PARIS – I'm a Francophile through and through. I did a little dance when I read that Ladurée is opening a New York City store, and decided to see Midnight in Paris based on the preview alone — even before I found out it was a Woody Allen film. In the trailer, the scenes depict an upper class American couple (as in most Woody Allen films) in which the dreamer fiancé strays from the attractive but tone-deaf girlfriend (as in most Woody Allen films). And, as in most Woody Allen films, the city in which it's set is the star. I love Paris, and yearn for it. It's one of the few cities I've traveled to that I never want to leave, and would return to at the drop of a hat. It's romance, sophistication, and beauty incarnate.
The start of the film is pure Woody Allen — that familiar serif typeface — and pure Paris — the gaze of the camera lingers relentlessly on the city. So many places I have been to and observed and relished just taking in: the Marais, Moulin Rouge, Montmartre, the bocce courts near Les Invalides, the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Tuileries, Île St.-Louis, the Seine, St. Germain de Prés, the Louvre — the list goes on, and so can I. The opening scenes set the stage for the film — which itself is a love letter to Paris, and its unique brand of magic-yet take longer than most establishing sequences (this was even apparent to a Paris lover like me). Yet as I write, I suspect that the intention behind this prolonged introduction hints at a truth about Paris: One can never tire of its allure. It's a city that attracts voyeurs. "I can't decide whether Paris is more beautiful during the day or in the evening," says one character, and it's true. It's hard to choose.
As it turns out, the movie is about a writer (like me) that not only fantasizes about Paris (like me), but fantasizes about the Paris of the '20s (like me), the Paris of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Djuna Barnes, Hemingway, Matisse, and the countless artists in their extended bohemian circle. In the film (spoiler alert), the main character has an opportunity to travel back in time and experience that Paris, encountering Cole Porter at the piano, Josephine Baker performing a hypnotic rumba, F. Scott and Zelda getting soused and having lovers' quarrels.
The funny thing is, I also recall trying to go back in time when I was in Paris. And now that I've seen this film, I bet everybody does it. Walking in Montmartre, I was on Rue Saint-Vincent, attempting to see it through the eyes of Yves Montand, who sings a song of the same name ("la lune est une croissant..." is a favorite lyric). And I remember marveling at the nearby Lapin Agile, the famous bar where Picasso, Modigliani, and other luminaries convened, which was depicted in Steve Martin's play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile. I looked at the tiny house, its scale out of place among taller 21st-century denizens, and strained to imagine what the populace looked like in Montmartre, then more a village than part of the city proper, a century or so ago.
There were also contemporary delights in Midnight in Paris — the regal dining room at Le Meurice, where I had the privilege of eating breakfast during a recent stay, the antiques of the flea market at the Porte de Clignancourt on the city's outskirts, the trunk full of brand new Goyard luggage that Rachel McAdams, the tone-deaf girlfriend, loaded into her trunk. Old thrills and new, timeless and current, the film appealed to the romance in me, and I was in its spell, and in the spell of Paris.
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228 Rue de Rivoli
75001 Paris, France
FOR YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE →
Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Steve Martin
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
Nightwood, Djuna Barnes
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein
Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties, Noel Riley Fitch