Magic in the Moonlight



Magic in the Moonlight
Runtime 98 minutes.
OK for children.

Emma Stone and Colin Firth in “Magic in the Moonlight.”

Emma Stone and Colin Firth in “Magic in the Moonlight.”

Writer/director Woody Allen has done it again with a thoroughly captivating romantic comedy with star turns by Emma Stone and Colin Firth, who create bewitching chemistry.

Stone plays a clairvoyant, Sophie Baker, with astonishing power. So astonishing that magician Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) convinces his old friend, Stanley Crawford (Firth), whose persona is that of a Chinese conjuror Wei Ling Soo, the most celebrated magician of his age, (the 1920s), to try to unmask Sophie as a fraud.

Stanley introduces himself to Sophie and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) at the Côte d’Azur mansion of the Catlidge family, where the family matriarch, Grace (Jacki Weaver) is convinced that Sophie can get in contact with her deceased husband. Grace’s son, Brice (Hamish Linklater) is deeply infatuated with Sophie and constantly serenades her with his ukulele.

As I watched the film I thought that Stone looked more beautiful than ever before, and the softness of her face made me wonder if she was shot through the Doris Day filter. But there was a lot more to it than that.

Director of Photography Darius Khondji (who also worked with Woody on Midnight in Paris and To Rome With Love) used old Cinemascope lenses from the seventies shooting it on film with a special process to lower the contrast and soften the images. Then in post-production they made the images look like the “autochrome” appearance of the color film in the early 20th Century.

Says Khondji, “Woody asked me to convey (Stone’s) beauty on film and I hope I did. I felt she had a natural glow, this combination of the color of her skin, hair, and eyes.”

Comments Linklater, “She is a gorgeous girl but with that lighting she looked like she walked out of a fresco every single day.” I couldn’t say it better. Rarely will you see an actress filmed more lovingly.

The locations, sets (Anne Seibel), and costumes (Sonia Grande) are stunning. I’ve rarely seen a film that captured a period as perfectly as this. Standing out is the red Alfa Romeo sports car that Stanley drives but there are other extraordinary old cars in the movie that look as if they just came off the showroom floor.

Firth is Henry Higgins-like in his arrogant grouchiness and the play between him and the seemingly ingenuous Sophie sparkles. The only thing that I found troubling was the May-December differences in their ages.

Woody’s laugh out loud script seems to be deeply influenced by George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, so much so that near the end of the film the song “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” (from Lerner & Lowe’s musical adaptation, My Fair Lady, that used a lot of GBS’s dialogue as lyrics) wafted through my mind as Stanley was speaking.

I don’t see movies more than once, but I’d love to sit through this one again.

Mood Indigo
Runtime 94 minutes.
OK for children.

Audrey Tatou and Romaine Duris in “Mood Indigo.”

Audrey Tatou and Romaine Duris in “Mood Indigo.”

When movies get really bad, I can usually rely on a French movie to remind me that it is still possible to make a film based on character and ideas. Alas, Mood Indigo is not one of those French movies.

This is a phantasmagorically bilious movie. There is more reality in a Donald Duck cartoon than there is in this film directed by Michel Gondry, based on a 1947 novel by Boris Vian, recently voted number ten on Le Monde’s list of the 100 Books of the Century. Vian was a quintessentially avant-garde Frenchie, a friend of existentialists Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre (who is referenced in the film as philosopher “Jean-Sol Partre”), and Albert Camus (although Camus generally denied he was an existentialist), and his odd books, like this one, reflect that. Just as an example of the morality of these people, Beauvoir was in a life-long relationship with Sartre, but she liked women. Several accusations against her by the parents of underage girls she seduced caused her to have her license to teach in France permanently suspended. After that, she and Sartre developed a method they called “trio” in which Beauvoir would have her way with a young woman and then pass her along to Sartre.

Back to Gondry’s film of Vian’s book. It takes surrealism to the nth degree as virtually everything defies not only logic but physics. There is one dance in which the characters are dancing in positions not possible unless one suspends the law of gravity. It is truly ugly.

Although it is supposed to be a love story between Colin (Romain Duris) and Chloé (Audrey Tatou), their world, the devices in it, and the physics under which they live are so preposterous it’s difficult to develop any empathy. Colin’s apartment responds to his emotions, shrinking, expanding, and changing light as his emotions change.

The key plot device is that after they fall in love and marry, Chloé falls ill with the diagnosis that there is a water lily growing in her lung. The doctor (played by director Gondry) says that the only way to cure it is to place a never-ending supply of flowers on her chest so their perfume can kill the lily.

Colin is running out of money trying to cure her, and the only job he can get is to take off all his clothes and lie on a pile of dirt which in some incomprehensible manner is the way to build a funny-looking gun. There’s a scene with many naked men lying on piles of dirt for 24 hours at a time. Colin is told that they can’t use women for the job because their chests aren’t flat enough, or something like that.

There are scenes and incidents like this throughout the movie. If this is the kind of bizarre nonsense that appeals to you (as it apparently has appealed to lots of Frenchies and Le Monde), be my guest. As for me, this is one of the longest 94-minute films I’ve ever had to endure. In French, color, and black & white.

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