Blue Jasmine

We went to see Woody Allen’s new film, Blue Jasmine. There are some laughs, but it isn’t a comedy. Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine who once was driven around Manhattan in a stretch limo by her own driver, who was bedecked in jewels and furs and Hermes bags. Then, her husband was sent to prison for some sort of financial fraud. Now she has no money and no prospects and has moved to San Francisco to live with her sister—sort of sister since they were both adopted and couldn’t be more different from each other.

The range of Blanchett’s acting is amazing. In the New York scenes she is the epitome of hauteur whose sense of the good life includes some charity enterprises as well as support of the arts and culture. With her sister she displays her middle class roots even though she hasn’t fully adjusted to her drop in station or her sister’s life style. And then she starts talking to herself. She loses it because beneath all of her plans and patter and surface mannerisms there is no core, no center. One thinks of Yeats. “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold, / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” She manufactures whatever she thinks the current situation demands. Even her name. She was formerly called Janette, but that didn’t evoke a glamorous Manhattanite . But regardless of the face Jasmine presents (and there are many), Blanchett is utterly convincing.

The other actors are also very good, but their roles are not as nuanced. For the most part they present a single face to the world (but not necessarily a face we should take at face value). Except for Jasmine’s husband (Alec Baldwin) the other characters have Jasmine thrust upon them, and their job is to deal with it, each in his or her own particular way. No one is happy about it, at least not for long. More reasons for Jasmine to talk to herself.

Another notable feature of the film is the editing. Since we are switching back and forth from her past in New York (and sometimes, the Hamptons) to her present in San Francisco (and sometimes, Marin County) Allen initially uses the city/landscape, or the characters specific to those locals, to orient us. But later in the film, if Jasmine is the focus it isn’t immediately obvious that there is a switch in time; it might just be another camera angle, an ordinary cut. At one point, however, the cut is from a close up of Jasmine to another close up, but in the second shot her fingers are loaded with diamond rings.

Everything in the film is so well done that it seems a shame to offer a caveat. Allen really likes the music of the twenties, what we usually call Dixieland. In his comedies, the music works well—it lightens the scene. But this is a serious film, perhaps Allen’s most serious, and the use of Dixieland goes against the mood established by the drama of the situation. He does use music sparingly, and it usually crops up to mark some sort of transition, but it still clashes. An exception is his use of “Blue Moon,” a song that functions as a talisman for Jasmine, the song that was being played when she met her husband as she tells people repeatedly, but this song is only played on a piano which gives it both the feeling of romance and nostalgia. “You saw me standing alone, / without a dream in my heart, / without a love of my own.” Deep down, that’s Jasmine.

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