Monday, 7 October 2013

Blue Jasmine

Ritzy Cinema Brixton
5 October 2013

This makes Blanchett's portrayal seem more scenery chewing than is evident in the film itself.

Jasmine is the overwhelming centre of this film, and as portrayed by Cate Blanchett she becomes a sympathetic depiction of a person suffering mental illness.

Director / writer Woody Allen deserves at least as much of the credit. Moments of humour are welcome respite from Jasmine’s descent into degradation and collapse.

It suspect it helps our sympathy that Jasmine is beautiful and elegant; we can be snobbish while excusing ourselves in thinking she deserves it really. This is manipulative art at its best, making the audience uneasy as we sit glued to the story.

The scenario is superficially similar to A Streetcar Named Desire, but these are very different characters. Jasmine would never ‘hang back with the dogs’ indeed she feels she has escaped them.

Though she is degraded almost as much as Blanche, there is no sexual subtext: Allen and Williams approach sexual desire from radically different perspectives.

Unlike her sister, Jasmine doesn’t work for money: she marries it. Allen shows this is still a kind of work, for Jasmine doesn’t rely only on her natural beauty but practices charm, learns to deceive, changes her name, and so on. An irony is that her name change works; and she 'catches' another deceiver, her husband.

Allen has always been acutely aware of the difficulties of dating, and in Jasmine, at last, he presents them without humour: we are aware that she must succeed in snaring a rich husband, it is a matter of the greatest urgency for her mental health.

Williams’ Blanche is different, in that we feel she has fallen from her own high ideals; it is not as simple that she is deluded in believing herself better than others, as it so clearly is with Jasmine.

An important point of contact between the two works is that the extremely unhappy endings are pathetic, not tragic. It is the pathos of watching anyone suffer, anyone at all, and it is awful, a testament here to both Allen and Blanchett.

A modest mistake in the film is that flashbacks to Jasmine’s beautiful former life create an uncritical acceptance of the class system. Some people, we feel, are destined for such riches. It makes little difference that we can see the husband is a crook and Jasmine is vacuous (and complicit). Then again, ferocious social critique isn’t necessary, and nobody expects it of Allen.

More seriously, the flashbacks gradually reveal that Jasmine is partly responsible for her destitute situation. This is hackneyed and unnecessary but it also confirms that she bears more responsibility for losing her sister’s money than she has admitted.

This is passed over without comment as if nobody involved in creating the film had noticed it. It’s odd, as a potentially intense dramatic scene, perhaps even tragic, seems to have been missed. We are left with less sympathy for Jasmine, without that being needed.

But why gripe? Jasmine sears herself into our memory. Which makes it a great film.

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