Don’t do as the Romans say

In Woody Allen’s new “city film", the kind the Hollywood iconoclast and Upper West Side prodigy has often mockingly described as his “foreign films", he plays Jerry, a retired opera director. Mid-air turbulence mortifies him, and communists, especially if the communist in question is his future son-in-law, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), stupefy him. He equates retirement with death. We have seen Allen’s world-weary, overwrought self-portrayal in films before—memorably in Hollywood Ending (2002). Jerry’s wife, a Manhattan psychiatrist played by the fantastic Judy Davis, deals with her husband’s neurosis with deadpan cynicism. If Freud were to be the answer to the human mystery, her husband would be a man with no ego or superego, but just three ids.

Man with three ids: Woody Allen (left) and Judy Davis in To Rome With Love.

But it’s still good Woody Allen. The writer, director and playwright has been making films for 47 years—and this year, he turns 77—and all these movies have his inimitable stamp. Many of them are meditations on urban hypocrisy and the eternal battle between creativity and commercialism, soaked in wit that scathingly ridicules the worlds he is a part of. A film lover should be glad Allen is still making movies. I look forward to his next surprise.

WATCH VIDEO

Woody Allen’s new film has four different stories that run in parallel tracks against the backdrop of the eternal city. Mint’s Sanjukta Sharma tells us more

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To come back to the new film, it has a host of characters who live in the city of the grand Colosseum, or are new there. Four stories run in parallel strands but are not necessarily interwoven. A successful American architect John (Alec Baldwin) meets his younger self, a young, idealistic architect (Jesse Eisenberg). Jack’s live-in girlfriend has invited her friend Monica (Ellen Page) over to Rome to spend some time with them. In Monica, Allen etches an intellectual and emotional fake—someone who name-drops authors and narrates her sexual adventures with a lingerie model with self-surprised candour. This, like many characters Allen has written before, is a simplified and distilled prototype of a neo-artsy universe, which Allen has always relished poking fun at. Incidentally, Page gets the film’s best dialogues, and she acts them out with superb gusto.

Penélope Cruz.

The city hardly has a presence in this film. Paris, more than Barcelona, got a lyrical tribute from Allen. Rome is the grand backdrop, but it’s more a globalized city than an Italian one, not seen through his personal prism. The humour is inconsistently caustic and surprising, and the combination of fantasy and farce is unconvincing and jarring at times. This is a mediocre romantic comedy with sparks of genius in the telling of the track involving Page, Baldwin and Eisenberg, for its originality, and the one involving Allen’s character, for familiar reasons.

To Rome With Love is another testament to the fact that although abidingly relevant, Allen has a wildly fluctuating oeuvre, and that he can get any actor to act for him even for a few scenes. He is committed to the idea of film-making and to the prototypes he satirizes and celebrates at the same time.

The man himself, comfortingly, remains the knotted, nervous artiste with three ids.

To Rome With Love released in PVR theatres on Friday

sanjukta.s@livemint.com

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