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Film Reviews

Woody Allen tries Paris, and it tastes good

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Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams practice their French tongues.

For several minutes preceding the opening credits, before we encounter any characters or dialogue, tour-book images of Paris — the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Sorbonne — float across the screen accompanied by a lilting jazz score. Midnight in Paris is Allen’s valentine to the French capital much as Manhattan is his love letter to the vibrant New York borough. Notoriously allergic to anything beyond the East and Hudson Rivers, Allen has in recent years taken his clapperboard into London and Barcelona. Beside the fabled Seine, he has Gil gush over major cities as complex, communal works of art, and in France’s premier metropolis, Gotham’s most dedicated filmmaker has found another urban muse. A beautiful museum guide is right at home on the Paris set; she is played by Carla Bruni, wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and when she discusses Auguste Rodin’s romantic inconstancy, it is hard not to think of Bruni’s husband’s randy rival, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Some might fault Allen’s postcard vision for ignoring the realities of urban blight and racial discord. But this is a Paris of the imagination, and the film is an affectionate but critical examination of its magnetic effect on an American besotted with a mythical time and place. In her turn, Adriana, who actually lives in 1920s Paris, yearns to inhabit la Belle Epoque, an earlier, more elegant era in which it was possible to share a table at Maxim’s with Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Paul Gauguin. Midnight in Paris, whose title echoes fairy tales in which the stroke of twelve summons forth another realm, conveys the bittersweet lesson that bliss is always elsewhere.

But that itself is a platitude worthy of the movie’s Hemingway, who, as aped by Corey Stoll, is a Gatling gun of manly aphorisms, mostly lifted from the author’s own books. “You’ll never write well if you fear dying,” he advises Gil. But the opposite is just as true; all great art is a salve against mortality. Out of the burbling caldron of his own meshugass, Woody Allen has created something that will outlive us all.

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