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Countdown To Cannes 2011: Woody Allen's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

With this year's Cannes film festival feeling like something of an auteur-lead affair, how fitting that Thierry Fremaux is taking the opportunity offered by the Opening Film slot of the fest to celebrate one of the most prolific and fondly-held auteurs of the past few decades. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr. Woody Allen. For the second year running, I find myself previewing an Allen film in time for its premiere at Cannes, and really what I said last year in the run up to You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger still rings true. Last year I commented on Allen's still astonishing turnover of films, concluding that while Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Whatever Works don't really compare to Annie Hall, Manhattan and Sleeper, they are still markedly better than about 90% of the films that other directors put out as romantic drama competitors. The same can be said of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger: it is a relatively gentle film, full of engaging and well-drawn character portraits, packed with typical Allen themes, but lacking those specific charming idiosyncracies that made earlier films like Radio Days so entertaining and engaging. There was undoubted quality, but there wasn't so much magic. With Midnight in Paris it again seems almost certain that Allen will not plump for grandeur in place of any of his usual stable of themes or style- he will continue to focus his energies on making endearing, comparatively "small" projects that will continue to find most favour on European markets, which Allen has confirmed himself:
In the United States things have changed a lot, and it€™s hard to make good small films now. The avaricious studios couldn€™t care less about good films €“ if they get a good film they€™re twice as happy, but money-making films are their goal. They only want these $100 million pictures that make $500 million.
The early official synopsis of Allen's next project certainly seems to fit with that idea of a comparatively smaller film:
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is a romantic comedy that follows a family travelling to the city for business. The party includes a young engaged couple that has their lives transformed throughout the journey. The film celebrates a young man€™s great love for Paris, and simultaneously explores the illusion people have that a life different from their own is better.
Again, there is a definite suggestion of Allen's fascination with human relationships, the dynamics that drive them, the dichotomy of desire-driven aspirations for "something else", and the reality of realising those aspirations, and the way cities and homes have on people and their relationships. Sounds typically Allenian, doesn't it? Reasons to be Excited The cast: it is pretty unremarkable to comment on any Allen cast, since the director seems to collect star appearances, no matter who "small" the movie. This time around the impressive role-call reads thusly: Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hiddleston, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen and lead Owen Wilson. From what the trailer has so far offered, it looks as if Michael Sheen is having the most fun, and indeed it is his character who holds the most intrigue for me pre-release. It's a city-based love story, and Woody Allen is never much better than when his films act as love letters to the cities of the world, positioning the architecture and unquantifiable spirit of a city as a character in its own right. One thing is for certain, no matter what the success of the film itself Allen will offer a beautiful portrait of Paris. But Be Wary... Owen Wilson is not the sort of "talent" I'd normally suggest as Allen's usual pick, and watching the trailer his inclusion still feels a little jarring. While he seems to have that typically Allen-esque awkward self-imposed isolation thing down (his main characters are usually islands of difference within a larger cast), it is something of an over-extension to believe Wilson as a version of the director (which infamously prefigures many of his characters) and I have concerns that his range will meet the needs of the character. But I do know Wilson can pull off endearing charm (as he did with fine comic effect in Starsky & Hutch), and I very much hope I am wrong in this case. I watch movies because of the experience of change they affect in me: I value them for the changes they make to the way I feel, and I whole-heartedly believe in the escapist element of cinema. Woody Allen's earlier films (though not all of them) fit the bill perfectly, offering comparatively gentle but universally-themed cinematic experiences, but recently that effect has diminished somewhat. It seems that Allen is far more interested in making films for his own pleasure, and the escapist element is no longer at the fore-front of his agenda, which for me takes away something of the magic. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nOF93SzX6s Bring the festival experience home this year on Blu-ray Disc €“ keep up to date with all the latest Blu-ray news at the Blu-ray Disc Reporter.
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