Fat Tuesday, Film

Woody Allen has always thrived on charm. Throughout his career, his unconventional charm made him his own best leading man. His writing and directing lent his fellow actors his adorably flustered cadences, and his love of New York brought the charming city to life on screen. It follows then, that his latest film, “Midnight in Paris” relies almost purely on charm, and succeeds. There is a little more substance, but not much, and that’s ok. Allen finds an actor in Owen Wilson who starts with his own charisma and adds a classic Woody impression to the performance much more naturally and enjoyably than Scarlett Johansson’s panicking “nerd” in the painful “Scoop”.

Other characters are familiar to the Allen oeuvre, picked up by new talents like Michael Sheen, who channels Alan Alda’s narcissistic know-it-all in “Crimes and Misdemeanors”. After capturing New York and London, Allen finds a new muse in Paris, the ultimate city of enchantment, and banks on the seductive presence of a long list of literary and art world heroes.

The incarnation of Ernest Hemingway provided the most amusing scenes in the film, delivering tongue-in-cheek lines in the frank, deadpan manner of his writing style. Hemingway waxes monotonously poetic about truth and writing, Paris, love, bravery, honesty and good meals, as he does in A Moveable Feast, his brilliant memoir about living as a poor writer in Lost-Generation Paris with his first wife Hadley.

“Midnight in Paris” explores the nature of nostalgia, and A Moveable Feast has that feeling as well, as Hemingway recounts romantically on this time long past in his life. About his lifestyle and sharing it with his wife, he writes that although they were young and poor, “…we ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.”

Brasserie Balzar’s Midnight Onion Soup
La Gratinée de Minuit Brasserie Balzar

3 pounds onions
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
2/3 cup dry white wine, such as Sancerre
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
Several sprigs fresh thyme, wrapped in cheesecloth
Several fresh or dried bay leaves
8 thin slices baguette, toasted
1 pound Swiss Gruyère cheese, freshly grated

1. Peel the onions and halve them vertically. Cut the halves lengthwise into thin slices.

2. In a 10-quart stockpot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the oil, onions, and salt, and stir to coat the onions. Cook, covered, over low heat– stirring occasionally so the onions do not scorch– just until the onions are soft but still pale, about 15 minutes.

3. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir to coat the onions. Immediately add the stock, wine, 4 quarts water, the white pepper, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves. Bring just to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to low. Simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

4. Preheat the broiler.

5. Ladle the soup into individual ovenproof soup bowls. Top each serving with a slice of toasted baguette. Cover the bread with a thick coating of grated Gruyère. Place under the broiler. As soon as the cheese begins to bubble, serve the soup.

Brasserie Balzar
49, rue des Ecoles
Paris 5
Métro Odéon or Cluny-La Sorbonne

Recipe courtesy of: Patricia Wells. The Paris Cookbook. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2001.

-EM

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