Film Reviews from Italy
Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen, U.S.A. 2013, 98 min.
by Pietro Roberto Goisis
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If viewing a film could be compared to Rorschach’s projective inkblot tests, which, if we are aware of or not, we tend to enforce upon ourselves when we are immersed in a dark cinema, is something I have been sustaining for some time now. I believe a film can awake a variety of feelings and reactions similar to a projective test. Our individual reactions to a film, what will remain internally, and what thoughts, emotions and feelings will come about from viewing the film, depend most importantly on our internal state of mind, which in turn is influenced by how our day went, and even by the people we are watching the film with, whether friends or the public around us.
There is nothing negative in all this, as long as we are aware of it and we don’t take it too seriously.
Another significant variable is, if the film is going to live up to our expectations. Today, it’s not easy to go to a film without undergoing ‘feverpitch’ press releases and advertising beforehand, so we already have certain expectations, that said, our long-standing devotion to the mythical Woody, heightens these even more. And we all know how unpleasant it is to be disappointed, wrongly or rightly, by an idealized figure.
This brief introduction to my comment on Blue Jasmine, includes two reviews which illustrate opposing points of view, one by Rossella Valdrè and the other by Amadeo Falci, two renowned Italian Psychoanalyst film critics, thus hoping to kindle interest in our IPA colleagues.
Rossella Valdrè (http://bit.ly/19iGmHt), in her review openly declares her unconditioned passion and her deep understanding of Woody Allen’s poetry, defining this film as one of the most mature, intense and perfect of all his oeuvre. What strikes Valdrè is his treatment of themes new to him, in particular social themes. Observing analogies with Ibsen’s Doll’s House, Valdrè’s own interest in female themes leads her to say: “Whether one loves the Author as I do, or not, it is undeniable that in Blue Jasmine, we have one of the most moving, sympathetic and intense female portrayals in contemporary history of film; (echoes of Bergman, Woody’s mentor, rarely found in today’s cinema can be traced here). We need to go back in Woody’s career to 1988 before we can find a female portrayal with the intense characterisitics of Jasmine., to “Another Woman” with Gena Rowlands, a bourgeois drama, where lies and self-deception are prevalent, albeit the poetic dimension is missing regarding the thin boundary of madness when “all the traumas a person has to support are too much” as Jasmine will confess in Blue Jasmine.
The protagonist in ‘Another Woman’ admittedly is forced to reorganize her whole life but she is able to rely on her own specific subjectivity. (Another similar personality, but with a more magical, fairy-tale slant to it, is the vain Alice (1990) with Mia Farrow).
What is so moving and at the same time captivating about Jasmine, is a psyche many women unfortunately and many Doras have in common - not being anyone, except what is expected of them or as receivers of gifts. But that gift, once it is lost or taken away, the door to nakedness, insignificance, and an irreducibile non-existence is flung open.
Jasmine lives in a world of nostalgia, she yearns for an idillyic life, the life of the 1937 song, Blue Moon, on the notes of which she and her husband fell in love; – this is the Self of Jasmine, tormented by a world, lost for good, in actual fact never possessed, and thus desired for even more, a Self which the objects are unable to satisfy or give any sense to.”
Amadeo Falci’s encounter with Blue Jasmine (http://bit.ly/1bXI23x) on the other hand, tells a completely different story: “Woody Allen’s 45th or thereabouts film, after years of alternating successes and failures, and after two forgettable films, (Vicky Cristina Barcelona and To Rome with Love) presumably directed by a clone” (……) in his latest film is up against, “the economic crisis and the devastating effects it has on people’s lives and their psychology, two themes of enormous importance which the film is unable to forge into a convincing argument, mainly because of a lack of harmony in its stylistic language. (….) Despair runs through the whole film, honed by an opaque photography and an oppressive sky.
Blue jasmine could be labelled desperate for its failure to generate any hope, its ineluctable falsehoods, (Jasmine isn’t even her real name), for its incapacity to show a way to reinvent oneself, for perpetuating the impossibility to understand, for its inexorable repetition and for its impossibility to convey an acceptable work ethic.
Our smiles are quickly cut short, by a Cate Blanchett who whatever she does, she ends up taking the only direction she knows – ostentatious and delusional.”
According to Falci, the film is redeemed solely by the outstanding performance of the protagonist.
“Cate Blanchett’s bravura is formidable”, he declares, “her sophisticated affectations in her little Chanel jacket (probably the last one she possesses), and her typical Woody-like female gestures and jargon is pivotal to the film, - a perfect dose of complacency, falseness and seductiveness. She is magnificent in her last act of desperation, alone on a park bench in a pitiless soliloquy, offering in a bout of masochism to the public a suddenly-aged face, swollen and alcoholic.”
Falci’s criticism leaves the film in a sorry state although he wants to believe Woody will deliver yet another good film. In the meantime he goes on to say: “The reason we are so disappointed with our much loved Woody is because in our opinion he is counting on his reputation to win the usual acclaim for this film. Otherwise why is he quoting and imitating a pale image of himself and the jokes are coming across stale? Why does the superficial and inaccurate screenplay jump back and forth, and themes of such gravity are lacking the usual originality and creativity? We feel a sense of disillusionment and we are clearly disoriented at being swayed between what could provoke an ironic smile or a tragic reflection but which in actual fact never materialize to provoke either.”
At this point I will pick up the threads of my own thoughts. First of all you have probably noticed that the two previous criticisms are similar to an average spectator’s opinion, and not that of a psychoanalyst. As psychoanalysts, our comments come from our internal world. We don’t try to explain the film or why the director shot it, on the contrary, we refer to thoughts resonant with our emotions and feelings which arise from the screening. How we understand and declare our state of mind betrays implicitly and unequivocally our profession, in my opinion this is the best way of making ourselves understood by non-analysts. That said, I was really looking forward to seeing the latest Woody Allen film, even though the previous film on Rome, a sort of ad., disappointed and annoyed me, as well as the films on Barcelona and Paris. So I wasn’t surprised when I came out of the screening of Blue Jasmine not particularly satisfied. For a while I wasn’t sure if my feelings bordered on boredom or amusement (there aren’t many funny lines in the film), or if they were influenced by all that suffering (I felt very sorry for Jasmine), or by anger (there are many reasons for it) or lastly, by a sense of helplessness which pervades the whole story.
This clearly wasn’t a masterpiece I said to myself. However other thoughts started to creep in after some time and I found many themes dear to Woody in the film, like his references to the problematics of fiction masterfully and extraordinarily brought to the fore, as we have also seen in “Zelig”, “The Purple Rose of Cairo” and “Match Point”. Another theme seen in Blue Jasmine and which is common to Woody’s films deals with the boundaries between reality and fiction bringing to light ill-defined identities.
I also, think Cate Blanchett’s magnificent lead performance is worth the whole film, however I couldn’t help feeling at times an excessive déjà vu, stereotypical persona. Even the soundtrack, popular music usually chosen by Woody and masterfully mixed to underscore his films, seems to fall into a weary routine.
In spite of all this, Blue Jasmine is not to be missed. I will try and list the more interesting points which in my opinion are a source of reflection. Films like this which leave us with stimulating thoughts are an added bonus not to be undervalued.
Let’s start with the female protagonist. It’s difficult to understand if Jasmine is living in pretense or in denial. These functions are not easily separable, but I think Jasmine tends to use the former. She is an adopted child, her real name is not even Jasmine; she lives in a gilded world of keeping up appearances, (how many luxury brands in the end titles!!); her naive sister and her blue-collar boyfriend’s behaviour embarasses her. In actual fact, her own behaviour starts to fall apart. She begins to misjudge her own thoughts, her behaviour, her own words and the relationships with other people. It is very probable that Jasmine is hiding a painful past, a shameful past which has a significant influence on her actual situation. We know only too well from Winnicott that a false self guarantees protection to a most authentic but undefended nucleus, in the long run however it doesn’t guarantee the necessary barriers, and this overwhelms Jasmine, leaving her in the aftermath, raving on a parkbench, -a modern Ophelia.
If I’m not mistaken, this film talks alot about us analysts and our profession. I will try and explain why. When Jasmine is on the plane for San Francisco, at the beginning of the film, we see her talking with an unknown companion in the seat next to her. On arrival, we see the same woman tell her husband what a weird person she sat next to, with these words: “She started talking and she never stopped…”, alluding to the fact she was unable to change seats and had to bear with her for the whole trip. At the end of the film in the same manner, we see Jasmine who appears to be speaking to the companion next to her on the park bench, (or perhaps she is talking to herself,) this time however, the woman with a troubled air gets up and leaves her alone. Is it possible that the Director is describing us analysts as traveling companions who cannot leave their patients alone in their offices? (Something which happened in another film where the analyst unseen by the patient, crept out of his office during a session to have lunch with his girlfriend).
I also thought Jasmine’s origins and her marital situation reflect in part Wood’y own life story, the tabloids informed us of his adoption of various children with Mia Farrow from whom he separated only to initiate a relationship with one of the daughters. Is the unconscious playing a role in all this?
Another situation I would like to highlight is the emotively-laden scenes with Jasmine’s stepson. He only appears in two scenes but both worthy of our attention. When the scandal of the father explodes, the shame the son feels is probably the reason which leads him to abandon his prestigious college and disappear into thin air. (Probably the same shame drives the father to commit suicide in prison).Jasmine tries to persuade her stepson not to ruin his life because of his father’s undoing, but to no avail. Towards the end of the film Jasmine, heedless of her own situation, locates her stepson in San Francisco, and in an ultimate desperate attempt to resume a relationship goes to meet him but this also proves to be impossible. At this point, in the above scenes, we are led to believe it is Jasmine who in actual fact is addressing herself, both the adopted daughter and the woman who is frightened of ruining her existence. Clearly these two moments differ in the story and in the mind of the protagonist; the former deals with internal dynamics of adaptation and pretense, the latter deals perhaps with seeking finally that authenticity which has always been lacking.
In the background of this story lingers maternity, a central theme dear to Woody, – Jasmine is adopted, she has no children, she lost her husband and the stepson she was bringing up, - in other words, the sum of her solitude in a nutshell.
In conclusion, the more I reflect, the more thoughts come to mind. I am wondering if we can thank Woody or ourselves for our extraordinary capacity to find meaning in what we hear and see in our lives, whatever the case may be, it’s a fruitful encounter!
Translated from Italian by Deberah Catts