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Film Review: An American in Paris

Updated on February 10, 2016

Background

In 1951, Vincente Minelli released An American in Paris, inspired by the 1928 orchestral composition by George Gershwin. Starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guetary, Nina Foch, and Eugene Borden, the film grossed $6.98 million at the box office. Winning the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Art – Set Decoration, Color, Best Cinematography, Color, Best Costume Design, Color, Best Musical Score, and Best Writing, Scoring and Screenplay, it also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Film Editing as well as the Golden Globe Awards for Best Director and Best Actor- Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

Synopsis

Expatriate Jerry Milligan attempts to scrape by living as an artist in Paris’ Left Bank. However, he falls in love with a woman named Lise who loves successful musician Henri. The only problem is that the two are friends.

Review

Being the second color film that received the award for Best Picture, An American in Paris, while decent, does quite a bit with its colorful display. While the film wasn’t the first picture in color to win Best Picture, an honor going to Gone with the Wind a decade prior, this film does use its painted hue to its advantage, both for a clever segment that leads into the visual explosion near the end. Said segment, which is also a notable display of symbolism, happens at the fancy ball that leads into Adam’s fantasy. While it seems that not one person there managed to wear a colorful costume, it provides good a monochromatic contrast to the fantasy world that is teeming with nonstop colorful visuals.

However, while the moment that scene leads into is nothing but colorful, it’s also a very bizarre dream fantasy, even given the name the “American in Paris Ballet Scene.” Seemingly, Milligan lost Lise to Henri and is facing an emotional crisis. At the party, he leans over the balcony and the scene becomes an elaborate mostly silent dance sequence. While the scene works to summarize the film’s events and Milligan’s feelings, it pretty much stops the film cold and throws all these colors and visual effects at the audience while removing most of the dialogue. Notably is when he keeps running after Lise and she always slips away and at one point, he wraps her in his arms, but she turns into flowers. There’s also a point where two pieces of paper with a sketch of the Arc de Triomphe land next to each other, seemingly like they’ve always been one piece, and dissolving to show Milligan in a realm resembling a series of French paintings.

But that’s just one bizarre sequence in the film. Another is Adam’s fantasy that starts with him staring off into space and suddenly cutting to a grand concert hall where he’s the conductor, band and audience. Interestingly, it’s a five minute scene that’s never mentioned in the film after it’s over, seemingly as if it were merely for padding and the inclusion of another Gershwin piece.

Though, apart from all that, the film solidly paints itself on the realistic end of the spectrum, especially in how it represents how much in love Henri is with Lise. There’s a scene where he’s talking with Adam and describing Lise. However, he’s constantly changing his mind about what he wants to say and what he loves about her and every time he does so, the music, environment, Lise’s costume and her style of dancing changes to reflect his emotional viewpoint. It’s an interesting way of showing how befuddled a man’s mind can be when he’s talking about a person he’s infatuated with as they keep wanting to talk about which facet of their personality they love the most. What's more is that it's also incredibly clever in that it practically acknowledges the existence of the fourth wall without really mentioning said wall or directly recognizing and addressing the audience.

3 stars for An American in Paris

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinions.

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