Midnight In Paris | 2011
Lightweight but hugely enjoyable whimsy from Woody Allen, as writer and nostalgia fan Gil (Owen Wilson) gets a first-hand taste of Jazz Age Paris.
Like Allen’s New York films, the movie provides a handy guide to the best the city has to offer – providing you're not on a student gap year budget.
Like Manhattan, the movie opens with a montage of beauty shots set to a jazz score. Among the flurry of images, you can recognise locations from other Paris movies, which may be homages or simply the best views of the city: there are the little Left Bank shops of rue Galande – with the giant flea sculpture – (seen in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset), avenue des Camoens with its view of the Eiffel Tower (Francois Truffaut’s Le Dernier Metro), the columns of Parc Monceau (Gigi) and the double-decker Pont Bir Hakeim (Last Tango in Paris and, more recently, Inception).
The movie proper begins in Monet’s Garden, the former home of impressionist painter Claude Monet in Giverny, where writer Gil reveals his love for the romantic image of old Paris.
Monet lived on this estate from 1883 until his death in 1926. The Japanese-style wooden bridge, famous from his paintings, can be found in the water garden section. It's actually a copy, after the original bridge, which the artist commissioned from a local craftsman, had deteriorated beyond repair. About 50 miles northwest of Paris, you can comfortably visit Giverny, as a day trip from the city.
In the City of Light itself, Gil and fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) stay with her parents at Hotel Le Bristol, 112 rue du Faubourg St Honoré. Smack in the centre of the high fashion shopping street (Pierre Cardin, Hermès, Lanvin, Lacroix...), Le Bristol has been the Paris base of Hollywoodsters such as Kim Novak, Rita Hayworth and Charlie Chaplin.
Equally upscale (even for Paris) is the restaurant where Gil rather vocally disagrees with Inez's Republican folks, and where smug know-all Paul (Michael Sheen) first puts in an appearance. It's Le Grande Véfour, 17 Rue du Beaujolais, tucked away behind the columns at the entrance to the gardens of the Palais Royale. Opened in 1784, the restaurant' boasts an impressive list of customers – many of whom have plaques marking their favourite tables – including Napoleon – and naturally Josephine – as well as writers Colette and Victor Hugo, philosopher Jean Paul Sartre and artist/film-maker Jean Cocteau.
It's in the gardens at Versailles that Paul snidely dismisses Gil’s nostalgia as 'Golden Age Thinking'. Versailles is about 45 minute rail journey from Paris Austerlitz station – you can purchase a round-trip RER ticket (you can book a joint trip to include Giverny if you have limited time).
The interior of the grand Chateau de Versailles itself, built for Louis XIV, is glimpsed toward the end of the movie as the unfortunate detective hired to follow Gil finds himself seriously lost. The palace is also seen in Milos Forman’s Valmont and Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.
With the wedding on the horizon, Inez talks rings with her mother as they window shop at jewellery store Chopard, 1 place Vendome (metro: Tuileries) – a mere stone's throw from the Ritz.
During a tour of the Musée Rodin in the Hotel Biron, 79 rue de Varenne (metro: Varenne), Paul contradicts the guide (a cameo from Carla Bruni) about the sculptor's wife and mistress. The Hotel Biron was Auguste Rodin's home from 1911 to his death in 1917, and he bequeathed his artworks to the nation on condition they be exhibited here. There’s an admission charge for the museum itself, but you can tour the gardens for only €1.
The alfresco wine tasting is at La Belle Étoile, the rooftop suite of Hotel le Meurice, 228 Rue de Rivoli (metro: Tuileries), overlooking the Tuileries. Dubbed the ‘Hotel of Kings’ – Queen Victoria, Alphonse XIII and the Shah of Iran (who was deposed by the Iranian revolution while staying here) are listed among its royal guests. Other luminaries include composer Tchaikovsky, as well as two artists who appear as characters in the film – Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.
Ever the showman, Dali spent at least one month of each year at Le Meurice. Determined to live up to his image as Master of the Surreal, he occasionally demanded a horse be sent to his room, or a herd of sheep, or flies caught from the Tuileries. Now that’s what I call room service.
Understandably, this rarified life is getting all too much for Gil, who takes off alone for a breath of fresh air.
Lost and slightly tipsy, he slumps down on the steps of St Etienne du Mont, rue de la Montagne Geneviève (metro: Cardinal Lemoine), where he gets an invite from the mysterious 1920 Peugeot Landaulet, and the plot spins off into fantasy. Note that the ‘magic’ steps are not the main entrance, but to the side of the church, facing north.
Apart from the steps, we see precious little of the church itself, which houses the shrine of Saint Geneviève, the city’s patron saint, along with the tombs of physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal and playwright Jean Racine. Revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat (the one murdered in his bath by Charlotte Corday) is buried in the church’s cemetery.
Gil is whisked away to a party on quai de Bourbon (metro: Pont Marie), on the western tip if the Ile St Louis. With Cole Porter playing piano, his hosts introducing themselves as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill), Gil realises something very odd is going on.
From here – these parties soon get so boring – it's on to 'Bricktop's'. The singer and dancer Bricktop ran famed nightclub Le Grand Duc at 52 rue Pigalle (later, in 1929, she opened Chez Bricktop a few doors down at 66 rue Pigalle).
In the film, though, her club appears to be housed way to the south near the Pantheon, at 17 rue Malebranche, (another former screen location – this was previously the home of Audrey Hepburn and her father Maurice Chevalier in Billy Wilder's Love In The Afternoon) (metro: Luxembourg).
The real Bricktop (real name Ada Smith) lived on into the 1980s, and actually appeared as herself in Woody Allen's 1983 Zelig, to talk about the Human Chameleon's visit to her nightclub.
The non-stop partying moves on to Le Polidor, 41 rue Monsieur le Prince (metro: Odéon), where Gil leaps at the opportunity of getting Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) to cast an eye over his novel. A mere stripling, dating back only to 1845, Le Polidor was indeed patronised by Hemingway, along with fellow scribes Paul Verlaine, André Gide, James Joyce, Antonin Artaud and beat poet Jack Kerouac. For once, prices are comparatively modest and – don't worry – no, it hasn't been replaced by a launderette.
The next day, back in the 21st century, Inez and her mother consider forking out €18,000 for an antique chair at Philippe de Beauvais, 112 Boulevard De Courcelles (metro: Ternes or Courcelles). If you're looking to track down that special bit of furniture, be warned that Beauvais is actually a dealer in antique lighting, offering a collection of 18th to early 20th-century chandeliers, electroliers, candle sticks, lanterns and the like.
Incidentally, the striking church you may notice in the background of the scene is the Cathedral of Saint-Alexandre-Nevsky on Rue Daru, seen in the Oscar-winning 1956 film of Anastasia, with Ingrid Bergman.
The second magical midnight sees Hemingway take Gil off to visit Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) and her lover Alice B Toklas at the writer's real home, 27 rue de Fleurus (metro: Saint Placide). It’s here he also meets Pablo Picasso and his current mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard). The house isn’t open to the public, but a plaque above the door commemorates the writer’s 33-year residence.
Looking for a Cole Porter record, Gil bumps into Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) at the flea market of Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, Le Marché Paul Bert, 96-110 rue des Rosiers (metro: Porte de Clignancourt), to the north of the city at Porte de Clignancourt. This is the old market you might have seen in Louis Malle's freewheeling 1960 comedy Zazie Dans Le Metro.
Eight of Monet’s huge water lily pictures are displayed at the Musée de l'Orangerie, Place de la Concorde (metro: Concorde), along with works by Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Renoir and others. It’s here that Gil finally manages to outsmart Paul with his background knowledge of the Picasso painting.
But another night brings another party. The fairground bash with carousels is held in the Musée des Arts Forains – the Museum of Fairground Art, at Les Pavillons de Bercy, 53 Avenue des Terroirs de France (metro: Cour Saint-Émilion). The brainchild of Jean Paul Favand, this unique private collection of fairground art, including German swings, merry-go-rounds and carousels, is generally used as a venue-for-hire, though it’s possible to book ahead for private visits.
It’s here that Gil bumps into Adriana again, and together they take what seems to be quite a stroll. From southeastern Paris, they find themselves in Montmartre, descending the photogenic steps on rue du Chevalier de la Barre, running alongside Sacre Coeur, down to rue Lamarck (metro: Anvers).
Gil is amazed to find himself mentioned in Adriana’s journal as it’s read to him in the Parc Jean XXIII, tucked away on the Ile de la Cite, behind Notre Dame Cathedral (metro: Maubert Mutualité).
The Surrealist wedding party, where Gil pitches the idea for The Exterminating Angel to a flummoxed Luis Buñuel, is the extraordinary Maison Deyrolle, 46 rue du Bac (metro: Rue du Bac), awash with insects and taxidermy. Since 1831, Deyrolle has offered animal, botanic and mineral specimens to nature lovers, schools, universities, museums and scientific institutions. it’s not surprising that its collection became a magnet for the Surrealists.
Luis Buñuel, by the way, was intended to be the artist (finally replaced by writer Marshall MacLuhan) dragged out of the cinema queue to refute the loudmouthed pseudo-intellectual (a forerunner of Paul) in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.
It's on the quiet triangle of Place Dauphine, hidden away at the opposite end of the Ile de la Cité from the parc, in front of Restaurant Paul, 15 Place Dauphine, (metro: Chatelet), that a coach and horses arrive to give Adriana her own trip back into the past. Regulars at Restaurant Paul once included Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, who happened to live in an apartment above the restaurant. More recently, it's where Lou (Emilia Clarke) sits when she finally gets to visit Paris in 2016 weepie Me Before You.
Adriana and Gil are whisked further back to the Belle Epoque finery of Maxim’s, 3 rue Royale (metro: Concorde or Madeleine), where scenes for the 1958 musical Gigi were filmed, and on to the Moulin Rouge, 82 boulevard de Clichy (metro: Blanche) where, in turn, painters Toulouse Lautrec, Gauguin and Degas hanker after the great age of the Renaissance.
Neither John Huston’s 1952 film of Moulin Rouge nor the 2001 Baz Luhrmann musical were filmed in the real nightclub (the Luhrmann film was made entirely on soundstages in Sydney, New South Wales), though the Huston film was made largely in Paris, including scenes at Maxim’s.
After finally splitting with Inez, Gil drinks at l'Ile de France, 59 quai de la Tournelle at rue des Bernadins; and browses in Shakespeare and Company, 37 rue de la Bûcherie (the bookshop starting point for Richard Linklater's 2004 Before Sunset).
He finally ends up with Gabrielle on the wildly elaborate Pont Alexander III (metro: Invalides), (Anastasia again, the 1952 Moulin Rouge, 1985 Bond movie A View to a Kill and the end of Me Before You – again), acknowledging that "Paris is at its most beautiful in the rain".