Directed by Woody Allen
Allen’s films are often thematically defined by two conflicts- the absurdity of wealth and the problems inherent with the passing of time. In current films, he’s addressed these in ways as diverse as the lovely cities he’s chosen to set them in. In this film, both are captured and fleshed out in poignant synchronicity due to the temporally fluctuating structure that pits past and present in an adversarial nature simultaneously with wealth and low income as it thrusts back and for the between Jasmine’s opulent past and her current situation in complete loss and having to rely on her sister.
Here, the setting is San Francisco, California, far removed from the gorgeous scenery of Barcelona or the rich history and arts of Rome and Paris. San Fran, as I hear it’s called, is a fitting setting as Allen lacks the romanticized foreign view of it as he does the former and it allows him to do something far more raw and honest, the former being something I rarely expect from an Allen film.
Unlike the neurotic characters that he often plays himself, or hires a surrogate to stand in for him (here’s looking at you Larry David, Rebecca Hall, Owen Wilson, etc), the neurosis of it’s titular character is often treated for what it is: something truly and utterly damaging to the individual. It is not without humor, and often we are invited to laugh at her, but Allen never seems to lose track of how hurt this woman is and how harmful she is to others. Often I was swallowed up with sympathy and sadness while trying not to giggle. It’s an impressive and odd sensation that shows the expertise on display here. That said, I do not mean to give the impression that Allen is solely worthy of credit here so I’ll say this quickly:
Cate Blanchett gives an incredible performance that deserves all the awards.
What about best actor? ALL THE GODDAMN AWARDS. Punch best sound mixer and sound editor and give it to her for this performance. Really though, great. Everyone in the film is at the top of their game, especially Sally Hawkins (Ginger, her sister) and Boardwalk Empire alumni Michael Stuhlbarg and Bobby Cannavale.
Back to the film, one of the aspects that impressed me most is how Allen seems to have really stepped out of the auto-pilot funk he was in when he made the mess that was To Rome With Love. Instead, he wields the camera with surgical precision and allows himself to infuse the film with subtle visual motifs that magnify and enhance the film. My favorite among them is the prevalence of watches, which confirms the aforementioned themes on time and how, no matter what Jasmine may want, or her sister, step-son, or everyone in this film may want, the past is inescapable and will impact our present.
It’s a subtle image that happens about halfway through the film, when our protagonist has met a new rich man and an up and coming political career played by Peter Saarsgard. He reaches his hand to hold her face to kiss her, putting his watch in the center of the screen. Seconds after the kiss, Jasmine reaches her hand up to his wrist and covers it.
That’s the tragedy of the film and the crux of it all at once. Jasmine’s hand no more stops time than she can escape it.
Great film and one of the year’s very best. Seek it out.
Apologies if this review is rusty. I haven’t done one in a while and I’m pretty tired. But I needed to do one.