Someone once famously said that you can never go home again but you can, according to Woody Allen, return to Paris of the 1920s. Such is the conceit of the writer-director's new film, Midnight In Paris, and what a wonderful conceit - and film - it is.
Much like what happened with the New York auteur's 2005 film, Match Point (England), and 2008's Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Spain), Allen has once again been rejuvenated by a change of locale. This time it is the French capital, acting as both the background for, and a character in the story, which has given the 75-year-old a new lease on life.
Similarly, the City of Lights has the same effect on Gil Pender (Owen Wilson). The Hollywood screenwriter, who is struggling to complete his first novel, has come to Paris with his shrewish fiance, Inez (Rachel McAdams), to take in the culture whilst his future in-laws (nouveau riche Republicans played by Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) do some business with the French.
But when Inez decides she'd rather spend time with her one-time college professor, Paul (Michael Sheen), a pseudo intellectual and "expert" in everything who prefaces every statement with "If I'm not mistaken", Gil is left to his own devices. One night, after a little too much wine and wandering the streets alone, Gil is invited into a vintage car which whisks him away to a party - in the 1920s.
There he meets F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife, Zelda (Alison Pill), Cole Porter (Yves Heck) and, later that evening, Ernest Hemingway (a pitch-perfect Corey Stoll). On subsequent midnight visits to the past he encounters the likes of Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody), Luis Bunuel, Pablo Picasso and Man Ray, while the likes of Djuna Barnes, Josephine Baker and T.S. Elliot are glimpsed in passing.
But the most impactful person he meets is artist's muse, Adriana, and given that she's played by the ever-lovely Marion Cotillard you can hardly blame him. Adriana, like Gil, has a hankering for the past, but for her it's France's Belle Epoque era. When Gil confides in her that he's from the future and that Paris in the 1920s is his Belle Epoque, she is surprised: but the '20s are so boring!
Allen's Midnight In Paris is as much a nostalgia piece as it is a reminder to live in and enjoy the now, for those who live in the past are often doomed to miss the present. That would certainly explain why Gil would want to marry Inez (other than her looking like Rachel McAdams). So preoccupied is he with his book (about a man who runs a nostalgia shop), Gil doesn't seem to mind that their only connection is a love of Indian food. Well, pita bread at least.
I'm not a fan of Owen Wilson (his drawl, his broken nose or his style of humour) but he's effective as Allen's avatar, as are the big and not-so-big name actors playing the roles of Gil's literary and artistic idols; Corey Stoll's bursting with testosterone Hemingway being the highlight.
But it's Marion Cotillard, as much as Woody Allen's overall conceit, which won me over; I fall a little more in love with Cotillard with every new film I see her in. After winning the Best Actress Oscar in 2007 (for playing Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose), she has gone from strength to strength; the 'best in show' in Rob Marshall's 9 (2009) and the emotional core of Inception (2010).
You can also see her this week in Steven Soderbergh's all-star disease thriller, Contagion. But I'd suggest you head first to Midnight In Paris, a gem of a film in this, or any year.