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May 24, 2011

Woody Allen's 'Midnight in Paris' is Love Letter to City of Light

The films of Woody Allen have famously celebrated the romantic side of his native New York. His latest comedy shines that spotlight on another city that, for many, is synonymous with romance.  Here's a look at Midnight In Paris.



GIL: "This is unbelievable! There's no city like this in the world."
INEZ: "You're in love with a fantasy."


For aspiring American novelist Gil Pender, the fantasy comes alive as he visits Paris with his pragmatic fiancée Inez. She thinks it's a nice place to sightsee and shop. But Gil, like generations of writers and artists before him, finds inspiration in the cafes and bars once haunted by Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso. So imagine his amazement when, out alone one midnight, he finds himself transported, in an elegant old Peugeot no less, into their presence. 

ADRIANA: "Tell me more about your book."
GIL: "My book is kind of… You know what? I couldn't care less about my book tonight. I just want to walk around Paris with you."
ADRIANA: "I keep forgetting you are just a tourist."
GIL: "That's putting it mildly."


Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard plays the captivating woman Gil meets on his nightly visits to 1920's café society. And Owen Wilson stars as the wide-eyed visitor from across the decades.

Writer/director Woody Allen admits the story had prosaic origins.

"I was going to make a film in Paris because it was being financed and I had no idea for a film in Paris," he explains. "I thought that it would be a romantic film because we all grew up on Paris in the movies as romantic and I thought of the title, Midnight in Paris. For a long time - six weeks or so - I didn't know what happened at midnight in Paris. Do two people meet? Are they having an affair? What is happening? Then one day it occurred to me that the protagonist would be walking along on the street, a car would pull up and there would be some exciting people and they would take him on an adventure."

Gil finds himself drawn to the lifestyle of those great artists from long ago in the story that Allen weaves gently and naturally.  But the director credits his cast.  

"As soon as they are hired for the movie, I tell them that they are free. If there's a joke or a speech I wrote that embarrasses them to say, they don't want to say it and I couldn't care less. They can say it in their own words. As long as they make it real and exciting or amusing, I am very happy to take credit for it later," Allen jokes.

At the Cannes Film Festival, where Midnight in Paris had its international debut, lead actor Owen Wilson said the director's style put him at ease.

"The way that Woody worked with me was he gave me a lot of freedom to try different things and wasn't so exacting on getting every word precise. So I felt very comfortable trying different things," Wilson explains.

Rachel McAdams plays Gil's fiancée, puzzled by his nightly disappearances. "Comfortable" is also the way McAdams describes Allen's approach to filmmaking.

"I just really appreciated how much he trusts in the people he has around him," says McAdams. "The whole set had an ease to it, and everyone felt really relaxed and comfortable and I think that makes for better work."

McAdams describes Midnight in Paris as "a love letter" to the City of Light. And the cast also features Carla Bruni Sarkozy, France's first lady, in a small role that Woody Allen says he offered her on a whim.