So I know I might be a little late to the party, but I just got around to watching Midnight in Paris. After a rather hectic and productive start to the weekend, last Sunday afternoon was strictly declared a lazy one, and what could be more perfect than Woody Allen, Paris and a bowl of popcorn?
I approached the movie with fairly low expectations. Now I’m the first to admit I haven’t seen enough of Woody Allen’s movies to decide if I am a fan or not, but I know enough to be a little wary. And, I was certainly sceptical of Owen Wilson playing in a non-comedic role.
Overall though I was pleasantly surprised, some of the more obvious Paris clichés were deftly sidestepped whilst others (Hemingway and the Café de Flore) were gloriously embraced. And, as I’m certain many critics have noted before me, it wasn’t the time travel that was hard to believe, it was the fact that Wilson and McAdams characters’ relationship had lasted beyond their first date.
Plot and character development aside, the themes of the film were quite close to my heart. Wilson’s character Gill makes a keen observation that echoes my sentiment exactly. He says:
“You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists…”
It might also go some way to explain why I’m finding writing a novel on the subject so difficult, that feeling that no matter how good the words are, the spirit of the city is just so much grander than can ever be bottled, or entirely defined.
And whilst I identify with Gill’s plight (as you well know, I too hold fantasies of spending my days holed up in a tiny Parisian studio writing all day) we differ on one key point. Gill longs to live in the Paris of the past, but me, I’m content with the contemporary version of the city. For me, Paris only seems to get better with age.
The spirit of La Belle Epoque, the glory of the twenties – I think it lives on. It’s worn into the cobblestones; ingrained into the mural of café terraces; it lingers like a whisper of cigarette smoke in the bistros. One doesn’t get the feeling that Paris mourns the passing of the years; no, one feels that it celebrates them, remembers them, bien sûr, but doesn’t feel poorer for having moved forward.