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Midnight in Paris (2011)

Nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is Golden Age thinking,  the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in.  It’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.

I suppose most people share Gil’s nostalgia for a different time period. I know I do: every time I listen to Dean Martin, watch a screwball comedy, or venture through vintage LIFE covers, I am more and more convinced that I should’ve been born is the 1910s, so that I’d catch the 30s, 40s and 50s in full swing. But I’m also aware that that’s probably not true. Gil was a little more convinced. 

In Midnight in Paris Woody Allen gives his protagonist, Gil (Owen Wilson), the chance to live his dream: when midnight strikes in Paris a 1920s car stops and an excited gentleman comes out, inviting Gil to ride with him, promising good times. Gil – writer, dreamer, in love with that magic Paris sizzle – embraces adventure and ends up time traveling to the roaring 20s, his period of choice. There he will meet some of his artistic idols, such as Scott (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill), Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody), Henri Matisse, Luis Buñuel, T.S. Eliot…  and of course, he will fall in love, or at least be bewitched, with Adriana (Marion Cotillard), an aspiring fashion designer. 

His reaction to time travelling, how long it takes him to figure out he’s not in the present, and all these little encounters with famous artists, are some of the film’s strongest aspects. It also succeeds in balancing the 20s atmosphere with the present, and eventually La Belle Époque. The costume designs in particular are an achievement, as well as some of the set design – I’m especially fond of the room with the stuffed animals where Gil has an hilarious conversation with Buñuel.

There’s plenty of great actors here, some well known (Wilson, Cotillard, Bates, Brody, McAdams, Hiddleston), some not so famous, but that still proved fitting. And though most of them had a difficult task at hand, everything came out swell: from Hemingway’s assertation of a man’s courage, to Scott and Zelda’s troublesome relationship and Dalí’s fixation with rhinos, every famous character was easily identifiable, their defining traits cleverly captured and, naturally, all wrapped up with Allen’s impeccable sense of humour. 

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