Some may say that the best thing about being a student at Goldsmiths is the facilities, or the quality of the education, or the fact that most of our buildings are epic labyrinths. Not me. I mean, those are great. But the best part of being in Goldsmiths definitely is the extensive DVD collection in the library. And the hot chocolate at Natura cafe.
But lets focus on the former. Since I’ve found myself with a glorious amount of free time on my hands ever since the abrupt end of my degree, I stopped by the library the other day to take a few DVDs out, for the purposes of whiling away the long and lonely nights. *quiet sniffles*
And hence it was that I stumbled upon this wonderful gem of a film!
Going into it, I thought this movie was going to be nothing more than an easy, moderately thinking-free chick flick, of the Eat Pray Love variety. I mean, Owen Wilson on the cover strolling beside the Seine, with the background melting with painterly abandon? You can’t blame me for the assumption. Also, the first and only Woody Allen film I’d seen before this was To Rome With Love and it was wierd. Very trippy, not in a desirable way. So imagine my shock when it turned out to be something of a romantic sci-fi thing – this really took me on a wild ride. But it was lovely. It was also chock full of some of Hollywood’s, and history’s, biggest names, which you might’ve gotten a hint of from the poster above.
Gil (Wilson) is an aspiring writer with his head in the clouds, who arrives in Paris with his fianceé Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her parents, with whom they’ve tagged along on a business trip. Inez is rich, spoilt, bratty, and casually dismisses all of Gil’s enthusiasm for the city of love. Yes, McAdams is basically being Regina George all over again, but this time in Paris. They meet a pair of Inez’s fancy, I-hang-out-in-art-museums friends (I get how ironic it is that I of all people am whipping out this adjective), Paul and Carol. As they spend days meandering through d’Orsay and the manicured gardens of Versaille, Inez makes casual habit of singing praises of ‘intelligent’ and ‘romantic’ Paul, all the while callously berating Gil for being less so. Understandably, Gil finds Paul an impeccably coiffed pain in the ass.
So it is that poor Gil, who pines for the romantic air of 1920s Paris in the rain (of course), finds himself bored out of his wits and generously condescend-ed upon. One evening, a slightly drunk Gil implores Inez to take a stroll through the city with him, instead of going dancing with Paul and Carol. Inez, of course, flat out refuses. Gil ends up taking said stroll by his lonesome, inebriated, self. He ends up slightly lost in a maze of cobblestone streets and dim street lights, and, defeated, ends up taking a rest on an inconspicuous flight of marble stairs beside a small street where the odd car comes and goes.
After not more than 5 minutes, what does he see but a vintage car chugging up the street. It stops by him; the door is flung open, and the passengers, decked in elaborate 1920s costume, gesture and call out to him in french to come join them. He is convinced they’ve made a mistake, but goes along anyway.
What results is a remarkable trip back in time to the 1920s, which I, like Gil, initially assumed was nothing more than an elaborate costume party. He bumps into two other Americans, who introduce themselves as Scott and Zelda (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill). Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. (Hiddleston is madly charming. And so tall.) Gil is, obviously, mind-blown and very confused, but I myself was no less excited. I felt like I was living that moment with and through Gil, who, through the confluence of some highly unusual circumstances, has managed to step back through time and come face-to-face with, no, to share a drink with, some of the greatest names in art, music, and literature. What a dream. I would turn red with excitement, had that been me. Which would’ve been embarrassing. But so. Much. Fun!!
A stunned Gil, eyes wide as porcelain dishes, returns night after night via the same mysterious car, and proceeds to meet Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Picasso (Marcel Di Fonzo Bo – he bears a striking resemblance to the enigmatic painter), Dali (Adrian Brody), Man Ray (Tom Cordier), and a host of others. Each time, I relived that excitement, right alongside Gil. I was so invested in each discovery of a new legend, I felt as if I might have been right next to Gil as he navigated these meetings, peeking over his shoulder, blushing like mad and going ‘OMG ITS PICASSO omg omg omg!!!!’.
Adrian Brody is particularly fantastic in his short stint as Dali, incredibly comical and charming. The first thing he asks Gil is, ‘What do you think of the rhinoceros?’, which is, of course, such a very Dali thing to ask. As the conversation proceeds, they are joined by Man Ray and Luis Buñuel, but Dali keeps harping on about that rhinoceros, a cheeky smile emerging from beneath that iconic moustache. Adorable. At some point, Matisse (Yves-Antoine Spoto) makes a brief appearance in Gertrude Stein’s studio, and Stein tells Gil they are planning to purchase one of his paintings for 500 francs. ‘500 francs?!‘, Gil exclaims, before inquiring if he can pick up ‘five or six of those’. Having just seen a Matisse go for 7 million pounds at a Christie’s sale, I totally get Gil. Totally.
Gil meets big name after big name, but only one person truly makes a deep impression on his heart, and that happens to be a woman whose face has been preserved in world-renowned paintings, but whose name would barely cause a stir. And that is none other than Adriana (Marion Cotillard), muse of painters from Modigliani to Picasso, and who swiftly captures Gil’s dreaming heart.
Paris at night, city of love (if you ignore the occasional shady character in the dark corners)
Cotillard is breathtakingly alluring, delicate, and emanates that special charm that only French women seem to have. A cigarette between her dainty fingers has none of the bold crudeness and vulgarity it normally does, but looks as natural as a perfectly-poised piece of jewellery. Her accent, smooth and velvety, is probably best compared to silky, thick, hot chocolate on a rainy day. The fashion, on Adriana as with everyone else from the 1920s, is fascinating and delightful. Real effort was taken to recreate the vibrancy and vitality of the era, and on each actors’ part, they have obviously done a painstaking job of imagining what these legendary names, normally only seen on the covers of books or signatures on the corners of paintings, might have been as living, breathing, people.
As Gil gets to know each unique character intimately, he begins to get a sense of something bigger, some crucial piece of knowledge about life, nostalgia, and the inevitable progress of time. At one point, Gil and Adriana skip further back in time, and find themselves in the Parisian Belle Époque. Art was flourishing, and it was the period of the Impressionists; they meet Toulouse-Lautrec, Gaugain, and Degas (Vincent Menjou Cortes, Olivier Rabourdin, François Roustain) at a buzzling cabaret. Adriana falls in love with the era, and begs Gil to stay with her there, never to return to the 1920s. Gil reveals to Adriana that he actually harks from 2010, and tries to reason with her that, through his experience, one can forever find faults with their present, whichever present that may be, and that there will always be another ‘golden age’ to chase. ‘There are no antibiotics here!’ he tells her in exasperation, but she doesn’t understand. They part there, and Gil reluctantly returns to modern day Paris by himself.
There is a bit more of an ending, but I shan’t break that to you. This whole post has been one whole spoiler, so I’ll save a little morsel for you.
The film is more than just a whimsical tour through 1920s Paris in the rain, and all the delightful (for some, delightfully drunk) characters that twirled through its gas-lit streets and dancing halls. What Gil learns, as the audience, I think, does too, is that nostalgia for a time before us is always in part a fantasy that the people in that time did not experience equally. People are never satisfied; there is always some place better, a better era, a better partner. Anything can be contested with not much effort. Maybe you think that your creativity would flow more freely if you were sat before a Burlesque performance, in the company of the Impressionists in top hats, instead of in a Starbucks with your name misspelt on a paper cup. Or that you would find a superior kind of love in a Parisian cafe at midnight, with soft Jazz playing, instead of through swiping right on a dead, lifeless, screen. Admittedly, the latter example is hard to argue with. The point, however, is that we are not Gil – we can’t hop back through time each day at midnight. And even Gil had always to return to the present reality for each new day. We are only given one present, one reality, and we might as well make the best of it instead of ever pining for a time past, which, honestly, is probably viewed through rose-tinted glasses instead of as a sobering reality.
Coming out of a degree, bidding goodbye to student-hood and saying a timid hello to working-life, no-London-life, and all the big scary unknowns that come with it, I’m having a timely encounter with this film. London is to me what Paris is to gil; although, actually, Paris also is to me what Paris is to Gil. I know I will always, always, miss London, and the life I’ve had here. It’s been exhilarating, joy-filled, adventure-laden, pleasantly chaotic at times but also gifting the deepest, most satisfying quiet moments. I’ve not been looking forward to going back, but what I do know is that I must go forward. London, however sad I may be to admit it, is past. Now, my life has to be built back home again, and I have to learn to be happy, and find my joys in an entirely different circumstances. All I have is the one present, and I want to make it the best present. I have to learn to be content wherever I find myself.
On a lighter note, let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge the fact that Rachel McAdams is once again playing the role of a time traveler’s wife (The Time Traveler’s Wife; this film; About Time). It’s like they can’t write a movie about a man who gallivants through time without bringing her on board as well.
Me Thinks: I told my boyfriend all about this film, and he wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was, partly because names like Hemingway and Dali weren’t quite common knowledge to him, as I suspect might be the case for lots of other people as well. Granted, if they had made a version of this film that orbited around the biggest names in Science in the 1920s, I would’ve been a fish out of water, and a pretty bored one at that. So this might not be the film for everyone, though I would definitely recommend you to give it a try, especially if those big names listed above ring a bell with you. It’s fun and lighthearted, but poignant as well, with an underlying message that is important for anyone, in any time, whether you’re living life with renewed zest each day, or constantly moaning about the prospect of greener grass.
Of course, it’s also always a charm to take a twirl through beautiful, captivating, Paris, in whichever era. One of the most beautiful cities I have ever had the pleasure of visiting, and I relish every chance I have to relive my memories of that magical place.
Cheers (to time, and timely messages! and to Paris. Eternal Paris.) x