Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. Spain/USA, 2011. Mediapro, Versátil Cinema, Gravier Productions, Pontchartrain Productions, Televisió de Catalunya. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Cinematography by Darius Khondji. Produced by Letty Aronson, Jaume Roures, Stephen Tenenbaum. Production Design by Anne Seibel. Costume Design by Sonia Grande. Film Editing by Alisa Lepselter. Academy Awards 2011. Golden Globe Awards 2011.
You’ll fall in love with this movie as if you just met someone new. Woody Allen’s best since Match Point features a hilarious Owen Wilson playing the hapless nebbish who visits Paris with his bitchy fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her crass millionaire parents (Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy). Turned off by McAdams’ devotion to a stuck-up old friend (Michael Sheen), Wilson wanders the streets of the City of Lights alone and, when the clock strikes midnight, suddenly finds himself in the Paris of the 20s. He’s hanging out with Hemingway (an outstanding Corey Stoll), watching Josephine Baker dance, getting tips on his novel from Gertrude Stein (a wonderfully lively Kathy Bates) and falling in love with a mysterious fashion designer (Marion Cotillard at her most fetching), but eventually morning comes and the present returns. Night after night Wilson keeps returning to the past, however, meeting more and more luminaries (including a brilliant Adrien Brody enacting Dali), before he starts to question if things really were better in the past or if nostalgia is simply a common fact of life. The question is answered quite beautifully when he and Cotillard take yet another time travel voyage to an even further past, but the film is not nearly as overstated as the description might make it sound: conversations about life, art and sex are explicated to a direct point but never belabored. This is an aging Allen coming to grips with his memories and longings, and happily accepting that they are simply a part of life for everyone and not a tragedy of human existence. The film also features one of the great director’s best talents, which is the eye-poppingly gorgeous ways in which he films period scenes; between Darius Khondji’s smokily beautiful photography and the stunning sets and costumes there is always something beautiful to look at. Allen also appears to be openly lamenting the fact that crass tourists come to shop and do soulless tours (in this film, guided by a lovely Carla Bruni) while completely ignoring the artistic history of the city that once came alive with the energy of avant garde creativity. McAdams’ character represents this inability to appreciate Wilson’s passions, though the Allen trademark of the Wife Who Doesn’t Understand has been played much better before (look at how nuanced and brilliant Naomi Watts was in taking the character centre stage the previous year in You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger). I understand that McAdams is the Ruby Keeler of her day, giving average girls with average looks and talent a sense of hope for their own success in show business, but her desperation to be good enough to be in a Woody Allen film is often embarrassing to watch here (lately it seems there’s always one of these in Allen’s films; in Stranger it was Josh Brolin who couldn’t pull it off). Thankfully, she is not in the film enough to ruin it, and you’ll be so entranced with the director’s unabashed adoration of his favourite artists, and so thrilled by the wittiest dialogue he has written in years, that you won’t care enough to complain. The film also features the lovely Léa Seydoux in a role that will hopefully open her up to more success in the coming years.