Somewhere in Paris the clock strikes twelve, and though there is no fairy godmother familiar cars turn magically into shining vintage Peugeots and horse-drawn carriages. And as henpecked novelist Gil Pender finds himself in the era of his nostalgic dreams, he finds also his defeatist rags transformed, by the encouragement of famous artists and their mentors and the love of one exotic woman, into the riches of self-actualisation.
In Midnight in Paris every shot is a visual feast, tugging at the heartstrings of nostalgia. With the blue-and-yellow Van Gogh-inspired cinematography of Darius Khondjhi, Woody Allen’s film perfectly captures the nostalgic beauty of the city, now and in the 20s – the romance of walking down the cobbled streets at night to the sizzling jazz tunes of the roaring 20s; the elegance of wine and dance parties simmering with the undercurrent of excitement and pure potentiality that characterised the new millennium; the Eiffel standing tall and proud like golden man at the height of modernity. But what Gil learns in the end is how to stand tall in his own present time, how to grasp his own golden age. The past will always be seen tinged with gold, he realises, and if one is dissatisfied in the present it is useless to blame the times, useless to do nothing but look back with helpless longing. So he takes his happiness into his own hands, and makes the brave decision to leave his intensely annoying, emasculating, unsupportive, and unrepentantly adulterous fiancee. With his dry spell of self-defeat over, the final scene shows Paris in the rain; and as Gil walks down the streets of present-day Paris with fellow antiques-lover Gabrielle, against city lights reflecting off wet cobblestone and glowing in the background like starry, starry orbs of blue and green and misted gold, like Gil we learn the valuable lesson that every man must learn: that while escape for a time may be useful, one cannot stay in the past, in fantasy or in dream, forever, and that midnight bells toll for both endings and beginnings.