5 October 2013

Woody Allen’s ‘Blue Jasmine’

After nearly three years, this is the 300th post on this blog, which is a surprise to me if no-one else!

Woody Allen’s latest film, Blue Jasmine, unlike To Rome with Love (2012) and Midnight in Paris (2011), is set in the US, and not only differs in locale but also in its tragi-comic tone from these and his other recent films. If Blue Jasmine has anything in common with earlier works, it might be with Interiors (1978) and Shadows and Fog (1991). These tend to be regarded as homages, the first to Bergman and the second to German Expressionist cinema, particularly that of Fritz Lang. Blue Jasmine also has its obvious roots: Tennessee Williams’ 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire.

In Williams’ play, Blanche DuBois arrives in New Orleans to tell her sister, Stella, that the family has lost its old Southern plantation money. Blanche takes a dislike to Stella's husband, Polish-American Stanley Kowalski, “Oh, I guess he’s just not the type that goes for jasmine perfume”. In turn, Stanley discovers Blanche's unsavoury past and finally has her committed to a mental institution.

In Allen’s film, Jasmine Francis, who has been living grandly in Manhattan, arrives in Los Angeles to stay with her adopted sister, Ginger. Jasmine’s husband has committed a Madoff-sized embezzlement, one of his many victims being Augie, Ginger’s Polish-American husband at the time. Ginger, now divorced, is dating Chili, who Jasmine doesn’t have much time for, thinking Ginger could do better. Both women eventually find that it’s unwise to depend on “the kindness of strangers".

Cate Blanchett (who played Blanche DuBois in Australia in 2009) is riveting as Jasmine, and her performance towers over those of the rest of the cast. In Allen’s films set in England he has displayed a tin ear for the British class system, with some unconvincing casting. Whether his portrayal of Americans as far removed from preppy Manhattanites as Chili and his working class friends is any more accurate, I can’t tell. Allen makes extensive use, almost overuse, of flashbacks and, very appropriately in this case, the soundtracks include New Orleans jazz standards by Armstrong and Oliver. I’m not sure the film is worth some of the reviews it’s been getting, probably because of Blanchett’s performance which is already being talked of in Oscar terms. Reviving the ‘anticipointment index’, I’ll give it 4 - less impressive than anticipated.

Allen's next film is underway, set in the South of France and with a cast including Colin Firth.  Entre deux guerres, peut-être?

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