Woody Allen comes full circle with the wonderful Blue Jasmine.
What is it that the wise ones say about never being able to go home again? Ive often wondered about that,especially when I have looped back to places and people I thought I had left behind. Of course,Im different now; so are they. But sometimes going back does feel like coming home again.
At the end of Woody Allens brilliant new film Blue Jasmine,we are blown away by Cate Blanchett who plays a woman unravelling. She has lost everything she held dear: her elegant Manhattan mansion,her lovely holiday homes,her unlimited pin money,her coiffed mid-morning lets-do-coffee friends,and a philandering husband who bought her silences with his misbegotten but enormous wealth. Now she is fleeing to a sister shes never been close to,her only hope.
Yes,it does seem like a reworking of A Streetcar Named Desire,whose 1951 filmed version had Vivien Leigh play the helpless southern belle who takes refuge in her sisters cramped New Orleans quarters. Leigh plays the damaged Blanche well,but I cannot get Marlon Brando out of my head,as the brutish fellow whom Blanche sees as ruining her sister. Allens film has a great cast. Lily Hawkins as the sister nearly walks away with the film,and Alec Baldwin as the cheating husband is sure-footed,but Blue Jasmine belongs to Blanchett.
From the time we see her pouring her heart out to an old lady seated next to her in the first-class cabin (Jasmine may be many decades separated from Blanche,but there really is no difference in the way the two women cling to a past that has been destroyed for them and has destroyed them) to her landing up on the steps of a locked apartment (the sister is away at work),the way her immaculate designer prettiness dissolves into blurred slovenliness,the way she uses barely concealed contempt bordering on cruelty to negotiate situations she feels are beneath her,is a revelation. Blanchetts is one of the great performances on screen,and with Blue Jasmine,Woody Allen has come home again.
In his past several excursions,Woody has been a tourist. A knowledgeable one but undoubtedly a wayfarer: his opening sequence in Midnight in Paris in which we are swept along the rain-spattered light-reflecting streets of romantic Paris,is gorgeous. In Vicky Christina Barcelona,he gives us a run-in with some of the most illegally good-looking actors on the planet: I wasnt sure who was more nibble-worthy Scarlett Johansson,Penelope Cruz or Javier Bardem,as they waltz around the sunny Spanish town. In his last outing,To Rome With Love,it was clear that Woody was on holiday: it was more slapdash careering around picturesque spots than film. And Im not a fan of Matchpoint either,in which Allen gets to train his eye on grey London town,and the grungy antics of his characters.
I gave myself a Woody Allen day earlier this week,and gravitated naturally to Annie Hall-Manhattan-Hannah And Her Sisters territory. The directors love for New York,specifically Manhattan,has never been hidden,either in his prolific writings or in his interviews. His younger alter-egos (Alvy Singer,Isaac Davis) caressed New Yorks stunning skylines in both Annie Hall and Manhattan: remember those shots with him sitting on a bench with Diane Keaton,with the bridge lit up?
In Hannah And Her Sisters,Allens hyperventilating hypochondriac tells himself,You are in the middle of New York. This is your city. Nothing can happen to you. Apart from the story which is about three sisters and their complicated lives (sort of in the same grain as Blue Jasmines two sisters and their lives,even if very different in tone and texture),you can see how comfortable Woody is in this space,his space. Even when I found myself this time around wanting Alvy and Annie (in Annie Hall) to shut up,just for one tiny minute,okay,please,the reasons for Woodys continuing enchantment with NY NY are clear and present.
Some directors dont do as well when they are out of their milieu. In contemporary Bollywood,there is a parallel. I found Dibakar Banerjee floundering in his latest,Shanghai,which he envisioned as an imaginary place: his observational strength and sharpness has come,till now,from his knowing his part of Delhi so intimately.
Its not like Woody abandons his droll but piercing skills at dissecting men and women doing foolish-amorous things when he is out of his zip code. But he is the same fellow who got his Alvy to be dismissive about Los Angeles: I dont want to live in a city where the only cultural advantage is to make a right turn at a red light. Well,haha. So here is Woody spending a lot of time in San Francisco (which he thinks is not too bad,for a city,according to reports) with Jasmine and her gang. And coming up with a film which is far and away his best in nearly 20 years.
Woody Allen is back,giving us those ones.