The Characters referenced in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (Part 5 Juan Belmonte)

Gad Elmaleh as Detective Tisserant in "Midnight in Paris." 2011 Roger Arpajou / Sony Pictures Classics

Gad Elmaleh as Detective Tisserant in “Midnight in Paris.”

I love the movie “Midnight in Paris” by Woody Allen and I am going through the whole list of famous writers and artists that he included in the movie. Juan Belmonte was the most famous bullfighter of the time and a close personal friend of Ernest Hemingway.

Corey Stoll does an excellent job of playing Ernest Hemingway (as seen below):

By the way, I know that some of you are wondering how many posts I will have before I am finished. Right now I have plans to look at Gertrude Stein, Gauguin, Lautrec, Geores Brague, Dali, Rodin,Coco Chanel, Modigliani, Matisse, Luis Bunuel, Josephine Baker, Van Gogh, Picasso, Man Ray, T.S. Elliot and several more.


Wikipedia notes:

Juan Belmonte García (April 14, 1892 – April 8, 1962) was a Spanish bullfighter, considered by many to have been the greatest matador of all time.[citation needed]

[edit] Life

Born in the Triana area of Seville, Belmonte began his bullfighting career in 1908, touring around Spain in a children’s bullfighting group called Los Niños Sevillanos. He killed his first bull on July 24, 1910. As an adult, his technique was unlike that of previous matadors; he stood erect and nearly motionless, and always stayed within inches of the bull, unlike previous matadors, who stayed far from the animal to avoid the horns. As a result of this daring technique, Belmonte was frequently gored, sustaining many serious wounds.

One such incident occurred during a November, 1927 bullfight in Barcelona, Spain. Belmonte was gored through his chest and pinned against a wall. Several other toreros rescued him. Among the spectators that day were the King and Queen of Spain and the Infanta Beatriz.[1]

Belmonte’s rivalry with Joselito (a.k.a. Gallito), another contender for the appellation “greatest matador of all time”, from 1914 to 1920 is known as the Golden Age of Bullfighting. The era was cut short when Joselito was fatally gored on May 16, 1920, at a bullfight in Talavera de la Reina, a small town not far from Madrid. Belmonte then had to carry alone the weight of the whole bullfighting establishment, which would prove too much and led to the first of his two temporary retirements.

In 1919, Belmonte fought 109 corridas, a number not matched by any matador before, until the 1965 bullfight season when Manuel Benítez Pérez (“El Cordobés“) performed in 111 corridas, surpassing Belmonte’s record. The Mexican matador Carlos Arruzafought 108 corridas in one season but it is said that he refused to pass Belmonte’s record out of respect for the maestro.

After his retirement, Belmonte published a biography. Written by Manuel Chaves Nogales and published in 1937, it was called Juan Belmonte, matador de toros: su vida y sus hazañas and was translated into English by Leslie Charteris as Juan Belmonte, Killer of Bulls. Belmonte was also close friend with author Ernest Hemingway, and he appears prominently in two of Hemingway’s books: Death in the Afternoon and The Sun Also Rises. Like Hemingway, Belmonte ultimately committed suicide by gunshot.[2]

Juan Belmonte was the single matador that changed the style of bullfighting. Born with slightly deformed legs he could not run like other boys, or jump as they could and so when he finally began his career as a matador, he firmly planted his feet on the ground never giving way. He forced the bull to go around him, whereas others until then had jumped all over the place like circus performers.

When his doctor told him that, because of his lifelong injuries and trauma, he could no longer smoke cigars, ride his horses, drink wine or perform sexual acts with women, he decided he was ready to die. He ordered his favorite horse brought to him, took a handful of cigars, two bottles of his favorite wine and rode out to his finca where he was met by two of Sevilla’s “women of the night.” He smoked his cigars and drank his wine, engaging one more time in his final passions, then took his pistol and shot himself. He had told others prior to his last day that if he could not live like a man he would at least die like one.


Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write again: Woody Allen has made a wonderful new picture, “Midnight in Paris,” and it’s his best, most enjoyable work in years.

If you’re surprised to be reading that, think how I feel writing it. I’ve been a tough sell on the past dozen or so Allen films, very much including the well-acted but finally wearying “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” It seemed that everything he touched in recent years was tainted by misanthropy and sourness. Until now.

With “Midnight in Paris,” Allen has lightened up, allowed himself a treat and in the process created a gift for us and him. His new film is simple and fable-like, with a definite “when you wish upon a star” quality, but, bolstered by appealing performers like Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard and Rachel McAdams, it is his warmest, mellowest and funniest venture in far too long.

This is also a film with an unanticipated twist, so the less you know about it the better. Try to see it immediately, before well-meaning friends tell you more than they should. “Midnight in Paris” is too charming to be ruined by anything, but this is a case where ignorance really is bliss.

Allen says he’s been enamored of Paris since he wrote and acted in “What’s New Pussycat?” in 1965. You can sense his continued passion for the city throughout the film, feel the extra pep in his step and pleasure in his heart.

Seductively shot by Darius Khondji (whatever tax credits this film got will be paid back with interest), “Midnight” opens with an extended montage of Paris’ tourist landmarks, a montage that lasts longer than necessary to simply establish location. Allen is saying: Pay attention — this is a special place, a place where magic can happen.

That’s certainly the attitude of Gil (Wilson), a successful Hollywood screenwriter who is an effusive enthusiast for the City of Light in general, and the 1920s golden age of Fitzgerald-Hemingway Paris in particular. So much so that Gil dreams of turning his back on all that studio money and writing novels on the Left Bank.

Gil’s fiancée, Inez (McAdams), doesn’t like the sound of that. She and Gil are in Paris accompanying her wealthy parents on a business trip and she doesn’t even want to think about anything that would diminish Gil’s income.

Gil’s raptures are put on hold when he and Inez bump into Inez’s friend Paul (Michael Sheen) and his wife. A professor whom Inez once had a crush on, Paul is in Paris to lecture at the Sorbonne. It’s soon clear he’s an insufferable bore so pedantic he gets into an argument with a guide at the Rodin Museum (a brief cameo for French First Lady Carla Bruni).

As much to escape Paul as anything else, Gil takes a late-night walk and just as the clock strikes midnight on the Rue Montagne St. Genevieve, something happens that throws everything in Gil’s life into disarray.

Perhaps most unsettling, but in a good way, is Gil’s meeting with the beautiful and spirited Adriana (Cotillard), an aspiring fashion designer who has a history of inspiring artists. The connection between them is immediate but the barriers to any kind of relationship are formidable.

With remarkable naturalness and considerable charisma, Cotillard is just as she should be here, as are both Wilson, one of the most likable of contemporary actors, and McAdams, who deftly handles a part that is less amiable than usual for her.

Also great fun in smaller roles are Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody as well as French stars Lea Seydoux and Gad Elmaleh.

On display as well is Allen’s sharp and satisfying script. It makes jokes about everyone from Djuna Barnes to Luis Bunuel but also takes time to ponder the role of the artist and the importance of not undervaluing the age we live in.

More than anything, obviously, “Midnight” has Paris. For one film, at least, that extraordinary city has changed Allen’s mood and altered his outlook on cinema and life. It may do the same for you. Other posts with Woody Allen:

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