Nostalgic. Quaint. Charming. This film makes you feel romanticized by the finer sensibilities of the past. Specifically, due to the nature and romantic ideals of the protagonist, Gil Pender, who is surprisingly well portrayed by Owen Wilson, one feels connected to 1920s Paris; however, the time and place is not entirely relevant. The film chooses to share with the audience a certain phenomenon that exists in each of our lives; as humans, with imagination at our disposal, we tend to overlook the present, instead getting caught by the charisma of a more idyllic time and place. This time and place may not necessarily be more idyllic, and, if we were thrust into this period, our romantic ideals may be tarnished, but, so long as we continue to feel that charisma that we, ourselves, project into our own image of that period of time, we may continually feel connected to it; in other words, through feelings of nostalgia, we can draw up a sense of belonging to the remembrance — or, rather, an imagined remembrance — of things past. For me, personally, it’s San Francisco in the late 60s that gives a sense of belonging, but I would never want to devastate my romantic ideals by actually being thrust into the reality of that time — it’s our ideas of the past that gives it such character; reality, like the present, limits the imagination.
While Midnight In Paris is well crafted, and finely directed by Woody Allen, I was not moved by the aesthetics of the film. There are some moments of picturesque artistry, particularly in the photos that commence the film, and the outdoor night scenes, however there are little to no moments in the film where the images or the sounds left a deep lasting impression. Perhaps this is one of my bitter qualms with Woody Allen. He is a terrific writer, with an imaginative spirit, but he seems to overlook the importance of aesthetics in lieu of a more finely crafted, logical, and coherent dialogue. It is his writing — the dialogue, the characters, the story — that leave a lasting impression, rather than the images. This is in no way a hindrance to his films, but it is a major part of what makes it ostensibly a ‘Woody Allen’ picture; the content — what is in the picture — is what matters most. The images and sounds are there as a guide, as necessary tools for illustrating the content, but cannot be seen as important aspects of the cinema in themselves. To me, a Woody Allen art film just wouldn’t be Woody Allen. You come to expect from him a certain sense of dialogue, replete with neurotically driven observations of people and how they interact — typically of everyday nuance that most people don’t notice. Actually, Woody Allen strikes me as a somewhat more romantic, big picture version of Larry David (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm).
The extent of Allen’s imagination is seen in abstract expressionism; he thrusts the viewers into a time and place with no explanation. Still, this manipulation of time doesn’t really make use of surrealism, as phenomena of this sort typically does. There is no need for the viewer to consider the nature of reality; the viewer intuitively understands that this is simply a narrative device — useful in expressing the story, but not important in and of itself. From a literary standpoint, this creative act is quite genius, and quickly recalls Allen’s innovation of characters speaking to the camera. Similarly, through this narrative technique, Allen is able to express to us, directly, the nature of Gil’s romantic idealization of 1920s Paris. Not only do we see him talk about the past, we see him live it; we see him meet the people he idolizes, and interact in the world of the past of which he has romanticized. Allen’s portrayal of the historical characters is, at once, enthralling and confounding. It’s absurd, but it is meant to be. Gill telling Bunuel the plot of The Exterminating Angel, to which he is perplexed; Salvador Dali’s obsession with Rhinoceroses; Ernest Hemingway’s intensity — there is subtle comedy underlining all of it!
In the end, the film leaves you feeling charmed, nostalgic for a time and place one doesn’t know, but somehow feels connected to. Midnight in Paris, where one’s romantic sensibilities of the past may appear.