NOT everyone loves the new Woody Allen film To Rome with Love as much as I do, but everyone loved his last one, Midnight in Paris (Sunday, 8.30pm, Showtime Premiere). Woody has no part in it himself, but 30 years ago he might have played Gil Pender, the Hollywood screenwriter and would-be novelist whose adventures form the heart of the story. Owen Wilson’s performance manages to suggest something of Woody — his voice, his moods, his ruminations. On a visit to Paris, Gil is transported back in time to find himself in the company of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and other intellectual and artistic greats of the 1920s. Woody is back in territory he explored in Zelig and The Purple Rose of Cairo — a meditation on the nature of nostalgia, the futility of yearning for a mythical golden age, whether in the future or the past. The film abounds in cinematic references and delightful in-jokes — the encounters between Gil and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) and surrealist filmmaker Luis Bunuel. The performances are spot-on, the soundtrack is crammed with good things, and Paris, like Rome in Woody’s latest film, has never looked so enchanting.
I’ve just read The Dreyfus Affair, Piers Paul Read’s compelling new book about the persecution of Alfred Dreyfus, the French army officer falsely accused of treason and imprisoned on Devil’s Island, the prison fortress where the worst French criminals served their time. The horrors of the French penal system are vividly depicted, as they are in Franklin J. Schaffner’s Papillon (Wednesday, 8.35pm, Fox Classics), about the escape from Devil’s Island of the notorious murderer Henri Papillon’’ Charriere, played by Steve McQueen. Like Dreyfus, Charriere spent much of his time in solitary confinement, enduring starvation and encroaching madness. Schaffner’s film is a grim account of Charriere’s incarceration and escape, with brilliant performances from McQueen and Dustin Hoffman as a fellow prisoner.
In fairness to the French, I recommend Conversations with My Gardener (Saturday, 5.55pm, World Movies), a wonderfully touching film from director Jean Becker, in which the gentler and more civilised qualities of French life are charmingly evoked. An artist (Daniel Auteuil) returns to his childhood home and hires a gardener (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) to look after the grounds. The men become friends. The gardener discovers a wider world than he has known and the painter becomes a kinder man. There is no way I can convey the beauty of this delicate film in words, its celebration of goodness and decency. For those wanting something different, I suggest James Cameron’s Oscar-winning Titanic (Saturday, 9.20pm, Fox Classics), at the time of its release the world’s biggest and most expensive film about the world’s biggest and most expensive shipwreck.
(M) ★★★★ Sunday, 8.30pm, Showtime Premiere
(M) ★★★ ✩ Wednesday, 8.35pm, Fox Classics ★★★ ✩ Saturday, 5.55pm, World Movies
A scene from