Woody Allen has always been something of an enigma to me - in fact sometimes he seems like a riddle wrapped in an enigma. His films are an acquired taste, and sometimes appear to have no discernible plot, but there is always the direction of his camera which draws the eye and pulls one into the film regardless of whether or not Allen has anything to say. It is rare in this era of blockbusters to find someone who makes films purely for the love he has of the process.
Allen has always been regarded as the portrayer of New York, with his works being love letters to that city. Now, with his latest film 'Midnight in Paris' he appears to have transferred his affections and sets about showing his audience how truly beautiful the capital city of France is - especially in the rain.
This is a film with a message which doesn't truly present itself until almost the end. At first you are simply presented with an American couple about to be married, the man a Hollywood script writer with desires to be a 'proper' writer. Here he is, in this beautiful and inspiring city only to find himself stifled by his fiancee and her pedantic friend (played brilliantly by Michael Sheen) who appears to be an 'expert' on everything.
Only when, slightly drunk and declining to go dancing, he stumbles off into a nighttime Paris and is 'picked up' bu a vintage car full of champagne quaffing revelers does the adventure begin. For suddenly, as the clock strikes midnight, this man finds himself thrust quite unexpectedly and implausibly into 1920s Paris keeping company with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway and Dali. This midnight era becomes a refuge for him, as his relationship with his fiancee breaks down and he becomes drawn to a beautiful woman (captivatingly played by Marion Cotillard) the muse of Picasso and who is in thrall to an earlier 'golden era'.
And here is the central theme of the film: this artistic yearning for a lost time which has come through the years to inspire and enthrall. For Gil, it is the 1920s, for Adriana, the woman he is falling in love with, it is the belle epoch. As with the 1920s, this earlier time opens itself to these tow, and there they are in the Moulin Rouge, deep in conversation with Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas, who declare the Renaissance to be the golden era. Enthralled by what she has seen, Adriana decides to stay in her ideal time, but Gil cannot bear to leave the 20s behind. Returning to modern day Paris, he loses the woman he loves, but gains the determination to change his life.
This idea of an era holding special significance for people except those that live in it is fascinating. I cannot imagine anyone sighing with desire to live in 2011 and calling it a golden age - but given time it will surely happen. It is an impossible dream - to go back and experience life as one's role models and heroes have done and yet Woody Allen makes it happen. And he treats the dream with such a cavalier attitude - shrugging his shoulders at almost every scene, seeming to say 'well, you've met the Fitzgeralds and Hemingway, why not T.S.Eliot, why not Dunja Barnes or Matisse, and hey! meeting Man Ray is perfectly possible in this best of all possible worlds!
I hesitate to say this is Woody Allen's best work, because I've not seen everything he's done, but I think this has to be my favourite!