Midnight in Paris

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Review by Clara Fong (As seen in Pegasus Pages, March 2014)

Film: Midnight in Paris

Rating: 5/5

Directed by: Woody Allen

Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Tom Hiddleston

Awards: Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast,” Hemingway wrote in his memoir, aptly named A Moveable Feast.

Indeed, Midnight in Paris not only showcases the best of Paris – the modern tourist attraction with its enduring charm, but also the glamourous city from the era of the 1920s where some of most famous artists, whether consciously or otherwise, converged and met. The film seems to echo Hemingway’s thoughts – Paris is indeed a magical place.

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Midnight in Paris, a romantic fantasy film, follows Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), an aspiring writer, who during a holiday in Paris with his fiancée, travels back in time each night at midnight. During this process, he meets with the literary giants Fitzgerald and Hemingway, mingles with Picasso and Dalí, and falls in love.

For literature and art fans, the film is a fest – just the idea of meeting famous names such as Matisse and Tom Elliot would make anyone excited. And even for those who might not enjoy sitting through their English lessons, the film is funny and sentimental, courtesy to Owen Wilson’s down-to-earth, sincere persona and the humourous but thoughtful screenplay, which won the Oscars and Golden Globe Award for Best Original Screenplay.

However, what I enjoyed about Midnight in Paris is that a certain cultural literacy is required. It provides refreshing, thought-provoking intellectual fodder, unlike the sometimes run-of-the-mill action movies with the mandatory fight scene and heap loads of CGI effects. Even better, Midnight in Paris raises questions about something everyone has thought about before: nostalgia and the past.

Gil is a romantic who dreams about living in 1920s Paris and mingling with his literary idols. But as the film progresses, he comes to realise, as we all might have, or eventually will, that the past always seem more vivid and alluring than the present. The opening line of Gil’s novel is: “’Out Of The Past’ was the name of the store, and its products consisted of memories: what was prosaic and even vulgar to one generation had been transmuted by the mere passing of years to a status at once magical and also camp.” This nostalgic affection is no stranger to us. From typewriters to antique clocks, these are all normal objects that have been transformed through time to become the curios of today’s world. Have you ever thought that one day, people in the future will look back and romanticise the 21st century in which we live our dreary lives now?

Of course, a good film needs a stellar cast. Apart from Owen Wilson’s natural approach to the character of Gil, I feel the need to shower my praise on all the believable impersonated artists. Adrien Brody as Salvador Dalí was hilariously whimsical; Hemingway (Corey Stoll) was a force to be reckoned with; Alison Pill’s Zelda Fitzgerald was playful and daffy, while Fitzgerald himself, played by Tom Hiddleston, was convincing in his deep love for Zelda, which in real life, ended tragically.

Midnight in Paris revolves around the past and present, but it suggests that it is not mutually exclusive. Perhaps the purpose of these old memorabilia is not to carry us into the past, but to enliven the present, as much as what we achieve now might eventually serve to inspire those in the future.

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