter for a holiday.

Pinelopi said...

I totally agree with you on the subject of nostalgia and how it was commented in the film. Tourism in the old centres of cities uses nostalgia and gentrification of their "formal face". In other words such touristic destinations live in a purified past. Tourists don't interact with their surroundings, they just take pictures of them and do a series of cliche things that they are supposed to do when they visit a specific place. A 'stage' is set for them to consume. I wrote a lecture - essay during my studies on this subject and was happy to see such things mentioned in your blog.

Hila said...

Jessica: oh I know, that 'who wants to fight' line killed me. I loved how he parodied Hemingway's 'tough guy' persona.

Rambling Tart: yes, this film is good for all those reasons. And also, I like the way that it allowed you to both indulge in, yet be wary of, nostalgia and romanticism.

Sheila: whenever I get sentimental about the past, I remind myself of its flaws - the way women were treated, the lack of sanitation, all that stuff. It's so nice to imaginatively indulge in nostalgia, but it's also good to step back into the present and examine its own worth. And thank you for being so kind about my writing. Perhaps the best thing I'll get to do with it is this blog, which is not a bad thing after all, huh?

Gracia: hmm, that's a very good point indeed! I didn't think of that. I am competitive by nature, but not in a 'I must beat this person' way. More in a 'this person is so good, how can I be better?' I wonder too if that streak would die off were I constantly surrounded by brilliance? Then again, I also tend to create in isolation, so half the time it doesn't matter who's around me. I'm more concerned about how my geographical isolation hinders my work getting out there, since so much of that is dependent upon politics and who you know rather than what you create - i.e. connections. I wish it wasn't this way, but it would be naive to think otherwise. So that gets me thinking about why I write - is it for me, or for other people? I think the answer is a combination of both. I will always write, no matter where I live. But whether I manage to get my writing read and out there is another matter. And as an artist, you probably know the importance if having an audience react to your work, because it adds to its meaning, it allows it to live on beyond you.

N.: I wish I saw it in the cinema, I left it too late because I was so busy at the time. At least I eventually saw it though!

Laura: I know what you mean. I'd probably need a push to devote myself to it full time. Having never had much money though, I always worry about being financially stable, so that's what's stopping me.

TC: I don't really like his style of acting either. But I liked the film anyway.

Hila said...

Soph: ha, double dose of nostalgia!

just jen: amen, and it was a good note to end the film on. Inez's character was a bit of caricature of 'the American tourist', but I forgave him for that because so much of the film was an interesting blend of critique and romance.

Sally: yes exactly, the past was by no means perfect, and in terms of the real conditions of our daily lives as ordinary people, we have it way better now. We take that for granted. I found 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' irritating, but I can't explain why.

Niina: the problem is often in 'justifying' what we do or do not do with our lives. We're so defined by our careers, we forget that we're more than that. Oh well, I've given up explaining to people :)

Sophia: I think this feeling a lot of people in arts have is compounded these days by a need to 'market' everything in bite-size snippets, and also the idea that everything is tied to practical and monetary value. It's hard to 'justify' art in those terms, and it shouldn't be necessary to do so in the first place.

Ana: I'm sure a lot of people can relate to what I'm saying :) I just have to constantly remind myself that what I do isn't who I am.

Sarah: it would be really nice though if my dreams and career meet together one day. If not, I have to make peace with that.

Camila: ha, there's a similar stereotype about Australians - i.e. that we're all 'surfers' :)

Mary Lou: I've had that thought too - what kind of woman would I have been in the past? I probably would have led the kind of life that I critique these days: a subservient, unequal one. That really frightens me. It also pulls me away from fanciful ideas about the past being 'better'.

Marina: oh lucky you, what good timing!

rooth: I'd still take that tedium over the tedium of a job I don't particularly like :) Work is always going to have its bad aspects, but if you enjoy some of it, then it's worth it.

Odessa: that's a good excuse to buy more books, I must use it ;)

Kelly: me too, Hemingway was so over-the-top in this film.

Teresa: perhaps we can just steal the 1920s style for the present? This seems like a good compromise to me :)

Debie: don't be sad, I think most places have something good about them as a place to live in, we don't need to flock to Paris.

Lin: That's exactly why I liked it too - it was a good mix of critical thought and romantic indulgence.

Pinelopi: Spot on! I agree with every word. There's such a sense of artificiality about it all. It also implies that travel occurs in precisely the same way, with a list of pre-packed 'experiences' and images that must be consumed. I'm really starting to loath this mode of travel and tourism. I would love to read your lecture/essay!

Naomi Bulger said...

I watched this movie on the plane literally on the way back from Paris. I chose it for the name, knowing nothing else about it, but it stuck with me. On the one hand, OH the stunning Paris visuals, romanticised and yet so familiar. And the concept: like you, I so related (perhaps all writers do?). And yet I did feel challenged by the concept of nostalgia, whether for a place or a time or anything else. Maybe I am always thinking the grass is greener...

One thing I thought I'd enjoy much more was 'meeting' my literary and artistic heroes. I did so want to journey back to meet them, too, but I thought they were a bit flat, a bit two-dimensional. Perhaps that was the intention, to only highlight the characteristics that followed them into the future (our present) in order to reinforce the messages of the film, or perhaps it was just the limitations of the medium. I don't know, but they kind of left me with that sugar taste in my mouth, if that makes sense, like I'd had too much and not enough at the same time.

Anis said...

It is really the first time I ever heard someone talk about Paris like it is a city just like any other (yes it is raining very often over there), and that feels quite food.
Being a Parisian myself, I agree on the fact that people usually idealize Paris. Concerning the blogs, I think that no one really wants to debunk the idea of "romantic" Paris, somehow they want to believe in it. So do I, however I cannot stop thinking about Cézanne, who definetely showed a side of Paris that was not the brighest! (industrial zones, for instance)

Hila said...

Naomi: That does make sense :) I also thought the characters were two-dimensional, almost superficial. Maybe that was the point - to show how we sugar-coat the past and our heroes as ideas rather than complex people and historical times. So your sugar metaphor is apt!

Anis: I also remember seeing Parisian etchings and lithographs from the nineteenth-century which depicted the grim life of the lower classes and the daily struggles of ordinary people in the city. Hardly romantic! I think people love the idea of a romantic Paris too much. When I've visited Paris myself, of course I found the city amazing too, but I saw it as a living city with all the flaws that comes with. I've had good and I've had bad experiences in Paris, and they're both valuable for me.

AnitaFrance14 said...

as a french, leaving in Paris, I heard a lot of bad critics about this Woody Allen film. But for me it's the best one. Leaving in Paris now and at the same time in the Montparnasse 20's is one of my dream. It's a so excited experience ! This movie is about nostalgia too, and it's a marvellous invitation to live and taste the present. Regards.

Gisela said...

I love this film! But I have to admit that I am also a huge Woody Allen fan! But more words to the film: I also tend to praise the past more than the future. I see myself more in Gil than in his girlfriend. It is ok to dream yourself away - way back in another time. As long as we dream it is ok. But I guess we would be very shocked and scared if we would wake up one day and sitting next to Hemingway or Getrude Stein. Dream! But never leave reality for too long!!

Love from Munich

Hila said...

AnitaFrance: I read a lot of bad reviews too. I think some of them missed the satirical edge to the film though, even if they did have a point.

Gisela: I see myself in Gil too, which is both a good and bad thing :)