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Review of Midnight in Paris @ Gloucester Guildhall - 30 November 2011

A casual stroll around town invariably involves walking past Gloucester Guildhall.  A cinema poster is always framed on either side of a very welcoming doorway, announcing the Guildhall’s current film offering and its forthcoming release.  For the more pro-active and culturally-attuned movie-goers, these films often mirror ones you were keen to see at the multiplex, but for whatever reason didn’t get around to seeing them.

If, like me, you consider handing over £8 for a ticket at a multiplex somewhat disturbing, Gloucester Guildhall’s film screenings is a most excellent remedy.  And you can rest assured in the knowledge that the Guildhall will bring you something you wanted to see the first time around, acting as a sort of big screen last chance saloon. What’s more, unlike Cheltenham’s film club, which lies on the outskirts of the town, Gloucester Guildhall’s film club is unquestionable in its convenience: just a stone’s throw from the centre.  And from this experience, they’re very friendly to boot. 

Gloucester Guildhall’s rooftop car park is free if you’re due to leave after 7pm, but if you did want to catch the bus into town as I did, it is £2.20 for a “Everider” (because naming it a “Nightrider” would have been too tongue-in-cheek) as long as your trip is contained to Gloucester.  As I approached the kiosk, I was too busy chiding myself over missing Lars Von Trier’s award-winning Melancholia (the Guildhall’s previous release) to recall the film I had ventured into town specifically to see.  “Umm, the film, tonight’s film?” I said, drawing a blank and clicking my finger in an attempt to summon it up.”  “Midnight in Paris?” the lady asked warmly.  “Yes, that’s it,” I replied.   I handed over £5.50 (without concessions), a price more respectable than the scant change I find myself receiving for my £10 at a certain local multiplex. 

With a little time to spare, I bought a hot drink from the cinema’s adjoining bar.  Again, I was pleased with the price and service: £1.60 for a rather hearty mug of filtered coffee.  The young barmaid sported antlers as another went about putting up Christmas decorations in time for the first day of December.  It was all very festive and warm-hearted.  And the Guildhall allows you to take drinks into the screening.  And I’m not talking just coffee or soft drinks, but pints.  Doors to the screening opened at 7:30pm to reveal the high-ceiling grandeur of the former council chamber.  I sat myself next to a table (the convenience of a table in a cinema was a revelation!).  After trailers for two forthcoming releases (The Help and The Ides of March) and a short intermission, the lights lowered and the main feature began.        

Midnight in Paris opens with a montage of idyllic Parisian scenes, a tourist tick sheet of the French capital.  The film then settles on Gil (Owen Wilson as a slightly less neurotic voice of Woody Allen) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) as they overlook a pond reminiscent of a lily-dashed Monet masterpiece.  While Inez is unwilling to stray too far from the tourist track, Gil - a disillusioned writer who has come to Paris having felt misused as a Hollywood script machine – needs time to both re-evaluate his career and gain further inspiration for a novel.  It quickly becomes clear that the engaged couple have clashing interests.  To make matters worse, Inez’s parents (played by Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy), whom the couple have gone to Paris to meet, are critical of Gil, especially her father, who is outspoken in his contrasting political beliefs.

While at lunch, the couple bump into Paul and Carol (played by Michael Sheen and Nina Arianda).  The former is - as Gil puts it – a pseudo-intellectual, but (much to Gil’s annoyance) one who seems to know more about a subject than any given Parisian tour guide.  Mostly for Inez’s benefit, Gil reluctantly agrees to spending some time with them.  After an evening meal spent through gritted teeth, he ducks out of going dancing in favour of roaming the cobbled streets of Paris.  He soon gets hopelessly lost, but as soon as a clock strikes twelve, he is waved into a mysteriously old-fashioned motor car and is whisked away, not only to another location, but to another era altogether.  His hosts are F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and the era is 1920s Paris.  We are then introduced to a Who’s-Who of Paris-based literati: the enigmatic and rugged Ernest Hemingway, the loquacious and good-natured Gertrude Stein, a trio of prominent surrealists, T.S Eliot, Cole Porter and the unpredictable Pablo Picasso.  The list goes on. 

Woody Allen as the director spends little time in explaining the rationale behind the shift in eras.  Instead, he allows Wilson to explore the What Ifs of the situation.  What if he could get Gertrude Stein to critique his work?  What if he could implant an idea into Luis Buñuel’s mind that would lead him to create his crowning achievement?  It’s all very self-indulgent of Allen, but it’s during these scenes over the course of several midnights that the film really flourishes.  This is helped in no small part by Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, having explored what it is to be an era-defining artist with her Oscar-winning role as Edif Piaf in La Vie En Rose.  In this she plays Adriana, Pablo Picasso’s smoky-eyed mistress and muse.  Gil falls in love with her, all the while contesting - with the benefit of time-travelled hindsight - that she should not feel out of place in her present day, but rather should embrace what will turn out to be the golden age. 

Other than a game of Spot the Genius, it is hard to establish what Allen is trying to do when Gil is taken back to the twenties.  The brooding, smoky scenes lay in stark contrast to the superficiality of his fiancé and her troublesome parents when he catches up with modern life.  It’s a film that shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but you can’t help but search for a social commentary when the direction comes from a voice such as Allen’s.  It may be a lesson in living life in the present – something that would-be partners Gil and Adriana struggle with in their respective eras.  It could be argued whether this is a return to form for Allen, who has explored a love for Europe in his films as of late.  What is certain, however, is that he has directed Owen Wilson in a very assured performance, and may that relationship continue.

Venue: ***** out of *****
Film: ***½ out of *****


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