Living here in Chile I have grown weary of standard American Hollywood films. There are a few art film houses here but they show films in French or German or whatever with subtitles in Spanish and I cannot read Spanish subtitles fast enough to follow what is being said, at least not yet. There is Cine Normandie here and the Cine Hoyts at the mall Parque Arauco that shows art films but there is nothing here like The Landmark Cinema in Bethesda, MD where art films is all they show.
The magazines say that Hollywood has cut back on producing Miramax type of films that appeal to an educated audience. Something like “Shakespeare in Love”, whose screenplay was written by Tom Stoppard whose plays are notoriously erudite, would not find funding today in a Hollywood that is mainly interested in the lowest common denominator export market whose films can be dubbed into the local language or whose appeal is worldwide. Something which is subtle and clever needs to be dummed down in order to be rolled out to the masses. So I find it refreshing that someone as intellectual as Woody Allen finds his films in wide release. So it is with “Midnight in Paris”.
It is ironic in this film that Allen chose as his leading man Owen Wilson, someone who we would normally one associate straight away with dullard Hollywood films made for the philistine audience. But Wilson fits nicely into this film playing what Woody Allen in earlier times would have played himself.
What makes a film like Midnight in Paris and all the other films we call “art films” better than films coming from the major studios (this one is from Sony Classics) is they are based on dialogue and plot. In that regard one could take away the scenery and we would call them “plays”.
When one sees a good play or reads a good book it moves them emotionally. It disturbs them, makes them happy, or makes them sad. Anything else can simply be dismissed as “entertainment”. The be entertained is to waste ones time. To be moved emotionally is a type of learning.
So it is here. The film itself is in part about the shallow culture which is Hollywood. Wilson plays the character “Gil”, a screenwriter, who wants to write a novel and stay in Paris where he and his fiancée are currently on vacation. She would prefer to stay in California surrounded by all the cash that the studios pay him for his scripts. Gil would say that kind of work and life is a “hack”.
Longing to find someone more like-minded Gil hops into a 1920′s era sedan which drives him over to a café where he meets Ernest Hemingway and it is clear that we are in a fantasy film. As Hemingway speaks in forceful, simple declarative sentences one recalls that Allen is a student of the theatre and novels. (Hemingway of course wrote exactly that way believing one should not deploy neither an adverb nor an adjective when possible.) After all what other director would put a Greek Chorus into a film as Alen did in “Mighty Aphrodite”. (A Greek Chorus is what Aristophanes put is his work. It allows an omnipresent narrator to inject comments into the dialogue.)
We are as startled as Gil when Hemingway offers to show Gil’s manuscript to Getrude Stein and almost fall out of our theatre seats when Pablo Picasso shows up with one of his muses, a girl who had just left the arms of Modigliani and will run away with Ernest himself. All this culture rushing at us is enough to make one want to reread Hemingway`s Paris memoir “A Moveable Feast” which I promptly did. Of course Gil’s wife understands none of this, in part because she was there to see none of it, but mainly because she is part of that outre mer culture which is California.
Gil’s struggles in the present and his longing for the past teaches and actually going there teache him that one cannot escape from one’s self by simply going to another place–or in the case of the surreal–another time. Gil quotes William Faulkner who said, “The past is not history. It is not even past”.
It would not do to give away the end but remember you have to listen carefully to the dialogue when you see a Woody Allen movie as he usually circles around to the something that was said or pointed our earlier in the film. There is where the film reaches its climax. As this one did I felt my heart swell with joy and emotion. The audience burst into applause as the credits rolled. It is rare indeed when a film moves one so and this one does just that.