Saying It Must Be Heaven is a Palestinian film can give a lot of people the wrong impression at first. It’s a film that is enjoyable and worth seeing.
The film begins with a Christian religious ceremony in Nazareth, Palestine. They’re to enter the church, but it’s locked. It’s locked by the custodians who want to be alone drinking up. The priest and those part of the mass are angry. They barge in and get violent with him.
Life in Nazareth is not a pleasant experience for filmmaker Elia Suleiman. Elia has been experienced some downtime since a close friend of his died. Elia still has their wheelchair, walker and other personal items. Wherever he goes, it appears people have a surly attitude. He goes to a restaurant and there’s an argument over the wine. He lives on the opposite end of an apartment where a father and son live in opposite suites and exchange insults. The few times when the Palestinians are nice to each other are when they know they’re being observed. Once outsiders leave, they go back to being their grumbling selves. The one Palestinian in Nazareth who looks to have a pleasant attitude is a young gardener who tends to Suleiman’s lemon tree, against Suleiman’s will. Suleiman tells him he doesn’t want him to trim it, but he comes back.
Elia seeks inspiration for his script. However he has to seek financial support from outside of Palestine. He goes on a flight to Paris and the flight gets turbulent as is goes over the Dinaric Alps. When he arrives in Paris, the Paris of people’s fantasies is alive. He sees it as a city of romance, a city of nice fashionably dressed women at a cafe having a good time together.
Then the realities of Paris start. His hotel suite is right next to a fashion house and their LED ad shines out a lot of lights that make it hard for Elia to sleep. He sits outside his window and looks out onto the street. He’s on the subway and sees a tattooed punk try to look menacing to him. He sees someone put a plastic bag underneath a car parked just outside. A bomb? The police come on Segways to check, but notice nothing and move away. He sees a homeless man lying around nearby and the police arriving to give him food. Suleiman is there during Bastille Day. He finds himself lost in a crowd during a military parade.
Elia knows he has business to deal with in Paris. He meets with a film producer, but the producer tells him that his film isn’t Palestinian enough. Elia tries to work more on his script. He notices that a bird has flown into his hotel suite. He welcomes the bird at first. However problems arise when Elia is typing on his script and the birds wants Elia’s attention. The bird hops onto his laptop and Elia gently pushes him aside. The bird repeats, but Elia’s had enough. He decides the bird need to fly back out in the open.
Elia then sets his sights on New York. Before he does, he has a day where he just wants to relax. He goes over to a park area, but notices a woman dressed in an angel costume with the Palestinian flag on her torso. A group of police try to pursue her, but she makes it a case of ‘catch me if you can.’ When they do catch her, she mysteriously disappears. Returning to his hotel that evening, he sees the car that had the bag placed underneath it is towed away. The bag is still visible.
When Elia arrives in New York, he is taken to a hotel by a cab driver who tries to develop conversation. The cab driver asks where he’s from, and Elia responds “Palestine.” The cab driver slams on his brakes and talks about how surprised he is to see a Palestinian. He’s never seen one before! He meets with a pretentious film professor. The professor wants his story to embody the Palestinian cause in the best way it can. He goes to a meeting held by a Palestinian-American group. The crowd is too enthusiastic for the leader to handle so she demands they all give one clap for each speaker she announces.
Then the meeting with the producer happens. Before he does, he is met in the waiting room with Gael Garcia Bernal who is his friend. Bernal has read over his script and he is very happy with what Suleiman has written. The exec however is uninterested in funding a ‘Palestinian story.’ Before Suleiman is about to return back home, he walks around New York and notices how Americans everywhere, even in the supermarkets, carry guns over their shoulders. He arrives back in Nazareth and notices that the gardener is back pruning his trees. The film ends with Suleiman in a discotheque with young people dancing to a song celebrating Palestine.
The film has a message to say, but instead of it speaking its message, it allows the message to be told in the images it shows. The film says its messages in what Suleiman sees. We see the world through his eyes. Nazareth looks to be this unhappy place in the middle of nowhere. Suleiman thinks that he will have a better time in the cities he will visit: Paris and New York. He can escape the unpleasant attitudes, the violent actions of others and fear of terrorism. He’s in for a surprise. In Paris, he notices what could be a car bomb placed underneath a car. The bomb never goes off, but it does remind you it has its own threats. Even in New York where there are still memories of 9/11, the threat of terrorism is there too. Bad manners? Suleiman witnesses as a stranger on a Paris subway tries to look menacing to him. Over in the part, an elderly lady tries to get a seat, but a young man on a bike beats her to it with no regrets. He’s reminded there’s rudeness there too. He’s also reminded of military preparedness and vigilance too as the Bastille Day parade has a military march and Americans in New York show their weapons openly. what he thought he’d leave behind in Palestine is still there in Paris and New York.
The film also feels about the difficulty of being a Palestinian in the outside world. Elia may be Christian but he defines himself as a Palestinian. He finds it hard enough living in Palestine, but finds it challenging to define himself to others. The meeting with the producer in Paris shows the French are interested in showing an image of Palestine, but one common or friendly with French audiences. The meeting with the taxi driver also adds to the feelings of confusion with his identity. He goes to a Palestinian-American rally that supports the cause, but doesn’t get too much out of it. How can a Palestinian relate to a Palestinian-American? Even if they share the same cause, they don’t have too much in common.
The film is less about the words spoken that it is about what one sees happening. This is pretty much a film of what Elia Suleiman sees through his eyes and he lets the images and moments do the talking instead of him. There are very few instances when you see Elia talking. It’s very rare in a film where the protagonist doesn’t even utter ten words. Almost all moments of the film, including moments when he appears to be in a conversation, show him being a silent observer or a silent responder. That adds to the humor of the film, and Elia wants the film to blend humor with the theme and message of his story. Yep, even moments where you see Elia being dead silent get us laughing. It’s part of the film’s ironic dry humor. Some could say Elia’s wit is a lot like Woody Allen’s. You be the judge.
This is the first film in seven years for Elia Suleiman. His last one was 7 Days In Havana. This is a film he directs, writes, and plays lead. He does a good job in letting the images tell the story. Even during his mute moments, he adds to the humor of the story. It’s a silent humor that you have to get and understand while you watch this film. The inclusion of music in the various scenes adds to the story and fits it well.
It Must Be Heaven is Palestine’s official entry in the Academy Awards category of Best International Feature Film; a retitling of the Best Foreign Language Film category. The film has won a lot of acclaim. Acclaim includes a win for Special Mention at this year’s Cannes Film Fest as well as a nomination for the Palme d’Or, a nomination for Best Film at the Seville Film Festival, and a nomination for Best Canadian Feature Film at the Toronto Film Festival (film had production in Canada).
It Must Be Heaven is a film with a lot of wit and dry humor. Its silence of much of the story and of its main protagonist actually speaks volumes and is the film’s best quality.
How about that? What started on the 10th of June with 24 teams will end on the 10th of July deciding which team will win the 2016 European Championship. It took this whole time 50 matches to decide the two teams most worthy to play for the Championship. On Sunday, it will come down to Portugal and hosts France. The big question is who will win it?
Before I get to head-to-head stuff, I’ll do some finals stats. France has been to the Euro finals twice before and won both times, including when they hosted in 1984. Portugal has been to the finals only once before back in 2004 when they hosted and lost to underdogs Greece. And to think back then it featured a rising 19 year-old by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo. The two have squared off 24 times before. France has won 18 times, Portugal five times and one draw. France’s most recent win over Portugal was 1-0 in a friendly nine months ago. The last time Portugal beat France was all the way back in 1975.
PORTUGAL: Just a small tidbit of trivia. Two players from Euro 2004 –Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Carvalho– are here in Euro 2016. Also a piece of irony: you know how Portugal lost to Greece in the 2004 Euro final? Well coach Fernando Santos coached the Greek team at the 2014 World Cup. Unlike 2004, Portugal come to the finals as the underdogs. And it’s easy to see why. All three of their Group Play games were draws. Their Round of 16 match against Croatia was won thanks to an extra time goal. Their quarterfinal against Poland was a 1-1 draw which Portugal luckily won on a flawless penalty shootout. They didn’t fully come alive until their semifinal against Wales which they won 2-0.
It’s obvious Portugal has shown some of their weaknesses. Hungary was good at exploiting them during their 3-3 draw. Portugal should consider themselves lucky they were able to score three goals during that match too. Portugal has a lot of strengths too. They have two good strikers in Cristiano and Nani. They have a rising young star in 18 year-old Renato Sanches. They’ve also delivered more goal attempts than France. They’re a team that knows how to attack. Their defense needs to be as consistent as it was during their match against Wales if they want to win the Championship because the French are the highest-scoring team in the tournament. This will make for an interesting final of Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Antoine Griezmann.
FRANCE: No member of France’s Euro-winning squad of 2000 is playing for France now. However the team is coached by Didier Deschamps who was the captain of the Euro-winning 2000 squad and was part of the 1998 world Cup winning squad.
For the most part, this trip to the Championship has been a dream for France. Save their scoreless draw against Switzerland, the French have been the class of the field. They’ve played like a strong team unit and have defended strongly too. They have a star striker in Antoine Griezmann but don’t forget Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet. They look like they’re on fire to win France’s third Euro title.
It’s not to say France has weaknesses, though they have hardly been exposed. One thing is that France has had less ball possession in some games. While that doesn’t prove much of a fact for those games, that could be a factor in the final as Portugal also has strikers who know how to score. France has even been contained by the other teams at times, including Albania who kept them scoreless until the 90th minute. Sure, Portugal has slacked off for most of the tournament but they could just surprise France on home turf when they least expect it.
My Verdict: Eventually I will have to predict a winner for the final so here goes. I predict France to win 3-1. They’ve been delivering the most and giving the least away. So I have to go with them. If they do, France would also become the first country to win the Euro twice as host nation. No nation has won even the World Cup twice as host.
Here’s an interesting note. Whichever team wins the Euro will represent Europe in next year’s Confederations Cup in Russia. Already six of the eight berths have been decided. Russia qualifies as hosts, Germany qualifies as World Cup winners, and Australia, Chile, Mexico and New Zealand qualify upon winning their Confederation’s respective championship. Africa decides their winner in February next year. However Sunday will decided which team will represent UEFA next year.
And there you have it. My breakdown and my prediction. So Sunday will answer all your questions. Who will win it? Will France be only the third nation to win a total of three Euros? Or will Portugal become the tenth country to win a Euro? It will all be decided in the Stade de France that night.
I saw quite a few documentaries at this year’s VIFF. A Syrian Love Story was one documentary that gets one thinking.
This is a documentary filmed year by year over five years. It starts in 2010 while Syria is going through its start of political turmoil. It had been under turmoil since the 1970’s when Hafez Al-Assad took power and any reforms promised by his son Bashar, who succeeded Hafez in presidency after his death almost ten years earlier, doesn’t deliver in the reforms he promised. Images of protest met with a violent response from government forces are too common. Caught in the middle is a married couple of Amer Daoud and Raghda Hasan. They have four sons from 6 to 22. Amer is living in Damascus being a father to the children. Raghda is in a prison for publishing a book about their relationship of all things. Amer and Raghda are no strangers to political oppression in their home country. Raghda has face imprisonment because she’s a communist revolutionary and Amer was once imprisoned with his ties to the PLO. In face they both first met in prison and fell in love through communicating through a prison wall.
Sean McAllister is in Syria looking for something about Syria’s crisis to film but something out of the ordinary. He finds it in Amer and Raghda. McAllister also shows us their four sons. The first year he films Amer’s phone conversations with Raghda while she’s in prison. He gets her sons to talk with her as well. McAllister was even imprisoned for a few days for a journalism crime and was able to listen first-hand to the torture in Syria’s prisons. He even meets the older son who broke up with his girlfriend because she was pro-Assad. Despite all this, McAllister does show a case of hope for the future, for all.
In 2012, Raghda is finally free. She is reunited with her husband, sons and the rest of her family. But they can’t stay in Syria, not while there’s civil war that started once Syrian people revolted against Assad during 2011’s Arab Spring. The family move to a refugee area in Lebanon. They do it not simply for the sake of themselves but their sons too. McAllister is nervous for the couple’s future since he knows behaviors of prisoners after they’ve been freed. He hopes Raghda doesn’t exhibit behavior that will hurt their marriage.
In 2013, they find themselves in Paris, France. Things are definitely better for the two youngest children Kaka and Bob. Bob is in a good school and Kaka is able to become a disc jockey at his high school. Things appear to go well for Amer and Raghda as they’re able to make a living for themselves but there’s a sense that something’s wrong. The children sense it.
In 2014, we get a good sense of what’s wrong. Amer and Raghda’s marriage is crumbling. Amer feels distant from Raghda and has a French girlfriend of his own. It upsets Raghda to the point she changes the password on his laptop. She even attempts suicide by cutting her wrists. No doubt it upsets everyone. She them admits she never had the chance to find herself and she feels that despite her political freedom in France, she still feels she can do more for Syria or for others hurt by war.
The film ends in 2015. They two youngest sons have a promising future in France. Their older son reveals his pro-Assad former girlfriend was killed. Asad runs a chicken farm in France and is without Raghda. He wishes her well in whatever she does. Raghda is now in Turkey in a city 20 miles from the Syrian border. She works with refugees and is happier with her life now.
This is a unique story of love that starts with one hoping for a happy ending. We know Syria won’t turn out for the better but we hope that Raghda will be free and will return to her family and they’ll live happily ever after. We all want that storybook ending. Unfortunately it doesn’t end up that way. McAllister knows the problems prisoners exhibit after they’re free and he lets Amer and all of us know it. Over time, it shows after the moves, after Syria’s continued strife and after one senses the love between the two fading over time. It was unfortunate. The moment of hope doesn’t end up being when Raghda is free but rather when Amer is still in France and Raghda is in Turkey. That’s where the true scene of hope for the better is present.
The story is not just about the couple. It’s also about the surrounding family. This is especially noteworthy of the two youngest sons, Kaka and Bob. Bob is six at the beginning and the youngest. He tried to be a carefree child but the hurt of knowing his mother’s in prison is evident. Kaka is ten at the start and familiar with the realities in Syria. He’s able to tell Sean in good enough English his feeling of the situation, and of how he’d either like to fight or kill Assad. As they grow, the changes are present. Bob is getting bigger but has difficulties fitting into his school in Paris because his long hair causes other boys to call him a girl. Kaka is getting a better education but can’t ignore what’s happening to his parents. He can sense what’s happening and has his own opinions on what he feels should happen. Although the two are not the main protagonists, their presence in this story is vital.
One thing about this documentary is that the story focuses more on the fading marriage than it does in the strife in Syria from civil oppression to public outcry to a civil war to the eventual crisis with ISIS. However it does focus on the couple as they were fighting their own war with each other. They go from loving each other and having a closeness while Raghda’s in prison to the love fading over time after Raghda is free and they’re together again. It’s sad that they were closer together when Raghda was in prison. It’s even hard to pinpoint who’s the bad guy. Is it Amer for his fading commitment? Or is it Raghda for her inner strife? Amer appears like a jerk not even willing to try when he says things like “Syrians love prisoners,” but Raghda’s suicide attempt gets you wondering was she thinking of her family at the time?
Watching this documentary, I believe that this isn’t the type of documentary meant for the big screen. With the camera quality, editing and McAllister’s voice over, it fares much better as something for television broadcast. I’m sure that’s what it intends to be. I have to give McAllister credit for having the ability to do all this filming over time and to present a unique story. I also give Amer and Raghda credit for McAllister willing to film them while their marriage was hitting rock bottom and they were showing terrible behavior such as Amer threatening to smash his laptop and Raghda slitting her wrists. It surprises me that they were willing to show things that personal on camera.
A Syrian Love Story may not be a documentary meant for the big screen but it’s a very revealing story that reminds us not all love story has the fairytale ending. despite the hardships they show, it does end on a hopeful, if not happy, note.
“Old theatres are irreplaceable. They could never be duplicated at today’s costs – but more importantly, their spirit could not be duplicated because they remind us of a day when going to the show was a more glorious and escapist experience. I think a town’s old theatres are the sanctuary of its dreams.”
– Roger Ebert, 1942-2013
On Sunday February 3, 2013, The Ridge Theatre in Vancouver showed its last movies. It was part of a ten-day film festival put on before its closure. For many, the closing of The Ridge was another downturn in Vancouver’s entertainment business. For others, it was the loss of what was simply a great charming building.
The Ridge Theatre first opened its doors in the Kitsilano Region of Vancouver on April 13, 1950 screening Henry V starring Sir Laurence Olivier. It was one of many single-screen theatres in Vancouver during a time when single-screen theatres were the norm. Even as the 1980’s approached with the advent of the VCR, video rentals and multiplextheatres, The Ridge still stuck around showing movies in its familiar theatre. It would even continue as an independent reparatory theatre starting in 1978 once bought by Leonard Schein. Schein would show independent and classic films to the public as well as movie fans. Owning and running The Ridge would even help Schein launch the locally-owned Festival Theatres chain which would help bring more independent and foreign cinema to Vancouver’s screens and found the Vancouver International Film Festival in 1982.
I myself saw my first film at The Ridge back in April of 2000. I remember it was Being John Malkovich. I remember seeing it with my cousin, who I’m not speaking with anymore, after eating at the Chinese restaurant in that strip mall. Since then, I would frequently go to The Ridge Theatre. I was always pleased with whatever movie I saw each time I went. It was a good small quaint theater in a nice neighborhood. When I first went, The Ridge Theatre was independently owned and had their movies planned at least two months in advance with a newspaper-like schedule. It was later possible to sign up for e-mail updates. Another thing I liked was the low-cost popcorn and a theatre that served coffee, cookies and brownies.
Things changed December 24, 2005 when it was no longer under its original ownership. It had been rebought by Schein for Festival Cinemas. It was a hard break for the original owners who wanted to keep it an independent cinema. Nevertheless the new ownership actually did a lot to enhance play as Festival Cinemas had a reputation of promoting some of the more independent films. Even after The Ridge became a full-price theatre with contemporary seating installed, people still enjoyed coming. It’s almost as if it was never hurt in the first place. The Ridge would also become a facility for showing films part of the Vancouver Film Festival and show live soccer games during the World Cup and Euro events.
Then news was heard months ago. Possibly more than a year ago. The area around The Ridge Theatre had been sold to developers. They wanted to turn it into condominiums. A common Vancouver situation where old buildings get sold for the sake of being crushed and turned into condominiums. That just shows how competitive land and its value is here in Vancouver. Many people were unhappy about it. There was even a picket over it months ago. Nevertheless the decision was firm. Sales for the new condos started some time ago. Already other businesses in that minimall had already either closed up or found a new place to do business at. You can read about it more in this Georgia Straight article.
It was unfortunate for The Ridge to close as it was yet another theatre in Vancouver to close up. Many of you have read my story about the closure of The Hollywood Theatre. The Hollywood still stands but as a church. Other theatres that have closed in the past two years have not even had that minor bit of luck. The VanEast is now closed and is now being turned into business area. The multi-screen Denman Theatre which was great as a second-run theatre has been turned into store area. The three-screen Oakridge theater is now being converted into its new business area. The seven-screen Granville 7 closed in November to make way for a condo development. And another multi-screen venue, the Station Square cinema, has been closed because of a radical redevelopment project in the Station Square area. And now The Ridge. This is hard times for Vancouver’s cinemas right now. I’m sure this is also especially difficult for the Vancouver International Film Festival to find a new venue for 2013 and have it for many years to come.
Moving ahead, February 28th would mark the end of Festival Cinemas, the movie company that organizes showings at The Ridge as well as the Park Theatre and the Fifth Avenue. I’m sure it was shocking for many. it was shocking for me too. The owners Schein and Tom Lightburn decided to retire. Fifth Avenue Cinemas and Park Theatre are now owned by Cineplex. Schein and Lightburn reassured people in the Festival Cinema’s last email to patrons that the theatres will still continue to show the films common to what was shown during the Festival Cinema years. As of today, The Fifth Avenue does show some independent films along with a blockbuster or two. It’s great to see since that’s what Fifth Avenue patrons like myself have always come to and want to continue coming to. If they went to doing nothing but blockbusters at those theaters, they could lose a lot of patrons. Good to see them being smart about taking over Fifth Avenue as they were taking over Tinseltown.
Going back to The Ridge’s closing, The Ridge was to close on Sunday February 3, 2013, but not without a bang. The last ten days consisted of what would be called the Last Film Festival in showing some of the most beloved movies as of recent and some classic gems at $5 admission to salute The Ridge’s last days. Saturday January 26th was a highlight with the last midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Theatre. I was there and it was a fun night with the Vancouver Rocky Horror fan club in attendance. Virgins were called up to participate in a fake orgasm contest. I believe there was a contest for costumes. The rest of the time was devoted to watching the movie and participating whenever necessary. Unfortunately there were three times when the old celluloid reel broke. Nevertheless it was a fun time.
One problem with the showings was that many were sold out. In fact there was to be a special showing of the 1985 made-in-BC Canadian film My American Cousin on Thursday the 31st in which I was hoping to see with my friend. It was both a screening and a Q&A with a special guest which had a $10 admission. It was sold out before I could get to the box office. It was obvious that if I wanted to see the very last showing at The Ridge–Midnight In Paris at 9:10pm– I would have to buy my ticket well in advance. I bought it that Thursday evening. Smart move.
When I arrived, it was 8:20. Already there was a long line-up. It was halfway down the block and growing quickly before they finally let the people in. I looked around at the buildings in that minimall. The bowling alley is still active but for how long? The Chinese Restaurant will close by the end of the year upon the owner’s retirement. All the other businesses in that mall have either closed or have moved to a new location. The only other businesses still active were the McDonalds and the office buildings on the outside facing 15th Ave. Just outside there were people who were too late to get tickets for the show and waiting to be the last lucky ones. Reminds me of me back on Thursday for wanting to see My American Cousin. I think all the Ridge shows sold out.
After I entered, I wanted to tour and take pictures. I was able to take pictures of the main floor before Midnight In Paris was to be shown. The top floor which had the crying room and the camera room was off-limits for that time. I even remember as I was taking pictures outside the main entrance before the show, a man talked about his first time at The Ridge in which it was a date with the woman who would become his wife. His wife was in attendance with him too that night.
As the show was about to start, the emcee didn’t talk much before Midnight In Paris was shown. It wasn’t like the long goodbye with speeches that happened over at the Hollywood Theatre. He kept it brief and he just simply welcomed us all to the last screening at The Ridge. Actually instead of a long goodbye, we were told of all the theatres that were to get certain ‘pieces’ of The Ridge. One film company was to get its display projector, another was to get the stained glass windows, another was to get the doors. Good to see that certain items of The Ridge will be kept for a long time. Midnight In Paris played after. So the image of Owen Wilson and Lea Seydoux walking off together on a Paris street makes history as the last image to grace the screen at The Ridge.
As the credits were rolling, some left. More left as the credits finished but at least a hundred people wanted to stick around and get their last looks at The Ridge Theatre. I was taking pictures all over the place: the crumbly snack bar, the movie signs, the ads on the billboard, many things. I also took some photos of the inside of the theatre too and its nice set-up. Something you don’t see much of. Then I finally had my chance to check the top floor. Outside of the women’s restroom, there was a meeting room that had paper of old Ridge letterhead, a sound-proof crying room in the balcony and the projection room. The projection room was a marvel to see. It was nice to see the projector they were using. It was also nice to see the view of the screen from the projection area. I took more photos around the place.
Then finally I returned back to the theatre area. Half an hour and people still wanted to stick around. This was different than the Hollywood closing. The thing I remember most was there were three women from a writing group whom I met. They wanted pictures of them at the theatre. They also got me to take a picture of them showing they don’t want to leave 2012 when the theater was still alive and well. Yeah, I wished it was still 2012 too and The Ridge was still alive, well and thriving. Then after sticking around and taking some last photos, I finally left.
Just when you thought it was all over after I left The Ridge Sunday night, it wasn’t. The following night, I went to the Rio Theatre to see two movies and guess what I saw? Low and behold, I saw the doors of The Ridge theatre. I was happy to see that pieces of The Ridge were already being kept around. Yes, this did mean that the dismantling of The Ridge already started the day after but I was happy to see that the memory of The Ridge will be kept alive.
The closure of The Ridge was not the happiest of occasions. Yes, it was a not-so-pleasant display of the sign of the times. Nevertheless it was happy to see a theatre close surrounded by a lot of people who loved the theatre. For those that attended the last showings at The Ridge, The Ridge was a theatre that meant something to everyone. I know it meant a lot to me and I’m happy I had a chance not just to go to The Ridge Theatre but to experience it during the last thirteen years of its life. Goodbye Ridge Theatre. You’re gone but you still exist in the hearts of many.
Midnight In Paris turned out to be one of the most unlikely sleeper hits of the summer. Little was expected of it: Owen Wilson being the biggest name, a romance featuring characters older than the 20’s, a Paris setting and a trip back to the past. Somehow it was able to capture people’s imaginations and make moviegoers want to see it.
The story is about Gil: a Hollywood screenwriter who’s successful but easily distracted. He’s engaged to Inez, a daughter of wealthy conservative parents. While the four are vacationing in Paris, Gil is struggling to finish his first novel about a man working in a nostalgia shop; a novel for which he plans to give up his scriptwriting career and move to Paris for inspiration. This does not sit very well with Inez’s parents as they don’t favor the arts or Paris nor does it sit well with Inez herself as she intends to live in Malibu. Meanwhile Inez’s friend Paul who appears to know a lot of the artistic greats makes things more complicated as Gil finds him insufferable and even phony.
After a wine tasking one night, Gil is drunk and alone outside the hotel. At midnight, Gil comes across a coach leading a group to a secret place. Gil joins the group and the people appear to be celebrating 1920’s couture. Later we see that the coach leads to a place where the 1920’s come alive with the Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and wife Zelda. He even meets Gertrude Stein and offers her to look over his novel. One catch we learn as he returns to the hotel, he’s back in the present.
Gil goes to return the next night novel in hand and offers to bring Inez with him but she’s annoyed with what he says and returns to the hotel. The coach returns at midnight and this time Ernest Hemingway is inside. He gives Gertrude his novel and she introduces him to Picasso. Gil encounters Picasso’s mistress Adrianna whom he has become attracted to. The following day Paul shows Gil and Inez Picasso’s painting of Adrianna at a museum and tells his story about it. Gil contradicts with the truth he just saw the other night, only to annoy both Paul and Inez.
Gil visits the past more often for inspiration for his novel which annoys Inez. Her father even hires a private investigator on him, only to be lead to the Versailles during the era of Louis XIV and never to be found again. Gil spends more time with Adrianna, who leaves Picasso for Hemingway. This confuses Gil as he feels he’s falling in love with her. Meanwhile he meets with surrealists like Salvador Dali, Man Ray and Luis Bunuel who see nothing strange about him coming from the future. Gil goes furniture shopping with Inez but comes across and an antiques dealer who’s selling Adrianna’s diary. He also learns from a conversation with the antiques dealer herself that she also has the same fondness for the 20’s Gil has. Later a guide from the Rodin Museum translates Adrianna’s diary and he learns she’s in love with him. Gil returns to the past and confesses his love to Adrianna. A coach leading them to the days of the Belle Epoque drives up and Adrianna opts to go in, talking of how she longs of the days of the Belle Epoque and how the 1920’s are so imaginative. It there that Gil learns about the illusionate lure of nostalgia and learns to accept the present for what it is. In the end, the romantic triangles between all involved take a surprising turn and Gil makes some surprising decisions.
I don’t think the movie is stressing too many points but rather telling an amusing love story where artistic inspiration and one’s passion are the top themes. It does pay an admiration for the writers and thinkers in the past but it reminds us to admire their influences rather than dwell back to their time.
Another theme that’s common in Woody Allen’s movies is about artists and their inspirations. It shows how a top Hollywood writer feels that burning desire to create a novel that no Hollywood millions can take the place of. Allen puts in many legendary artists, writers and filmmakers—including some from an American expatriate group in Paris at that time–who received their inspiration in Paris to make his point. It also reflects on Allen’s feelings of conservatism being stuffy, especially with the Tea Partiers. Interesting how Gil is an artist mesmerized by legends of the past while Inez’ father admires a political party known for its past thinking.
In terms of the movie’s acting, this is the best acting I’ve seen from Owen Wilson. He seems in these past few years to be leaving his past Slacker Pack schtick behind and is now doing more sensible roles. This is an excellent move for Wilson. Here he plays a man who’s smart but easily distracted. Very good job. The supporting roles were also excellent, especially the character acting. Most of the characters of people from the past are so well-acted, you easily forget who the actor is. It took me a while to recognize Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali, Marion Cotillard as Adrianna and Tom Hiddleston as F. Scott Fitzgerald. The most recognizable was Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein. Nevertheless her acting was still top quality.
The best effort has to come from the directing and writing from Woody Allen. I will admit that Woody Allen’s humor and comedies are not as fresh as it was during the 70’s and Midnight isn’t that different. If there’s one thing I like, it’s that Woody Allen is able to keep quality and good effort in comedy. While most comedic writers rely on cheap shots, one-liners and slapstick to make hit comedies, Allen keeps the intelligence in his storylines and presents comedies with amusing situations, full characters and an ending that differs from your typical Hollywood endings. Here we have characters that make you laugh and think at the same time. Here we have a return back to the past that fits the story well. Here we have a romantic comedy that doesn’t end the way your typical Hollywood romantic comedy ends. in terms of box office, Midnight is Woody’s highest-grossing film in North America ever. Impressive.
Midnight In Paris is not a comedy for everyone. I don’t think a trip into the past in Paris at the stroke of midnight will draw everyone. Nevertheless it is a refreshing break from your typical predictable, formulaic Hollywood fare and will impress whoever is willing to view it.