A Real Fake Life

Film review: Blue Jasmine (Director: Woody Allen)

By Sascha Krieger

Ceaselessly the woman talks at the elderly lady next to her: on the plane, at the airport, waiting for their luggage. Only when her husband picks her up, she is able to free herself from the incessant flood of words. This is how Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s latest film begins. It ends with the same woman sitting down on a park bench, talking again. The lady sitting beside her gets up and leaves, the talker does not even notice. In these two scenes – so similar and yet so different – Allen frames his tale of Jasmine whose real name is Jeanette. A woman who, married to a rich financial entrepreneur, once was at the heart of New York City’s high society. Now she must relocate to San Francisco, to live with her despised sister. When her husband’s criminal activities were discovered and he subsequently hung himself in his cell, she lost everything: her jewels, her money, her footing, her mental balance. This is Woody Allen’s take on the financial crisis, bankers spun out of control, the Bernie Madoffs of this world.

He looks at the effects on someone who once profited from the fraudulent schemes and then fell from grace, one who so internalized the artificial world she chose to live in that now she cannot leave it. Try as she may, she cannot return to reality, moving from daydreaming escapes to the past to empty illusions about her future, unable to grasp the necessities of the life she must now live. Blue Jasmine tells the story of what happens when you live in a fake world and are thrown into the real world. It is the tragedy of a woman caught in her dream, one she cannot give up anymore. She is the victim we have a hard time pitying, the winner who loses everything while she goes on believing that everyone else is a loser around her.

Cate Blanchett is Jasmine and she gives the strongest performance to date in a career full of memorable performances. She plays Jasmine between hysteria and desperation and slowly maps her subtle descend from overwrought nervous tension into a stupor equally induced by alcohol, prescriptions drugs, self-delusions and a complete failure at getting to terms with reality. She is broke, yet flies first class, she moves in with her sister who bags groceries at a local store, yet travels with Louis Vuitton suitcases – none of this being a contradiction in her mind. Blanchett is spectacular in the radical way with which he merges with her deconstructing and dissolving character. She carries the film with her characters’ helpless attempts at dignity, her ridiculous pretense, her losing any grip in her life and her mind. Sally Hawkins as her sister is a wonderful counterpart: down to earth, yet full of the same desire to have a better life, the same dissatisfaction with what she has. But while she comes around to accepting what she has, no matter how little that may be. Jasmine cannot.

Allen moves back and forth between the present and flashbacks of the past, often caused by a sudden memory or the topic of a conversation. Strangely, it is those past scenes that feel more real. Whereas the dreary present is drenched in a pale, vague sunny light, giving it a slightly unreal, dream like feel, corresponding well with the nostalgic jazz soundtrack Allen has chosen, the memories seem sharper, more matter of fact, more plausible. This reflects Jasmine’s perception: for her the fake is the real and the real a nightmare she must wake up from. And it seems she might: love enters, a chance to resume the life she once had and for a short time, the old socialite returns, the façade though a little cracked is polished and looks as good as new. But all falls apart again, and night falls on Jasmine.

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s first drama in a long time. Although he does, at times, allow his portrait of Jasmine to touch on the caricaturesque, the film remains too close to her existential desperation to allow for cathartic laughter. Instead the film, despite the essentially unlikable title character, is a touching story about the delusion of those who believe in the fake, who build their lives on dreams and self-deception, who invent a life so thoroughly that they come to believe in it. And it shows a society built on the principle of make belief – and the willingness of many to defy logic for the blind faith in the god of money. Yes, some of the plot twists are a little implausible, yes, the contrast between the phony rich and the ultimately good-hearted poor, is a little simplistic, but overall Blue Jasmine is an entirely convincing study of the dissolution of a self, carried by a focused direction and an acting performance that is great beyond belief, making this Woody Allen’s strongest film in a long time.

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