Saturday, 5 October 2013

Blue Jasmine (2013, Woody Allen)

Woody Allen's prolific career can be described as illustrious in the true meaning of the word; his work, which arguably peaked with 1989's Crimes & Misdemeanours, has since had many highs and lows and subsequently saw Allen taken for granted as an artist. Despite commercial and artistic reward from some recent outings, his newest feels like a grand reminder that the writer/director can truly still pull heavy punches. With an intricate, absorbing central performance from Cate Blanchett, Allen's newest offers the impressive gravitas of early dramas Interiors and Another Woman.

From riches to rags, recovering ex-millionairess Jasmine (Blanchett) must rely on her San Francisco based sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), the sister she's pushed away for many years. A fish out of water scenario and a comedy of manners verging on the satiric are quickly established, helped largely by Jasmine's hilarious introduction that delivers all the vitals of this complicated lady of leisure with expert economy. Economy is certainly a word, or rather a theme, at the heart of the film; a look from the penthouse and the cost to the working classes by those at the top who “look the other way”, whose excesses and detachment from real life eventually crumbles from the inside with collateral damage in tow.

The assured construction of
Blue Jasmine has much to do with its success. Flitting back and forth between moments of Jasmine tragically coping with supporting herself for the first time in her adult life, to the extravagance of her former life supplied by former husband (Alec Baldwin). The scenes are expertly paired and edited, giving way to the question of just how much Jasmine has been a victim of others, or herself? The answer is unarguably both and the usually diligent Blanchett pulls of the near impossible by making a repulsive character compelling and in her growing delusion (how much of these cutaway scenes are from her subjective viewpoint?) sincerely pained. We may not be able to entirely empathise with Jasmine's predicament, but her torment is so convincingly played out we're instantly invited to invest in the snobbish monster. 

The film brilliantly plays knock-about with our emotions, too, as Jasmine is forced to socialise with her sister's boyfriend and his cronies we're invited to laugh along with her condescending expressions and half-uttered remarks while in a second snapping us back to a defensive stance as she is then challenged by these working class men. This is of course a major accomplishment of Allen's writing but it's in the fine performance's of the supporting cast, most evidently in Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger's would be suitors. At moments stupid and misjudged, they create endearing men of beautiful simplicity and cut through Jasmine's view of them as aberrant apes.

For a director who indulges frequently with ensemble casts and/or takes the limelight himself as an actor, it's refreshing here that the focus is so consistently on a performer of such an unmatchable calibre. Blanchett, like the film itself, is one minute humorous and easy to laugh at/with but without warning baring teeth. Her presence is magnetic yet erratic, repulsive and still unshakably watchable. And let's not forget about Sally Hawkins who is nearly unrecognisable for similar reasons described of Cannavale et el; she is both world-worn while retaining a childlike naiveté. Naiveté unfortunately intensified by her sister's presence.

Woody Allen has delivered some solid work over the past 20 years, a highly mixed bag but with some certain gems for sure. Despite its pleasures,
Midnight in Paris - a film I admire very much - in the wake of this offering feels (like other recent work) like he could have written it in his sleep. Whereas Allen has been dangerously guilty of recycling past ideas there is something reinvigorating about Blue Jasmine; it can be felt in the dedicated central performance, in every performance surrounding it, in the confident writing. Javier Aguirresarobe's camerawork gives a certain zest as if fuelled by the confidents of what lies before his lens.

If the last 10 or so years has seen Woody Allen writing a series of novellas, with the weight and form of Blue Jasmine it seems he's arrived at another novel. 

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