(versão em português aqui)
Given that Blue Jasmine is at Mubi (at least the Brazilian one) and that A Rainy Day on New York is on theaters here, I’m republishing the last article I wrote on Allen back in December 2013.
Blue Jasmine is a film with many flaws, but it’s hard to deny how clearly it goes straight to the point. Class is a frequent subject hanging in the background of Woody Allen movies. In a certain way, one might say his films after Interiors (1978) could be described as a nouveau riche cinema, focused on a certain phobia about the idea of returning to more humble beginnings – a horrifying threat hanging over all of them (it is no surprise that his strongest film in the past couple of decades is seen through the eyes of a sociopathic social climber). Such dramatic concept, however, had never been dramatized by him in such a direct way as it is in Blue Jasmine, in which those impressions migrate from the margins to the center: a film about the hell of going down class-wise according to Woody Allen.
Here, we are dealing with an update of A Streetcar Named Desire, in which Blanche Dubois becomes the ex-wife of a corrupt Wall Street speculator. That choice is in itself very informative of what Blue Jasminewants to be, with its combination of a well-known reference point with a relevant hook – made complete here with the central presence of Cate Blanchett, the prestige actress of excellence in contemporary cinema. Allen drains Tennessee Williams of its characteristic hysteria (and specially its version by way of Elia Kazan, to which cinephiles are more used to), but doesn’t really replace it with anything else; what remains are some recognizable signifiers, since, as often happens in his films, references matter because of the culture capital they add to them. The most harmful feature of Woody Allen’s cinema has always been how it turns culture into a mere class signifier, an altar of pretense sophistication it never fails to return to. Be it Bergman, Joseph Losey’s British films or, here, Williams, they are all references that exist for the value they can lend to the films, and not due to an organic relationship with the material; they serve mostly to strengthen the downfall of high culture and social status that the film microcosm suggests.
If Blue Jasmine proposes itself as a descent towards hell, it also reinforces the usual difficulties in Allen’s films. There is a problem of imagination at their core and a strong difficulty in assuming any point of view but its own. Be it a social or existential point of view, finding the proper distance is a constant difficulty in his works – one can think, for instance, in the grotesque shot early on Everyone Says I Love You(1996) in which three babysitters from different ethnic groups are shown singing together, ticking the movie’s idea of social inclusion. Blue Jasmine’s attempt to imagine this new space the lead suddenly sees herself in is a complete disaster, starting with her sister’s flat, which the film tries hard to sell as a terrible place, but is surprisingly large (and well furnished) for an apartment kept by a single mother that works in a supermarket – unless, of course, if anything below a Upper West Side duplex qualifies as troubling in the director’s world. What we have here is a problem of myopia, a point of view so narrow it is unable to articulate with empathy a space or behavior that are to far apart from his own (it is something that also helps to explain why Allen’s recent world tour films often felt laughably generic).
This becomes even worse when one considers how every character that lives in Jasmine’s new world is designed. The film has a complete lack of eye – and ear – to every character on screen that isn’t Jasmine, despite her neurosis and emotional imbalance. It’s up to Sally Hawkins and Bobby Cannavale, two good actors, to do what they can with Allen’s caricatured idea of working class, but Cannavale’s Stanley, especially, is conceived with such an amount of tics that are beyond any salvation, coming off as dysfunctional even as parody – despite suspicions that such idea is far from being the intentions here. There is nothing that escapes the impression imposed from top to down that the world is drowning in its own mediocrity and lack of perspective.
Blue Jasmine may pretend mercilessness to its title character, but its gaze towards her new surroundings don’t deny that we are in the face of descent to a wider hell and that there is no salvation of such mediocrity (would there be any other explanation for the subplot in which Hawkins tries and fails to follow her sister steps and find a better man?). Jasmine’s flaw is not her blindness and snobbery, but her presumption in believing she deserves lo leave it; social purgatory is her punishment, and it is a social purgatory less defined by materialistic issues – being poor in a Woody Allen film is never having a hard time putting food on the table, but not being sophisticated enough and living surrounded by people that are not at all better in that sense – and more by the environment one lives in. Blue Jasmine is a perfect film for those who believe that the problem with social inclusion in the President Lula’s government was in having to share a plane or mall escalator with those who didn’t have money to go there before.
The film is structured around very rudimentary time displacements of cause and effect between Jasmine’s current purgatory and her privileged past in Park Avenue. There is nothing very interesting in those returns to the character’s past, which culminate in one of those coarse dramatic ending that often pop up in his films, but they help reinforce how uncomfortable the film is in the scenes set in the present. If Blue Jasminebrings to mind a previous Woody Allen film, that would probably be ironically one of his least prestigious: the satire Hollywood Ending (2002). There, all the humor with Hollywood failed precisely because the film desperately wanted to achieve an outsider look, but couldn’t avoid behaving like an insider whose vision of a good film was much closer to the myopic executives it tried to lampoon. Likewise, Blue Jasmine might cling to its current subject and close in on characters that were collateral damage to big Money speculation, but the film cannot escape that environment itself. One might move toward taking some critical stance about the hypocrisy and hollowness it sees there, but there, and only there, is the only place in which it can find comfort. The way Allen sets to shoot both Jasmine’s apartments is telling: there is a contempt to her current surroundings that is absent in the flashbacks.
Blue Jasmine prefers hypocrisy to what it perceives as mediocrity. By the end, the film cannot avoid good bourgeois morality – the crime that expels Jasmine from Paradise is not her failings, but acting against the interests of the family, breaking the good old social contract. The film’s final act might suggest a hollowing of its central character, but it is a process seen from a safe distance, at a Park Avenue flat. It is not a film about the victim of a speculator, but of his own tragedy. To cry for him, hanged in his luxury cell, is the only perspective left to Woody Allen’s social myopia.