In the Footsteps of “Midnight in Paris”

The film Midnight In Paris is Woody Allen’s tribute to Paris and an expression of his own passion, adoration and love affair with the city of lights. In a nutshell, the movie centres around Gil Pender (played by Owen Wilson) an aspiring author trapped in the body of a dissatisfied Hollywood screenwriter.  Gil is holidaying in Paris with his soon to be in laws and beautiful yet rather shallow fiancée Ines (played by Rachel McAdams) who doesn’t share Gil’s passion for the city nor his fascination with 1920’s Paris.  As a result, Gil takes to exploring the city alone especially at night where at a pivital moment in the film he is, as if by magic, whisked away in a vintage car at midnight and taken back in time to 1920’s Paris where he encounters all his beloved literary and artistic icons.   This magical age of jazz, artists and the lost generation of writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald take Gil on a journey of personal discovery.  In his encounters with Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Picasso, Dali and Adriana (played by Marianne Cotilard) benefit him by aiding to shape his creativity, inspiration and self confidence to write his novel.  Through meeting and interacting with his beloved icons he grows to understand life and becomes aware of how dissatisfied and unfulfilled his life in his own time really is.  As the movie unfolds from one delightful scene to the next, we are exposed to some very significant and stunning locations of Paris that every tourist and visitor to Paris must see.  The locations where Midnight In Paris are filmed will take you through Paris’ most charming sites and especially to the artistic, literary, philosophical and jazzy districts and a little beyond.  To walk in Gil’s footsteps of Paris is to explore the city in a highly pleasurable and memorable way and to relish in what makes the city so alluring. I hope that if and when you use the Midnight in Paris footsteps as your own personal  itinerary.

The movie begins in Monet’s dreamy gardens in Giverny (two hours drive from central Paris) where Gil and Ines share a romantic embrace and kiss on Monet’s Japanese inspired bridge overlooking his enchanting water lilies pond.   A visit to Monet Gardens is an absolute must whether you’re a Claude Monet fan or not as it gives you a taste of the charming little towns nearby and country life outside of Paris.  Here you will become immersed in the magic of the gardens and water lily pond created by the artist himself as an expression of his love of nature, flowers and watery scenes.  Monet created the pond and gardens as a prop or stage upon which to observe and capture the light throughout the different times of the day and seasons.  The play of light was Monet’s true subject and his water lilies pond was his most beloved watery prop in a way to observe and paint the change of light upon the water throughout the day.  Monet gifted the world with his series of water lily paintings or Les Nympheas amongst other countless enchanting art works most of which can be seen in Paris’ Musee de l’Orangerie and Musee Montmartan.  In a later scene in the movie, Gil and Ines find themselves admiring Monet’s largest Water Lilies art series in the Musee de l’Orangerie (Jardin Tuileries in Paris’ 1st arrondissment visit which also displays a fine collection of Impressionist art by Renoir, Degas, Manet and many others.  The Musee de l’Orangerie which should be high on your list of things to do in Paris, was the former Orangerie to Royalty who once occupied the Louvre Palace and is to the end of the Tuileries Garden’s close to Place de la Conchord and a stroll through the glorious Jardin Tuileries with its sculptured gardens, statures, lakes and ponds is an essential part of visiting Paris.

Next on the Midnight in Paris trail, head to the magnificent Palais Royal & Gardens in Paris’ old heart at the 1st arrondissement, where you will discover one of Paris’ most magnificent 17th century grand site’s and historic restaurant Le Grand Vefour where Napolean famously dined with Josephine and is located within the Palais Royale’s arcades (17 Rue de Beaujolais).  Here in Le Grand Vefour is where Gil and Ines meet for dinner with Ines parents after their day in Monet Gardens and where they coincidently reunite with Paul and Carol some old friends of Ines from her past.   These very friends will later join them in subsequent scenes and together will visit some very beautiful key locations in Paris.  Le Grand Vefour is certainly worth a visit for the exclusive French cuisine and dining experience or just a peek as it was a popular meeting place for the literary, artistic and political society for over 200 years.  The neoclassical inspiration of the interiors with its gilded mirrors, enamel wall art, chandeliers, crimson banquet tables and elaborate chairs will take you back to a more decadent and opulent time.  Be sure to take the time to walk through the stunning and remarkable gardens of the Palais Royale (former royal palace) where you will delight in dancing fountains, perfectly maintained grass and lush flowers, mythical statues, plush rows of trees and the famous Colonnes de Buren – black and white striped columns of various sizes a unique art installation by French artist Daniel Buren.

Le Bristol Hotel Paris is another grand and luxe location of Midnight In Paris that happens to be where Gil and Ines stay during their visit.  This gloriously luxurious hotel situated in Paris’ very upmarket and chic 8th arrondissment on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore – shooting off from the famous Avenue des Champs Elysees and is the heart of Parisian design, art and of course fashion.  Le Bristol was established in 1925 and is well known for its historic grandeur, outstanding service, elegant award winning dining and beautiful architecture and interior design.  Many a scene takes place in Gil and Ines’ gloriously furnished hotel suite at Le Bristol where viewers get a glimpse into the beautifully adorned room with its classic Parisian furniture in the hotel’s signature toile de Jouy and floral décor.  Even if the hotel isn’t in your budget, a visit to the hotel for a glass of wine or cup of tea and dessert followed by a bit of a peek around is a must and visitors are always made to feel welcome in any hotel in Paris.  A walk along the stylish Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore is where you will notice a number of galleries, the Elysees Palace and the famous Champs Elysees just a short walk away.

Another scene of the film takes place in Paris’ upmarket Place Vendome where Ines and her mother stop by the Chopard Boutique (1 Place Vendome) in search of a wedding ring.  Place Vendome is Paris’ centre of opulence and luxury conceived by the Sun King himself Louis XIV.   With its signature tall central monument, the colonne Vendome, made of melted down Russian and Austrian canons collected by Napolean’s army, commemorates the victory of the Grand Armee over the Russian and Austrian troops in Austerlitz in 1805.  The magnificent Place Vendome designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, architect to king Louis XIV, is the home of many high end boutiques, historic jewellery stores with celebrity clients and hotels including the famous Hotel Ritz loved by great figures of the past like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Proust, Charlie Chaplin and Coco Chanel.  Chanel adored the Hotel Ritz and lived there for most of her life to be near her flagship boutique at 31 Rue Cambon and today her suite is named and dedicated in honour of her and can be reserved by privileged guests for 18000 euros a night.  The Place Vendome was the inspiration for the bottle design of Chanel’s best selling No5 fragrance and the Chanel jewellery store stands proudly amongst the iconic and historic Boucheron, Mellerio, Cartier and Chopard where we see Ines and her pedantic mother admiring the stunning jewellery in the luxe vitrines discussing Gil’s fascination and love affair with Paris.  Even if the jewellery ateliers of Place Vendome are not in your budget a peek into the boutiques are a must in particular Mellerio where Marie Antoinette, Empress Josephine and Empress Eugenie were regular royal clients and their purchases are documented in the stores old journals for people to see.   You don’t have to be a guest at the Hotel Ritz to experience its magic as the hotel will welcome you inside even for a peek or perhaps a drink or meal at any number of their bars including their historic Hemingway bar.   For a more budget friendly taste of the Hotel Ritz’s famed service and impressive interiors reserve a table for a high tea experience you will never forget at the hotel’s beautiful Salon Proust.

We continue our footsteps of Midnight In Paris by paying a very necessary visit to the Musee Rodin (77 Rue de Varenne) a short walk from the the Musee d’Orsay in Paris’ 7th arrondissment on the left bank.  Here we see an amusing and picturesque scene unfold in the gardens of the Rodin Museum when Gil and Ines join their friends Paul and Carol and where Paul gets into an artistic dispute about Rodin’s personal life with the art curator played by none other than Carla Bruni singer and wife to the former president of France Nicolas Sarkozy.   The scene takes place by Rodin’s famous statue The Thinker where you get a little glimpse into the picturesque sculptured gardens attached to the enchanting mansion where Rodin lived and created his masterpiece sculptures and art.  When in Paris visiting this remarkable museum and gardens is a must and where you will delight in wondering through the gardens where many of Rodin’s sculptures are displayed such as the Gates of Hell, The Kiss and many other incredible pieces.   While taking a stroll through the gardens stop by the lovely pond and have a coffee break in the garden café before heading in to the museum itself where you will be impressed and swept away by the raw emotion and beauty of Rodin’s sculpture collection and permanent art collection as well as graphic drawings and where you will notice works by Van Gough.   Included in the exhibition is a room dedicated to the works of Camille Claudel, Rodin’s famous muse, student and lover where you will find many of her sculptures that reflect how much Rodin inspired her development as an artist and sculptor.

Another scene whisks us away to the magnificent palace and gardens of Versailles former home to the Sun King Louis XIV who created this wondrous monument of history and splendour.  As Gil, Ines, Paul and Carol stroll through the backyard of Versailles we are provided with a stunning glimpse at the remarkable manicured gardens, designed and created by the famous Andre Le Notre for the Sun King, fountains and majestic man made lake. 

The next scene in the movie takes us to the roof top of Le Meurice hotel at 228 Rue de Rivoli in Paris’ 1st arrondissment which is another one of the city’s most opulent and luxurious hotels fit for royalty, celebrities and artists.  On the roof top of Le Meurice we get a magnificent panoramic view of Paris and find Ines, Gil, Paul, Carol and Ines’ parents participating in a wine tasting at La Belle Etoile during Paris’ magical blue hour or l’heure bleau just before sunset when the roof tops of the city and architecture seem almost like a painting.  Le Meurice with its opulent décor, prestigious suites and impeccable service has the Tuileries gardens at its doorstep, Place Vendome and Louvre within arms reach and all the treasures of the 1st arrondissment to discover.   Aside from Queen Victoria and other royalty some famous artists, also featured in the film, were honored guests at Le Meurice like Picasso and Dali who kept the hotel and its staff quite busy with his rather peculiar requests such as sheep, horses and other creatures needed for his surrealist paintings. Le Meurice glorious location, sweeping rooftop views, prestige and history of great literary minds, artists and thinkers as guests its easy to understand why Woody Allen chose this hotel as a star location.

Next we arrive at perhaps the most magical scene of the movie where Gil wanders the streets of Paris by night ending up on the steps of Saint Etienne du Mont – a captivating, historic church on Rue de la Montagne Sainte-Genevieve with the Pantheon only steps away.  Here at this magical location with the old Medieval charm of a dimly lit winding cobbled stoned street lined with pretty old buildings that meanders along and past the Saint Etienne Du Mont Church.  The steps are to the side facing the winding street and not to be mistaken with the entrance that faces the side of the great Pantheon monument.  As Gil contempates his life and the mystic of Paris on the steps of the church, frames by a gloriously over sized purple door, the church bells chime and as they do an old vintage car drives up the winding little rue and Gil is urged by the party going passengers to hop into the car.  After a little persuasion Gil gets whisked away to 1920’s Paris, his most beloved era, from which point the movie spirals off into a more fantastical tangent.   Coming to this very spot and the surrounding area of the Latin Quarters of Paris will be most pleasurable and rewarding as you navigate your way through the many off shooting and charming little medieval, cobblestoned streets where you’ll find adorable cafes and eateries all bustling with activity including Chouchou (63 Rue Rambuteau) made famous by the Beatles.  Take the time to venture inside this magnificent and ancient Gothic church named after Paris’ patron saint Saint Genevieve with its impressive arches and design.  Also take time to visit the Pantheon where you will discover the beauty of the archictecture and art within and can visit the tombs of the great literary giants of Paris such as Voltaire, Hugo and Dumas.  Step out of the Pantheon and walk down Rue Soufflot from Place du Pantheon until reach another gorgeous location in Paris, the Jardin du Luxembourg.  

Next, we are taken to the winding cobblestoned back streets of Isle Saint Louis by night courtesy of the time travelling car.  Here, Gil is deposited at a party and is mesmerised and dumbfounded by what he sees still unaware that he has been transported to Paris of the 1920’s.  The strange circumstances of his situation start to sink in when he is introduced to Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald who inform Gil they are at a Jean Cocteau party where Cole Porter himself is entertaining guests and playing his famous tunes on the piano.  After Zelda announces she is bored with the party, the Fitzgerald’s, Porter and Gil are whisked away to another party at the famous Bricktops where Josephine Baker is entertaining guests with her songs and dance.   Chez Bricktops, in Place Pigalle, was named after the owner an American jazz singer and dancer Ada Smith nicknamed Bricktop because of her flaming red hair.   Bricktop was known as the queen of Café Society and entertained her admiring “Lost Generation”expatriot and Parisian guests by hosting elaborate soirees and inviting celebrity artists to perform at her nightclub such as Cole Porter, Josephine Baker and Django Reinhardt to name a few.  The next scene takes us to the famous Le Polidor café which still exists and hasn’t been replaced by a Laundrette as the movie makes you believe (you’ll have to watch it and see for yourself).  The restaurant has maintained its historic charm and continues to offer French cuisine specialities and French wine from top regions.  Le Polidor was a favourite haunt of Victor Hugo and later Hemingway, Andre Gide, James Joyce and other famous writers.  Here at Le Polidor (41 rue Monsieur le Prince in Paris’ literary and prestigious 6th arrondissment) is where Gil meets Hemingway and is overwhelmed with joy when the great writer offers to introduce him to Gertrude Stein so that she can critique his unfinished novel.

Eventually Gil returns to his own time back at Le Bristol hotel and wakes up in a disbelieving daze from the unusual events that have transpired.  While Gil is slowly coming to terms with encountering his literary icons, Ines is getting ready to meet her mother to look at antiques to take back to their home in America.  The very expensive antiques  store that Gil, Ines and her mother end up at actually exists and is called Phillipe de Beauvais at 43 Avenue Bosquet in Paris’ chic 7th arrondissment.   This incredible antique store has select furniture pieces on offer but actually specialises in chandeliers and lighting that once illuminated the great chateaux of France and Haussmann apartments fitted out by wealthy residents.  Once in this district take the time to enjoy the Rue Cler Paris’ well loved market street and Rue Dominique close by followed by a walk to Parc Champ du Mars where you can admire the Eiffel Tower up close and perhaps purchase a ticket to go up the tower to admire stunning views of Paris.

The Midnight in Paris trail continue as Gil returns to the steps of Saint Etienne du Mont church with his manuscript which he promised to bring to Hemingway.  Ines resentfully come along with Gil as he desperately tries to persuade her that it is here on these very steps of the church that the magical and unbelievable time travel event took place.  After some time waiting for the old vintage car to pick them up Ines grows tired of waiting and leaves Gil on his own as she jumps into a taxi to return to the hotel.  In a matter of moments, the church bell chimes again at midnight and seconds later the old vintage car returns and Gil hops in to find Hemingway in the car waiting for him and the two head to Gertrude Stein’s house.  Gertrude Stein was a powerful force and great financial and moral support to the artists and writers of her time most of whom she aided in their careers and helped them to reach further success such as Picasso and Hemingway.  Stein’s home was also a popular gathering place for the artistic and literary society where they would come to her home known also as the salon to discuss ideas.  This famous salon was at 27 Rue de Fleurus in Paris’ 6th arrondissment near the Luxembourg Gardens and a plaque in honour of Gertrude is on the façade that states here is where Gertrude the American writer and Alice lived between 1874-1946.  Gertrude and Alice lived together for many years at this house and entertained many talented and legendary guests of their time and where Gertrude displayed her beloved collections of paintings, especially the art of Picasso and Matisse, and offered support to writers and artists.   Gil and Hemingway arrive at Gertrude’s home where he is introduced to her by Hemingway and asks Stein if she could read and critique his novel.  There Gil encounters Picasso having a heated discussion about his latest art piece with Gertrude and where he meets the lovely Adriana who he immediately develops an affection for.

The next scene takes us to the largest, most popular and picturesque flea market of Paris – Les Puces de Clignancourt  also known as the St. Ouen Flea Market is situated in between Paris’ 18th arrondissment and the district of St. Ouen in the north (take line 4 of the metro and hop off at Metro Porte de Clingancourt  then follow the signs which will lead you to the market).  The Parisian’s like to boast that this very market is the largest of its kind not only in France but the whole world and with over 2,500 stalls it’s difficult to believe otherwise.  The stalls of the St. Ouen Flea Market attracts millions of visitors a year and you can find almost everything your heart desires including antiques, vintage clothing, quirky furniture and art to old collectable vinyl records like Gil discovers in his exploration of the markets and where he meets the lovely Gabrielle who works at the old record stall.   It is at this very market where the famous avant guard Picasso would come in search of ideas and when you come here yourself it’s easy to understand why this market place would be a great source of inspiration for artists with quirky and unique stalls filled with equally quirky items at your every turn.

Another rather peculiar and quirky location where a subsequent scene of the film unfolds is at the Musee des Arts Forains or Museum of Fairground Art at 53 Avenue des Terroirs de France Paris’ 12th arrondissment.   This very unique location is where an enchanting and private collection of classic fairground pieces are held such as merry-go-rounds, carousels and German swings and where Gil ends up back in time again at a soiree held at this very museum and hosted by no other than Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.  It is here at the Musee des Arts Forains where Gil reunites with the beautiful Adriana and offers her to join him for an evening walk where they end up in the area of Montmartre another key location of the film.  Here in Montmartre we see the lovely Adriana and Gil descending the steps on Rue du Chevalier de le Barre that runs along the magnificent Sacre Coeur another amazing church to visit when in Paris together with Montmartre where so much art history was made and inspiring events took place.  Read my blog post titled Montmartre Paris’ Centre For Art to discover more about this wonderful old and historic district.

The next scene leads us to an important area along the river banks to the Pont Neuf bridge and then to Paris’ Latin Quarter along the famous bouquiniste stalls that specialise in old books, posters, post cards, art and other captivating items that tourists especially find difficult to ignore.  Take the time as Gil does to explore and wander through this incredibly rich and historic area which runs from the Pont Marie to the Quai du Louvre on the right bank to Quai de la Tournelle to Quai Voltaire on the left bank (read more about the Bouquiniste’s of Paris in another blog post titles Paris’ Enchanting Bouqiniste Stalls).  It is here at one of the Bouquiniste stalls where Gil discovers an old book from the past written by Adriana where she mentions Gil in one of the chapters which leads Gil back to the Rodin museum to reunite with the knowledgeable museum guide, played by Carla Bruni, whom he requests to read and translate Adriana’s chapter where he is mentioned.  The two end up in the picturesque Parc Jean XXIII behind Notre Dame Cathedral on the Isle de la Cite where the Bruni’s character and Gil are seen on a park bench where he listens enthusiastically to Adriana’s words being translated.

Discovering Adriana’s book subsequently leads him back in time again in search of Adriana where he finds her at a wedding soiree held in quite a peculiar location indeed.  Gil discovers Adriana at the Maison Deyrolle a Taxidermist in Paris’ 7th arrondissment at 46 Rue du Bac which began life as an institution of sciences and animal study but today is more like a cabinet of curiosities and is open to the public.  We see Gil navigating the unusual space filled with stuffed creatures great and small from around the world as he looks for Adriana and when the two reunite the magic of Paris continues as they walk through the streets of Paris and end up at the Place Dauphine located on the Isle de la Cite.  This quiet little square on the island is where to go to escape the bustling city and to sit at a café and enjoy the triangular shaped central park lined with pretty buildings, trees and benches where you can see locals at play and walking their pampered pooches.  Here Adriana and Gil pause for a moment of reflection by the popular Restaurant Paul at …. before an old fashioned horse carriage arrives and takes the away to Belle Epoque Paris.

Once Gil and Adriana are transported back in time to the Belle Epoque era they arrive at the famous Maxime’s in Paris’ 8th arrondissment at 3 Rue Royale.  Maxime’s restaurant was  the epicentre for the aristocratic society where they would flock to socialise, dine, dance, gossip and to flaunt their wealth amidst Art Nouveau interiors.  In the scene, we see Adriana and Gil caught up in a whirl of excitement as they are enthusiastically absorbed into the social scene of Maxime’s before heading to another famous location – the Moulin Rouge in Paris’ then seedy district of Pigalle.   Montmartre was another favourite gathering place for the well to do of society and an escape from the rigid prohibitions and customs of Paris and Moulin Rouge was where they would go to enjoy the unrestricted attitudes, unlimited wine and of course the Can Can girls and resident prostitutes famously painted by Toulouse Lautrec another resident of the Moulin Rouge.  As Gil and Adriana delight in the raunchy atmosphere of Belle Epoque Moulin Rouge they become acquainted with no other than Toulouse Lautrec, Degas and Gaugin who invite them to join them for a drink at their table.  It is here at the Moulin Rouge where Adriana and Gil say their goodbyes as Adriana opts to remain in the Belle Epoque era with her new artist friends and Gil returns to his own time where he decides to leave Ines after discovering she has been unfaithful (thanks to some insight from Hemingway) and decides to remain in Paris.

The final romantic scene of Midnight In Paris takes us to the magnificent Pont Alexander III bridge by night where we see the bridge beautifully animated by the light of the countless lanterns that illuminate the bridge.  The Pont Alexander III bridge is the most beautiful bridge in all of Paris and it connect the the 7th arrondissment of Paris to the 8th arrondissment near the Avenue de Champs Elysees.  The bridge was a gift to France from Imperial Russia in the late 19th century and the first stone was laid by Nicholas II son of Alexander III.  The bridge is ornamented with Russian influences such as the lamps which are replicas of the Trinity Bridge in St Petersburg and the statues on the bridge represent the nymphes of the Neva River that runs through St Petersburg.  The bridge was a marvel for its time due to its single span across the river Seine.  It is here where Gil runs into Gabrielle (the lovely woman he met at the Marche des Puce) and together they walk off into the night in the rain leaving us to assume that they may wind up in a better suited romance and relationship.

Midnight In Paris is not just a charming movie filmed in Paris but an homage to the city of light where we become not only enchanted by the film but in the city itself.  Walking in Gils footsteps of Paris is to become immersed in the city’s mystique, beauty, historic and cultural wonders as you traverse from one arrondissment to another.   Following in Gil’s footsteps and revisiting the locations of the film will give you a wonderful and rewarding perception and perspective of Paris and it’s finest locations that can be achieved even on a short visit or stay in the city.  Woody Allen not only gave the world another wonderful film but also a travel itinerary of Paris the way he perhaps would want us to discover it and to fall in love with the city as he loves it which is so obviously exposed through Gil’s very Woody-like character.   Hope that you take the time to follow in Gil’s footsteps for one last magical location as you see in the picture just above, visit the charming Avenue de Camoens in Paris’ 16th arrondissment, featured in the opening sequence of the film, for stunning views of the Eiffel Tower uninterrupted by the thousands of tourists you will encounter at the popular Place du Trocadero minutes away.