WHEN Woody Allen was making the film Blue Jasmine he must have woken every morning and sung a paean of praise to whoever had the bright idea of casting Cate Blanchett in the title role (unless of course it was Mr Allen himself...).
The Australian actress delivers a devastating performance as a wealthy New York socialite who hits rock bottom after the law catches up with her fraudster husband (Alec Baldwin) and her privileged lifestyle comes to a dramatic and nerve-shattering end.
Mr Allen wrote and directed the film, and there has already been comment about it being an updated version of A Streetcar Named Desire, with Ms Blanchett (Jasmine) playing the part of a 21st century Blanche Dubois, the Southern belle in Tennessee Williams’s 1947 play (and subsequent film) who similarly descends into alcoholism and madness.
In the case of Blue Jasmine, though, there’s also a topical flavour to the story, with its heavy allusions to financial chicanery on Wall Street and to the character of Bernard Madoff, in particular, who lost billions of dollars of other people’s money and ended up in jail.
But the central figure in this tale is the wife, a social snob who is reduced to leaning on her working class adoptive sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), herself by now divorced and also a victim of Jasmine’s crooked husband.
The glory of this film – apart from the huge humanity Mr Allen infuses it with – is Ms Blanchett’s sensational acting. Every silence, every stare, every flicker of an eyelid, is laden with meaning. And although Jasmine is not a likeable person you can’t help liking her or, at the very least, pitying her.
Every aspect of this film is beautifully observed, from the characters themselves to the atmospheric photography of New York and San Francisco and, of course, the prudent use of music (in this case jazz). It is also at times very, very funny.
One has the feeling Woody Allen is on a permanent journey of discovery, of wide-eyed self-education, with his films as the products of his “homework”. If this is what lifelong learning is all about, I’m all for it.
Blue Jasmine is currently showing at Stratford Picturehouse.
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