To start off, I initially browsed through Google for reviews about this film, but stopped when I realised how that could affect my own review. Just a disclaimer.
I first watched it with some classmates on the last day of A levels, and what a sight for sore eyes (and brains). From the very start to that last scene, I was engaged, enthralled and excited by every single detail. The lights, the colours, the music, the dressing, and oh! the constant references to famous artists and writers! I have to say, this film is on my list of Best Movies Ever Watched, which includes Let The Right One In (Let Me In aka the American version, because I’m too much of a wuss to check out the original Swedish version), He Love Me, He Loves Me Not and Helen The Baby Fox.
Let’s start from the top.
The beautiful opening is breathtaking on so many level. Firstly, the music. Who can deny the longing and passion that French Jazz stirs up in the deepest recesses of your soul? Si tu vois ma mère by Sydney Bechet is probably the best song to start this film. From its teasing clarinet, to the lulling piano accompaniment, and the drums keeping everything neat and orderly, this is Paris personified, or should I say, song-ified. What’s best is how Woody Allen flashes short clips of modern-day Paris. At first, I thought Allen chose this song because it sounded pretty, and wanted a upbeat-mellow jazz number to get the audience excited for artsy-fartsy Paris, but by the end of the movie, the sheer genius of his choice just overwhelmed me. Like ‘POOF’, my brain exploded into a million pieces at the perfect, subtle progression of the film, and how intentional each part of the film was. Moving on.
I’m not that big a literary geek to recognise all the references Allen made, and to be honest, I don’t think I’ve read a full novel by Hemingway or Fitzgerald. I am ashamed, but the good news is that this movie inspired me to pick up one of their books. Yet, simply recognising the names and their contribution to the literary and art scene as of now made me melt with appreciation and pure envy. Not just envy at Gil’s position, but also the talents of these men. The point is that I really appreciated how Allen introduced the era, with references to all its biggest talents through what Paris was then known for: the social events. The absurdity of all these great writers and artists and philosophers knowing one another and hanging out regularly is what adds to the charm of this movie. Allen is not trying to convince us that the film is a possibility, but rather trying to draw us into his fantasy of how the 20s in Paris is like in His mind.
See, when you think about an era, you only remember the famous people and events that made the era stand out from the others. In that way, your mind subconsciously associates these people/events together under the category of that era. As such, this film makes perfect sense to the mechanics of our minds and raw thought processes, though maybe not to the carefully thought through, filtered and hence ‘logical’ mindset we claim to have. Take your time to digest this chunk, it’s imperative you get this. This is the gist of the film.
But wait, there’s more! The comedy is slightly dry, very hinted at and subtle – blink and you’ll miss it! The portrayal of Hemingway is, to me, the best part. The way he speaks, so straightforward and blunt yet so repetitive and poetic, it really reflects his works. Then, adding on to his impulsive mannerisms, always drinking and ever violent and chauvinistic just makes him appear to be a joke. I think what Allen could have been trying to do was to reveal how Hemingway, though a great literary genius, was imperfect. Through that revelation of the imperfect, further drive at how this film is but an individual’s perspective of how the 20s are like in his mind, not to be taken seriously or as a fact.
Ultimately, what I came to realise, which was Allen’s objective of this film, was that everyone longs for the unobtainable. Whether it is Gil’s longing to live in the so-called ‘Golden age’ of the 20s, Adriana’s desire to live in the earlier days and even Inez’s longing for her old professor, her constant swooning over him and his pseudo-intelligence (as said by Gil) reflects how she wishes for the unobtainable. He starts off with the reference to Gil’s novel about a ‘Nostalgia shop’, which really encompasses the entire film, where everyone who enters a Nostalgia shop is trying to take hold of the past and fall through a time warp into a different era. By buying something or simply browsing through the many memorabilia, the customers are longing for the unobtainable, which is what everyone in this film is doing.
Since I’m limited by my knowledge of the arts and literary scene, I shall move past this stage and enter into the areas I didn’t fancy as much. There were some areas that were rather choppy and forced, especially the modern-day Paris part. The interactions between Gil, a dreamy guy, and a down-to-earth, overtly realistic soon-to-be family were fake and forced and uncomfortable to watch. Maybe that was the intention, to help the audience empathise with Gil’s need to be in the 20s where he ‘belongs’, but I thought it could have been done better. Also, the revelation part about how everyone longs for the unobtainable? Yea, that was too abrupt. I appreciate it, cause it’s a good idea to think about, but why does Gil have to say like he finally got it, and then proceed to tell us straight up what the whole film is thus about? What happened to the suspense or the letting us learn through inferences and hints? It honestly made me feel like I was too stupid to infer for myself, that the scriptwriter had to tell me the point of the film barefaced. Not to mention how Allen tried to force a happy ending with the French girl, Gabrielle, and how perfect a match she was for Gil. Even their names match! Corny much? Other than that, no big complaints. I’m pretty satisfied with the film.
I think it’s the art scene, the literary scene, the music scene, the social events and the constant mingling of all these talents plus a truckload of money to spend on parties, alcohol and clothing that really bowled me over. It’s the greatest representation of the culture during that period, and it’s the greatest because it’s perfect in Allen’s perspective. It might be different for someone else, definitely for me, but in this case the fact and knowledge that this is the perfect representation of the 20s in Paris to someone is good enough for me.