Saturday, July 21, 2012

Woody Allen: To Rome with Love

Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, To Rome with Love, Sony Pictures Classics, 2012.

Stepping into the golden Roman sunlight for his annual stroll, Woody Allen, one of the greatest film artists in the world, revisits many of the themes that have fixated him for all of his fifty year career.

Love, sex, and the human condition in all of its ridiculousness take one form or another in the distinctly magical universe of Mr. Allen. Anything can happen, anyone can be anything they want, and all of it with a deadpan smile, the vaudeville one liners keep coming.

Darius Khondji is a magic man with a camera; his sun drenched Rome drips like honey; being one of the best cinematographers in the world, his work with Neil Jordan standing out, he does a magnificent job here.

The intersecting tales of love, fame, and family are balanced effortlessly by Allen; his script is light as a feather yet rife with his trademarks. The entire cast shines; Allen, Judy Davis, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, and Penelope Cruz are all at their best. Even more center stage are the younger cast members, who nail it. Greta Gerwig and Alison Pill were both born to act for Allen. Likewise, though not quite as obviously, are Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page. They slip into their roles with an enticing ease, and truly own them. Their chemistry together and with other cast members is strong. I don't believe that Eisenberg or Page have ever been better in a film before.

The surrealism is brilliant; in typical Allen fashion, a middle-aged man (Baldwin) is able to sit in on his past, communicating with his younger self (Eisenberg) as he becomes ensnared in a bitterseet Allen triangle with Page and Gerwig. A common Italian man (a delightful Benigni) finds himself cast into fame for no reason at all.

Allen's light touch, unlike any other, casts a spell over his audience; for under two hours we are transported, moved, and depart the multiplex pondering our own lives. Thus is the power of cinema, the power of Allen, and the power of one of the best films of the Summer.

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