In the film Midnight in Paris, aspiring novelist Gil Pender asks, “How is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city?” as in his words, “every street, every boulevard is its own special art form”. Throughout history there have been countless cities that have become famous for the blend of unique qualities that make up their culture. Even amongst the world’s cosmopolitan havens, however, one city has always stood out as a center of art, romance, and culture; Paris. Throughout its vast history, Paris has produced countless artists, entrepreneurs, and scientists, and inspired many more who have had the opportunity to visit the City of Light. The city has withstood revolution, war, and enemy occupation with its spirit of innovation and resilience intact. On Friday, November 13, 2015 Paris was attacked in a series of terrorist assaults at locations throughout the city. The attacks ultimately resulted in the deaths of one-hundred thirty people and injury to over three-hundred others. The recent attacks come in the wake of attacks across the globe executed by the terrorist group ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups, including the infamous attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hedbo in January, 2015. Once again Parisians have faced the tragedy in true Paris fashion by taking action against terror threats abroad, while refusing to be ruled by fear and carrying on with their daily activities at home. In honor of this truly great city and its citizens, this week will feature three films that each capture some small piece of the magic of Paris.
|Taking 'picturesque' to a whole new level|
Midnight in Paris: This 2011 Hollywood crowd-pleaser portrays Paris from a tourist’s perspective, capturing each of its many landmarks with the idyllic freshness that a traveler experiences upon their maiden voyage to the city. The film follows idealistic American screenwriter, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) as he falls in love with all things Parisian. While a trip into the sights of the city would have been enjoyable enough, the film takes viewers on a true adventure when Gil is magically transported back in time to his idea of the ‘golden age’; Paris during the 1920’s. Over the course of the film, he meets and mingles with the great artists of the decade and soon finds the inspiration of the era rubbing off on him. Complications ensue, however, as he finds himself infatuated with fashion designer and artist’s model Adrianna (Marion Cotillard) while he is already struggling to salvage his relationship with his materialistic fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), in his own era. This frothy romantic comedy possesses the wit, charm, and romantic spark that ensure it is equally successful as both a comedy and love story. What stands out about the film, however, is the fact that it contains two love stories; the love triangle between Gil, Adrianna, and Inez and the love affair between Gil and Paris. At the film’s start, Gil is infatuated with the city in the way that so many newcomers are, and sees it through an idealized perspective. As the film progresses, however, that infatuation grows into a full passion as he experiences Paris through three different eras and makes a true connection with the city and its diverse citizenry. When the breezy journey reaches its finale, Gil comes to realize that not only can the past not be repeated, but that it inevitably contained just as many complications and frustrations as the present. While Gil’s infatuation with the 1920’s may cool to fond nostalgia, it’s no wonder why his love affair with Paris remains sizzling hot.
|Silly balloon, tricks are for kids|
The Red Balloon: Released in 1956, The Red Balloon remains one of cinema’s most innovative films and one of, if not the most, acclaimed film short. The nearly dialogue-free story follows a young boy, Pascal (Pascal Lamorisse), and his magical friendship with his new toy, a red balloon that seems to possess a consciousness and will of its own. The film chronicles the pair’s enduring friendship as stuffy adults and neighborhood bullies threaten to tear them apart. Throughout the film’s thirty-five minute running time, the balloon takes on a series of roles in Pascal’s life ranging from dog-like companion, to partner in mischief, to devoted protector. In this way, the balloon serves the dual purpose of acting as a crucial character in the story and portraying the film’s overarching symbol of the power of imagination. Throughout the film, adults misunderstand Pascal’s relationship with the balloon and try to separate them, while other children are jealous and try to take the balloon for themselves, much in the same way that people who don’t understand imagination suppress or dismiss it and those who lack it often try to take credit for other’s creative pursuits. This recurring pattern establishes the film’s theme of imagination versus conformity, which comes full circle in the breathtaking finale as Pascal’s imagination allows him to literally rise above the confines of the world around him. Set against the backdrop of post-war Paris, the story also serves as a metaphor for France's creative spirit, which not only survived but continued to thrive even after the devastation of occupation during WWII. Beyond its sweetly inspiring story, The Red Balloon also perfectly portrays Paris through the innocence and curiosity of a child, with each street becoming its own adventure and each sunrise carrying the hope of a new day full of endless possibilities. For a journey back into the wonder of childhood, follow the trail of The Red Balloon.
|Just two notes and I'm seeing things rosie|
La Vie En Rose: During the 1940’s and 1950’s, the songs of Parisian torch singer Edith Piaf were an instantly recognizable and poignant addition to the soundtrack of a generation. The film La Vie En Rose explores Piaf’s (Marion Cotillard) tumultuous life from her poverty-stricken childhood to her eventual international stardom. Passed from her neglectful street performer mother, to her irresponsible circus performer father, to her no-nonsense brothel madam grandmother, Piaf’s childhood was anything but conventional. Forced by her parents to earn her own living when she was still just a child, she quickly found her calling and escape from the slums in music. As she rose in the industry, however, life continued to be a struggle as she faced the deaths of both her only child and the love of her life (Jean Pierre Martins), as well as a debilitating car accident and subsequent morphine addiction. Rather than following the traditional trajectory of a birth to death biography format, the film is instead comprised of a series of flashbacks that appear through association to Piaf's present as she attempts to launch a comeback shortly before her death at age forty-seven. In this way, the film is more personal than most biopics as it is told entirely from the perspective of its protagonist, which provides additional insight into who she was and what it was about her that made her stand out among so many other talented artists. Marion Cotillard’s performance is nothing short of mesmerizing as she goes beyond mere mimicry and completely inhabits her role as the complicated singer, as she captures Piaf’s fascinating combination of backstreet toughness, girlish vulnerability, world-weariness, and carpe diem sensibility. From street waif, to Montmartre bohemian, to international celebrity Edith Piaf was a woman whose resilience and originality reflected the same inspiring qualities of the city in which she spent the majority of her days. Even today, over fifty years after her death, Piaf's music continues to enchant and inspire as a symbol of Paris in its all of its artistry. Below, I have included a link to a clip of Celine Dion's performance at the American Music Awards of Piaf's Hymne a'lAmour in an emotional and fitting tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks.
Vive la France et vive liberte.