“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast.”
What is it about Paris and its famous 1920s generation of expatriates that enchants us so? Woody Allen covers these two topics in his latest film, Midnight in Paris, and left me the moviegoer more than ever in love with one of the city’s most fascinating eras. It was honestly the best 100 minutes I’ve spent in a long time doing absolutely nothing except becoming drawn in with this wonderfully delightful story.
Paris in the 1920s was an era of escape for individuals like Ernest Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Cole Porter, and numerous others. They smoked, they drank, they exercised their artistic abilities (writing, painting, pontificating), and simply put, they had a damn good time. Gone were the conservative constraints and restrictions they felt were placed upon them in their lands of birth. Instead there existed a wonderful sense of joie de vivre (joy of living).
I’m not naive enough to think that all of this generation’s experiences in Paris were pleasant and memorable. When Hemingway and his first wife Hadley moved to Paris in 1921 they lived in a bare-bones apartment with no running water. It was even rumored that at times he took to “hunting” for pigeons in the famous Jardins de Luxembourg due to having no money to buy food.
Although the film featured a superb cast (Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, and even a cameo by France’s First Lady Carla Bruni), it was the role the city and its environs played that delivered the best acting. In the film’s opening sequence, Gil and Inez, the characters played by Wilson and McAdams, are in Giverny, at French Impressionist painter Claude Monet’s house and gardens, that is in the Normandy region. Although it’s not immediately revealed where they are, when I catch sight of the famous bridge over the waterlilies pond surrounded by striking purple and green hues, I immediately know.
On the first of Gil’s “midnight in Paris” experiences he’s taken to a bar where he meets the likes of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and hears Cole Porter singing and playing in the background, “It’s De-lovely.” The place reminded me of Harry’s New York Bar, which is located on the Rue Daunou near to the Palais Garnier. It’s said to be one of the most famous bars in the world and at one time entertained and whet the drinking appetites of Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, and other American expatriates. It also houses the piano where George Gershwin composed An American in Paris. Harry’s New York Bar’s place in history is simply unbeatable, and yet I know there must exist scores of other less famous bars scattered throughout Paris that also would have served the famous 20th century expatriate community. They liked to drink and they liked to be free well into the early morning hours. These two things undoubtedly would have had them frequent more than one bar a night, something worth discovering sometime when it is midnight in Paris.
As Midnight in Paris shows, no era is entirely perfect. One generation will always envision another time in history as having been more romantic, more captivating, more complete. And yet it wasn’t necessarily. Each era has its own charm and appeal as well as its flaws, but Paris will always be Paris and as Hemingway once said, it is indeed a “movable feast.”