When one lives in and loves a city with an ancient history, such as Paris or Rome, it becomes very easy to sense the existence of an imperceptible permeability between past and present. It is as if one only has to wait for the light to change a certain way, or for a bell to strike a certain hour, and the magic will happen--for those who are receptive to magic, that is, and are willing to believe in the Magic of Place.
This is the premise of Woody Allen's latest whimsical flight into the imaginative world of Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a self-acknowledged Hollywood screenwriting hack, who dreams of writing a novel, the protagonist of which owns a nostalgia shop. "What is a nostalgia shop?" asks one of Allen's characters. Anyone who has to ask such a question is assuredly immune to magic, and will probably not enjoy this film. Since I am a romantic and firmly believe in the Magic of Place, I enjoyed it immensely.
Woody Allen clearly loves Paris. His opening scenes, in fact, represent a paean to The City of Light, as for almost four minutes the camera, with an evocative jazz accompaniment, moves from point to point along the Seine, the Luxembourg Gardens, Montmartre, the Champs Élysées, the Tuileries, the Left Bank, among other locations. We are treated to views of great boulevards, narrow streets, steep stairs, roofs with chimney pots, as the camera's eye glances at brasseries, cafes, fashion houses, fountains, the pyramid of the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Opera, and the Tour Eiffel. Paris in the sunshine; Paris in the rain. And all that is before the opening credits, in which we see that Allen, as usual, has assembled an ensemble cast. And for a special treat, the actual film begins among the lily ponds at Monet's Giverny.
Although I enjoyed all the performances, I particularly liked Adrian Brodie as Salvator Dali (He seemed so perfectly at home in Dali's surrealist skin), and Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein (She brings a convincing panache to any part she plays). Marion Cotillard is charming as Pender's love-interest from the past, and her costumes--in fact, all the costumes--are splendid. Michael Sheen, looking a bit like Tony Blair with a beard, plays Paul, a pontificating academic, who cannot resist showing off his knowledge--never mind that he is mistaken--to their Rodin museum guide, played in an engaging cameo, by the glamourous Mme Sarkosy.
"Midnight in Paris" deals with themes similar to those in "The Purple Rose of Cairo" in which the lines between past and present, between illusion and reality, become delightfully blurred. Magic, in fact, comes along in the form of a 1920 Peugeot, which stops and opens its door in invitation. If you accept unreservedly, it will take you along for an enchanting ride!