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Cannes 2011. Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris"

David Hudson

Updated through 5/21.

"Film festival opening night films are famously cursed objects," writes Scott Foundas for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, "less often chosen for their artistic merits than for their ability to placate — or at least not offend — the opening-night constituency of politicians, bureaucrats and important benefactors who rarely resurface over the ensuing days, thereby allowing the festival to get on with the business of being a festival. Some other times, the film in question is simply the only one that was willing to pick up the tab for the opening night party. But if such curses exist to be broken, then Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, which tonight opens the 64th Cannes Film Festival, is the enchanted object that lifts the spell." It is, he argues, "one of his masterpieces — a movie about the romantic pull of yesteryear that ends up, most unexpectedly and movingly, as an eloquent defense of today."

Kent Jones opens the cover package of the new issue of Film Comment with not only an extended interview with Allen but also an appreciation of Midnight in Paris. As it opens: "We are in a five-star Paris hotel with a young American couple played by Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams. As in recent Allen films, information is established quickly and cleanly. He is a successful screenwriter, prosperous but dissatisfied. She is lovely but schedule- and result-minded. Where he ruminates and muses, she acquires information and sees sights. He responds to her and her like-minded parents the way all dreamers do — with polite agreement and withdrawal. He soon has to reinforce the battlements with the appearance of his fiancée's old professor (Michael Sheen), an expert on everything, who never misses an opportunity to share his knowledge with the less-informed. One night, weary of defending his spiritual stronghold against pedantry on the one hand and the standardization and quantification of experience on the other, he begs off and goes wandering through Paris, in search of the city of his imagination. He stands, silent and alone, on a quiet street corner when a vintage car pulls up. The couple inside, clad in Twenties evening wear, beckons him to climb in. Their names are Scott and Zelda. Part of the beauty of Allen's forays into the uncanny is that they're left playfully unexplained."

Tweeting instant mini-reviews are Dave Calhoun, Mike D'Angelo, Aaron Hillis, Eric Kohn, Guy Lodge and Blake Williams. Micropsia is collecting ratings from various critics.



In the New York Times, Allen recalls the night he "bumped into Philo Cubbage, a schmendrick I knew from the periphery of show business who surfaced intermittently over the years with some fresh scheme for achieving bankruptcy." It was Cubbage, you see, who came up with the story for Midnight in Paris. In the Guardian, he discusses his five favorite books.

Carla Bruni was expected to show up on the red carpet, but on Tuesday, the AFP reported that she'd bowed out: "I was dreaming of going… I regret it but I cannot go for personal reasons and for professional reasons, unfortunately."

As Susan Wloszczyna reports for USA Today, Allen's already at work on his next film, which he describes as "a comic picture, an out-and-out comedy" to be shot in Rome this summer. Confirmed cast members: Penélope Cruz, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni and Allen himself. Update: At the Playlist, Oliver Lyttleton reports that "the film is now going under the working title 'Bop Decameron,' according to Variety. As that might suggest, the script, described as 'a major creative departure' will be loosely based on the Decameron, a collection of over 100 14th century novellas by Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio, which mostly focus on bawdy tales of love… The plot will involve four unconnected vignettes, two of which involve American characters in the city, the other two involving Italian cast members — and it seems likely that the latter two segments will actually be in Italian."

Robert Weide has made a documentary about Allen which he expects will be seen on both sides of the Atlantic later this year. Dalya Alberge asks him about it. Also in the Observer, Shahesta Shaitly talks with five French cultural movers and shakers about what Carla Bruni means to the republic; and Vanessa Thorpe profiles a couple: Marion Cotillard, who, of course, is in Midnight in Paris, and Guillaume Canet, who is not.

Updates: "What led to your casting Carla Bruni?" Gregg Kilday asks Allen for the Hollywood Reporter. His answer: "With Carla, my wife and I were having brunch with the Sarkozkys about a year and a half ago. I had never met them before. He was very charming, very nice, and then she walked into the room. She was so beautiful, so charming and charismatic, I said, 'Would ever think of being in a movie? Just a small thing, for fun, for your own amusement. I knew she wouldn't be available for three months of shooting, but I knew she had been before audiences before, playing the guitar, singing, making recordings. She said, 'Yes, just once in my life I'd like to do it, so I could tell my grandchildren I was in a movie.'"

For Peter Bradshaw, "it's clear the French capital is to be added to the list of cities that Woody Allen adores, and idolizes all out of proportion. His new movie was an amiable amuse-bouche to begin the Cannes festival feast: sporadically entertaining, light, shallow, self-plagiarising. It's a romantic fantasy adventure to be compared with the vastly superior ideas of his comparative youth, such as the 1985 movie The Purple Rose of Cairo, in which it was possible to step through the silver screen, or his 1977 short story 'The Kugelmass Episode,' in which it was possible to enter the world of Madame Bovary…. It could be that Allen is satirising not just necrophiliac pining for the past but a kind of 'history tourism' and 'culture tourism' to go with the literal tourism described in the movie. Or it could just be that Allen is hopelessly in thrall to precisely this glib tourist view of Europe."

Also in the Guardian, Xan Brooks finds Midnight to be "a gentle icebreaker, a genial flight of fancy, played out in a whimsical jazz age that looks Disneyland Paris by way of a second-hand bookshop. But it's no masterpiece; not even the 'return to form' that some will no doubt bill it as."

"Each night at midnight, a car appears to take [Gil] away into a world filled with Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso and the Fitzgeralds," explains Drew McWeeney at HitFix. "And while there is a bit of a rhythm that the film settles into as you wait for each new historical cameo, there's something more at play in the film, and that subtext is what keeps it engaging. It doesn't hurt that Owen Wilson brings a real simmering sense of confusion and longing to the role…. There are some great supporting turns here… Adrien Brody shows up late in the film to offer up a delightfully silly take on a famous Surrealist… And Kathy Bates makes a credible Gertrude Stein, more macho than any of the blustery men in her orbit, able to cut right through all the pretense to see the real value in the art they create. Allen's love of these people shines through in how he portrays them, and while it could easily just be a joke to have Cole Porter show up, Allen's writing to theme in this one, and each of these appearances underlines just how much his own nostalgia is suspect, no matter how genuine his love."



"As a meditation about the allure but also the possible dangers of thinking the past was better than the future it's far too ponderous," finds Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph. "Still, it's not wholly terrible, and that's not something you can say about Allen's films very often these days."

"It does also get a little wearing as Gil bumps into one famous figure after another," finds Screen's Mark Adams. Still, Allen "keeps things nicely paced and amusing and in Owen Wilson has found someone at ease with his flowing dialogue, even delivering the usual Allen lines about fear of death with genial ease."

"For anyone whose historical and cultural fantasies run anywhere near those that Allen toys with here, Midnight in Paris will be a pretty constant delight," predicts Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. What's more, "Darius Khondji's cinematography evokes to the hilt the gorgeously inviting Paris of so many people's imaginations (while conveniently ignoring the rest), and the film has the concision and snappy pace of Allen's best work."

For Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek, "instead of just reaffirming how great the old days were, Midnight in Paris — in ways that are sometimes delightfully silly and other times strangely, deeply moving — grapples with something more complicated and elusive. Living in the past is no good for anyone; it also happens to be pretty much impossible. But what happens if we don't care about the past enough to carry it with us into the future? That's the question Midnight in Paris worries over. It's a movie about every yesterday we stand to lose as we're busy making the leap, over and over again, between today and tomorrow."

The Festival posts audio from the press conference.

"It's safe to say that Allen, sadly, is not the force he was," writes the Guardian's Andrew Pulver. "Endless debates can be had as to his last "great" film. (My own opinion: 1997's Deconstructing Harry, with honourable mentions for 1998's Celebrity and 1999's Sweet and Lowdown.) … Allen, with his unswerving adoration of old-time showtunes and unfettered veneration of Manhattan's interwar nightclub scene, has always seemed a man out of time. Maybe he's finally found his place."

"The best moments toy with the inherent silliness of pitting Gil against legends," finds indieWIRE's Eric Kohn. "When he pitches The Exterminating Angel to a befuddled Luis Buñuel, the filmmaker responds, 'I don't get it. Why don't they just walk out of the room?'"

For the Voice's J Hoberman, "the movie's real star is casting director Juliet Taylor, who furnished Allen with extremely credible cartoon simulations of the celebrated artists (not all of them played by household names)."

"It's just an amusing, whimsical, charming film that is incredibly fun to watch," finds FirstShowing's Alex Billington.

"Much of Allen's recent work has riffed off themes, structures and even characters he previously visited in more substantial films — Match Point reinscribed the arch morality play of Crimes and Misdemeanors, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger the sour figure-eight of marital distrust in Husbands and Wives — and Midnight in Paris is no different." Guy Lodge at In Contention: "The touchstone this time appears to be one of Allen's loveliest and most elliptical films, The Purple Rose of Cairo, with which his latest work shares the fantastical conceit of a heightened parallel world providing refuge for a character insecure in the present. Where the 1985 film used whimsy as a gateway to cruel melancholy, here it mainly ushers in further whimsy; Allen keeps the film in a fairytale realm throughout, where the only truths faced by his character are ones too self-evident cause much pain."

"Midnight in Paris might not sing like Bullets Over Broadway or sizzle like Vicky Cristina Barcelona," writes Vanity Fair's John Lopez, "but Allen's directing is quietly affectionate, and the film ultimately becomes another valentine to heedless idealism. What's most touching at this stage in Allen's career, is his genuine love of and boyish delight in paying tribute to the old masters — a designation that increasingly applies to him. Some clever screenwriter of the future will undoubtedly envision haunting the streets of 1970s Manhattan with a horn-rimmed Allen, Diane Keaton, and Mariel Hemingway, one generation tipping its hat to the other."

"Not a radical change in direction or form," finds the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips. "But good. It rides on a familiar but clever and expansive central idea that sustains Allen's interest, and ours. And that's something that can't be said of more than two or three Allen pictures from the last 20 years."

Melissa Anderson for Artforum: "While Allen feebly joked that there 'was no Novocain, no air-conditioning,' in the era Gil is so besotted with, the left-leaning French daily Libération proposed a provocative question about the future of the esteemed cine-orgy on its cover: Le dernier Festival de Cannes? Though debates will continue about the necessity of film festivals in an age of constantly changing viewing technologies and platforms, it's highly doubtful that Cannes will ever disappear — especially with so many manufactured crises and outrages to ensure its perpetuity. Robert Guédiguian, whose The Snows of Kilimanjaro screens as part of Un Certain Regard, writes in Libération that he will not see Allen's movie out of political protest: Making her film debut, Carla Bruni — Mrs Nicolas Sarkozy — has a small role as a tour guide at the Rodin Museum in Midnight in Paris."



Updates, 5/12: "The narrative trajectory of Midnight in Paris may be one-note, but it's a lovely and charming one that directly contrasts with Allen's recent studies of human frigidity," writes Glenn Heath Jr at the House Next Door. "Ultimately, Midnight in Paris becomes an argument for getting lost in something, be it work, art, or simply a walk in the rain. Despite obvious interior conflicts, Gil gives in to the magic and confidence of a new burgeoning narrative, where each step backward or forward becomes a moment in time all his own."

"It's no surprise that premiere audiences here ate up this lightweight, rather silly fantasy about the eternal allure of the City of Light," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "But the good news is that Allen seems to be paying attention in a way he hasn't always done in recent films, and has found a way to channel his often-caustic misanthropy, half-comic fear of death and anti-American bitterness into agreeable comic whimsy."

"Allen deploys a bit of postmodern magic," writes Charles H Meyer at Cinespect, letting on far less that what others have about Gil's nights out. "What makes this magic particularly enjoyable is that, while it doesn't take itself seriously, it nevertheless manages to impart more existentialist food for thought than a maddeningly complicated, utterly serious movie like Christopher Nolan's Inception."

Wilson "has the angst, the pauses, the plaintive whine of a voice that we all know from Allen's performances as neurotic New Yorkers," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent, "and gives the film what little emotional depth it has."

"Frankly, the Bill and Ted movies demonstrated more creativity than Allen manages here," writes Mike D'Angelo at the AV Club. "[A]s is often the case with his late work, I had the distinct impression that I was watching a first draft. But maybe I was just thrown off by the hideously uncharitable portrait of McAdams's anti-imaginative fiancée. Literally everything she says or does makes her out to be the world's pre-eminent killjoy (the better to drive Wilson into a romance with '20s flapper Marion Cotillard). Thirty years ago, Woody was capable of introducing Diane Keaton as an insufferable know-it-all (in Manhattan), then revealing the credible human being underneath the amusing caricature. Now, not only is he content with a single dimension, he can't even be bothered to give his shrewish Wrong Gal any first-class zingers."

Ryland Walker Knight for Cargo: "Like any good comedy, it's got a happy ending; but it's not like the film exits the fantastical at any point. Which is why a lot of people might like it, though the opposite is also true."

Scott Foundas talks with Allen for his old haunt, the LA Weekly: "Naturally, if I'm sitting here now, and they're dying in Libya and the economy is going under and we have a terrible split in the country and they're patting us down in airports, I think to myself, God, wouldn't I be better off sitting at Maxim's in the 1890s? But it doesn't really work that way, and that's how nostalgia trips you up. You go back and you don't get the novocaine, you don't get penicillin for your syphilis. You become disillusioned when you think it through, and even if you don't relinquish the fantasy, you become a little depressed because it can't be affected. You're living here, trapped in the reality of the moment. For movies it's great! In movies, you can create the past as you want to see it. But I do think that's the sad note in my movie, that everybody doesn't want to be where they are. Everybody imagines there's something better, because you can imagine something better but there isn't anything better. That's the problem."

Updates, 5/13: For Daniel Kasman, the first segue to the 20s "is as effortless as the filmmaking — a cut and we're in the 1920s hobnobbing with artistic celebrities who are no less pedantic — though certainly more interesting and charismatic — than the 21st century Americans and English condescendingly traipsing around a decadent, interchangeable European capital. A serenely functional reverse shot and we're in the past; an ellipsis and we're back in the present — Alain Resnais would be proud."

Aaron Hillis for Moving Pictures: "Unlike the dull, dispassionate aesthetics of Allen's 2010 dud You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, cinematographer Darius Khondji's golden-hued lensing could make a Francophile of anyone, giving the film a seamless, timeless look in whatever L'Âge d'Or the characters are experiencing. Nothing new or even vaguely profound is being said about art, beauty, love and the impulses each can inspire, but as a lighthearted ode to the forerunners who laid the artistic foundation for Allen to sustain a lengthy career, it's a joyful lark and a fitting choice for an opening-night film at Cannes."

Updates, 5/14: Viewing (10'39"). Craig Kennedy posts a 60 Minutes profile from January 1974. Allen was shooting Sleeper at the time.

"Since Husbands and Wives (1992), the last of Allen's films in the premier league, people, including fans like me, gradually learned not to expect much more from a Woody Allen movie than a mild, reasonably enjoyable, slightly old-fashioned entertainment," writes Ronald Bergan for Bright Lights After Dark. "The Manhattan Murder Mystery (old Bob Hope movie), Bullets over Broadway, Small Time Crooks (Warner Bros. comedy thrillers), Mighty Aphrodite ('30s romantic comedy), Everyone Says I Love You (MGM musical), The Curse of the Jade Scorpion ('40s film noir), all have Woody wallowing in nostalgia. But, as the saying goes, nostalgia isn't what it used to be."

Updates, 5/16: "This supernatural comedy isn't just Allen's best film in more than a decade," argues David Edelstein in New York. "[I]t's the only one that manages to rise above its tidy parable structure and be easy, graceful, and glancingly funny, as if buoyed by its befuddled hero's enchantment.

"Midnight is not a richly developed character study like Vicky Cristina Barcelona or even You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "People just blurt out their identifying traits; the dialogue is so blunt that it’s a little embarrassing. But Allen is moving fast with a purpose: he’s setting up a fable of longing and satisfaction."

For Nick Schager, this is "the first Woody Allen film in forever to not wholly grate on the nerves."



Updates, 5/17: "Will future generations say that this was Woody's golden age?" wonders Time's Richard Corliss. "We'll get back to you in 30 years on that one; but the immediate answer is no way — not on the basis of his latest dreamwork. Though Wilson proves an engaging and plausible mouthpiece for the Woody persona, and Cotillard imparts a grown-up woman's charm to her role — and though, dammit, I love Paris as much as the filmmaker does — his Midnight strikes not sublime chimes but the clangor of snap judgments and frayed fantasy."

But for Glenn Kenny, writing for MSN Movies, "Midnight is an absolutely terrific film, fleet and brisk and as charming as it wants to be. The jokes are largely solid and sometimes inspired — I counted only one really dated groaner, a play on a line from The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. If the characterizations are on the rote side of the Allen scale… the actors in those roles — Rachel McAdams and Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy, respectively — do their level best to imbue them with some genuine life, and they get there."

And from Todd Kushigemachi at PopMatters: "You Only Go Around Once: Death and Nostalgia in the Films of Woody Allen."

Jim Emerson sorts out the "best and worst of Woody Allen."

Updates, 5/18: Karina Longworth in the Voice: "Allen — whose contemporary output is often unfairly dismissed as trifling, even though his films of the 00s have been shot through with an intense, cumulative despair as often as they've been shot thanks to the miracles of foreign financing and tax credits — gives the episodic ebb and flow of satisfaction an unexpectedly upbeat spin. Or does he? Midnight concludes with a rushed coupling that could be read as falsely optimistic. Or maybe it's just the beginning of another crest of hope and momentary joy, doomed to dissipate just after the end credits — or, more likely, in the next film."

At the film's heart, notes Nicolas Rapold in the L, is "a well-trodden conceit, at once childlike and fundamental to the Western literary tradition, and also one reminiscent of Allen's best-selling prose collections; in a way, as both easy gag and surprisingly enduring revelation, it encapsulates much of Allen's micro-macro humor."

In the Critic's Notebook, Martin Tsai finds the film "ultimately about such trivial and petty concerns that no one can relate to it."

But for Time Out New York's Keith Uhlich, a "few missteps aside (McAdams's rich bitch is too much of a shrill caricature; Cotillard's final scene is awkwardly handled), this is prime Woody Allen — insightful, philosophical and very funny."

Updates, 5/20: "Nothing here is exactly new, but why would you expect otherwise in a film so pointedly suspicious of novelty?" asks AO Scott in the New York Times. "Very little is stale, either, and Mr Allen has gracefully evaded the trap built by his grouchy admirers and unkind critics — I’m not alone in fitting both descriptions — who complain when he repeats himself and also when he experiments. Not for the first time, but for the first time in a while, he has found a credible blend of whimsy and wisdom…. Mr Allen has often said that he does not want or expect his own work to survive, but as modest and lighthearted as Midnight in Paris is, it suggests otherwise: Not an ambition toward immortality so much as a willingness to leave something behind — a bit of memorabilia, or art, if you like that word better — that catches the attention and solicits the admiration of lonely wanderers in some future time."

More from Richard Brody (New Yorker), Michael Koresky (Reverse Shot), Charles H Meyer (Cinespect), Keith Phipps (AV Club, B-) and Dana Stevens (Slate).

Update, 5/21: Jonathan Rosenbaum: "One wouldn't expect Albert Brooks's first novel (Twenty Thirty: The Real Story of What Happens to America) and Woody Allen's latest movie (Midnight in Paris) to have much in common, especially after one considers that the former is set 19 years in the future whereas the latter is set at least partially between eight and nine decades in the past. But the main thing they do have in common is in fact very contemporary — a preoccupation with money, which Brook's novel is especially up front about. Both are also ultimately more interested in wisdom than in laughs."

Cannes 2011. Index: Reviews, interviews, coverage of the coverage. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.


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