By Nathalie Maciesza
It hasn’t gone unnoticed: Woody Allen’s new film “To Rome With Love” had its release in the Dutch cinema’s last week. As the title suggests Allen has chosen the eternal city as the décor for his 42nd film. I went, I saw, I recommend it to you.
The film opens with the credits, set to a black background in the font Allen always uses in his films, we can hear the Italian song “Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu” by Domenico Modugno and my heart skips a beat. Some may call it cliché, I call it charming. As the film unravels we meet many characters that all have their stories put together by Allen in a kaleidoscopic telling. There is the young architect Jack (Jesse Eisenberg. Yes, the “Facebook”-guy) who falls in love with his girlfriend’s best friend, an actress you want to shoot after a mere five minutes. Jack is accompanied by a famous American architect (or the older version of himself?), played by Alec Baldwin, who comments on the situation. Also we meet newlyweds Antonio and Milly who have come to Rome for their honeymoon. Milly gets losts in the streets of Rome and sees her hidden desires come to life, while Antonio winds up in a situation where he must pretend that the beautiful prostitute Anna (Penelope Cruz) is his young wife. A film set in Rome wouldn’t be complete without Italy’s funniest citizen Roberto Benigni, whose character is a parody on the concept of “15 minutes of fame”. He is a middle class office clerk who, without any obvious reason, becomes a star, stalked by paparazzi and interviewed on national television on what he had for breakfast. This storyline is one of the two most absurd, surrealistic and funny segments of the film. The other one is where Woody Allen himself plays a retired opera director who is visiting his daughter, a satirical role based on himself. His daughter’s soon to be father-in-law could be an extraordinary opera singer, the problem is just that he only sings well in the shower. Of course, Woody Allen’s character has a solution for this and makes it his personal mission of turning this simple undertaker into an opera star. “A foolish man once said: stuff happens” is a quote from this film, which is precisely what Allen wants to show us. Stuff - funny, irritating, charming, real, love themed stuff.
Love is one of the most frequent themes in the oeuvre of Woody Allen. “Annie Hall” is an ode to his former wife Diane Keaton and “Hannah and Her Sisters” reveals the gaps between what seem to be healthy, solid relationships, to mention only two of his brilliant films that explore the human psyche, behavior and relationships. Allen does not only love love, he loves beautiful cities as well. In “To Rome With Love” we are presented with amazing shots of the city, accompanied by a soundtrack that makes you want to drink Chianti all night, while dancing on the banks of the Arno with a well-dressed man called Giancarlo. This is not a film that unveils the social and political problems of Italy, that tells the stories of the haggard middle class and must be seen as a clear manifesto. Neither need it immediately be given awards at every Film Festival for being edgy and provocative. But who gives a damn, it’s the great Woody Allen taking us on a touristic tour of Rome, making us laugh with his sketch-like scenes and making fun of absolute stereotypes. The film is not without meaning and moral though: it is about the human desire to be loved and the urge to explore hidden desires As the “narrators” in the beginning and end of the film say, “these are only a couple of stories, come to Rome to hear the rest of them”.
Watching the film is almost like taking a short trip to the city of Romulus and Remus. Allen ‘glammed it up’ a bit, but sometimes that’s just how we like it. Having Allen as a tour guide, we have had the opportunity to visit quite a number of cities over the last few years. Shooting films in New York has become a very expensive undertaking, being the reason that after “Manhattan” Allen decided to travel to Europe and film his love stories here. In “Match Point” Jonathan Rhys Meyers makes extra-marital love to Scarlet Johansson in London. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” brought the same bombshell actress to Barcelona to be teamed up with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz and the latter actress has been flown to Rome now, after Allen made a pit stop in Paris filming “Midnight in Paris” . We can only wait and see which city Allen will use as the backdrop for a new film next. Cannes, Moscow, Copenhagen or maybe Amsterdam?