Positive reviews are pouring in from Cannes for Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, which opens the world’s greatest film festival today. As a long time admirer of Allen’s work ( I count Annie Hall and Manhattan as two major inspirations of my dream of living in New York City), I am so happy to hear that the film is getting some great reviews. I make it a point to see as many of his films in a theater as is possible, usually trekking up to the Lincoln Plaza cinemas to catch the film with the older, tony Upper West Side crowd. In fact, that theater is where I have seen so many of Allen’s recent films (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Match Point etc.), which I guess is ironic given than, since I have been going to Manhattan to seek my Woody Allen fix, Allen himself has left America behind for the more appreciative (and financially interested) shores of various European nations. England, for a while, then Spain, now France and next up, Italy. Will Allen ever head to Germany or Austria? Now that is a movie I’d die to see.
I am not an Allen apologist; I have written before about his fading powers as a filmmaker, primarily driven, in my opinion, by his refusal to deal with the issues and anxieties that define his own generation. As I said back in 2005:
“…Allen as a filmmaker has always hovered outside the boundaries of trends and popular tastes. His work invariably celebrates old time jazz music and nostalgia for old movies and old time morality. But his stories have begun to focus on younger and younger characters, for whom these tastes and ideas are undeniably false. Compare a film like the forthcoming Saraband, made by Allen’s idol, Swedish master Ingmar Bergman, to a film like Anything Else. Bergman’s characters and stories reflect the age and wisdom he himself has accumulated, and his stories tell the truth by refusing to pander to unknown, younger tastes. Of course, what is missing from Allen’s recent body of work is an inkling of understanding of the day-to-day experience of the generation upon which his characters are based. Woody doesn’t know the urban 35-and-under crowd anymore than Bergman might… Instead of attempting to address the concerns and issues that no longer confront him, those of the 30 something crowd (upon which he built his greatest films when he was in his 30’s and 40’s), he should translate his interest in infidelity, tragedy, and comedy to the situations and experiences of his own life…Allen would be better served by turning his eye in the direction he was headed in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Crimes and Misdemeanors is a film by an artist in his 50’s, the work of a great director dealing with older actors and issues of mortality in a truthful way. Husbands and Wives, featuring amazing performances from Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis, addresses the concerns of the 40-and-over divorced set, and those midlife crises feel real. These films are filled with truthful stories and characters Allen clearly knows well, and they seem to reflect a real understanding of the values being examined.”
I’m not sure Woody has moved any further toward my suggestions (why should he listen to me?); he’s spent the better part of the intervening years applying his old models and forms to the lives of a younger generation, characters who feel like an older man’s fantasy of what real young people might actually be like. All of that said, every film stands alone, and there are relative successes peppered in with some of the lesser films. One thing that bodes well for the new film is the renewed focus on nostalgia as a complicating factor in the life of his protagonist; from the outside looking in, Midnight In Paris inspires me to think of Alice or The Purple Rose Of Cairo, two of Allen’s saddest and perhaps most whimsical films. Allen has always known how fantasy and nostalgia can be punishing, even when using it himself to celebrate an earlier cinema, an earlier sense of magic.
Cannes is one of the only places on earth where everyone believes in the cinema as seriously and as passionately as I do. Cannes is the spiritual home for all cinephiles, the one place that doesn’t just celebrate the art of film, it exalts it to a religious scale; the values of Cannes, where the World Premiere screenings of serious films are treated with the same pomp and circumstance as a coronation, are impossible to replicate anywhere else. It is the most important film festival in the world because it refuses to budge from its tradition of treating serious films with a ridiculous glitz that is beyond even the most lavish Hollywood premiere, treating the art of film with a pure, historical context that creates a grand narrative that spans decades. I fucking love it and dream of somehow returning one day.
In the meantime, I am very excited for Midnight In Paris. I love that city. I want to move there one day. Maybe Woody can inspire the same desire in me with this film that Manhattan inspired in my teenage self. Here’s the trailer. See you on the Upper West Side…