Saturday, September 22, 2012

To Rome With Love

No I'm Not Famous

I've only started to follow the works of Woody Allen more closely when he brought his filmmaking out of New York and into Europe, where he had made a number of films in the UK, and continues his sojourn through the continent with odes to her major cities, from Barcelona to Paris and now Roma, or Rome. And true to Allen's form, this film was really done with love, about love, and with the usual self-deprecating humour each time Allen decides to go in front of the camera as well.

Fans will undoubtedly lap up his writing and characterization featured in the film, where he tackles no less than four separate storylines, making up a myriad of stories about love and relationships set in the eternal city. And all things interesting about the film really had Allen's writing strength to thank, to make up scenarios and situations so differently, revolving around the emotion's broad theme, coupled with his pull to get recognizable names attached to his project, as we gaze at the backgrounds of what the city had to offer, and do a little bit of star-gazing as well.

Starring in one of the roles himself, Allen plays Jerry, a retired music executive who is in town with his wife Phyllis (Judy Davis), who are there to celebrate their engagement of their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) to Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), an Italian lawyer with values quite unlike Jerry's, and threatens to tear everything apart. That, and coupled with Jerry's insistence in making a business out of the voice of Michelangelo's father, the mortician Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), after hearing the latter singing in his shower, meant a clash of values and an almost absurd, comedic take on desperate innovation of the opera. Allen though, didn't manage to break out of his usual mold in the characters that he play, and Judy Davis' sarcasm looked pretty much scripted and poorly delivered, but fortunately Armiliato steals the show with his down to earth character.

Then we have Penelope Cruz barge into the scene, and pretty much stealing everyone's thunder in her segment, where she plays call girl Anna. Here, an Italian couple Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) are about to embark on a new life in the city, but their first experiences are separate, and we get two story arcs instead. Antonio gets tangled with Anna, who barges into his hotel room when Milly was away, mistaking him for someone else whom she has to service, while Milly's solo venture brings her onto a film set, where she gets to meet her film idol Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese), who turns out to be quite the slimy celebrity he is. Expect the unexpected here, with the primary couple being faced with temptation just when they least expect it!

And celebrity is a theme explored in the segment headlined by Roberto Benigni, who plays an everyday, average Joe, leading an unspectacular life, until he finds himself suddenly, and inexplicably, thrust into the limelight of celebrity, living it up, and lapping at all the attention showered upon him. In some ways this is quite the surreal story arc that doesn't really fit too well with the others, since it's fantastical, but has a degree of examination into how fleeting fame can be, and how fickle are those who put you on a pedestal, only for it to be yanked away once someone else rolls along who provides a different, more popular appeal. It's easy come, and easy go.

The fantastical also had a place in the final story arc, that deals with reminiscence and memory, reliving one's regrets. Alec Baldwin stars as a famous architect who may have sold out in his trade, and is in Rome on vacation, trying to retrace the familiar locales he had once come across. He meets Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), an architect student who is living with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig), whose best friend Monica (Ellen Page) is also bunking in on a post-breakup vacation. The three way relationship between Jack, Sally and Monica is what makes this particular arc stand out, dealing with how sometimes we get enamored by another, and are willing to risk it all to try and make things work, but sometimes reality and expectation are moving in vastly different directions, despite warning sites that we may choose to ignore, and are most likely ignoring.

The ensemble cast should just about excite any moviegoer to give this Allen movie a go, and to watch how he weaves the narrative in and around the different stories so effortlessly. At the same time, he creates a character out of Rome, that goes beyond the usual sights and sounds of the city all captured into more than just a background for this film, drawing a fine balance to prevent going overboard with the very touristy moments. It's pretty amazing how Allen has a knack in crafting all the characters for the film, since it is no mean feat to have them all distinct, with purpose.

One should expect the usual from a Woody Allen movie, and To Rome With Love bears all the usual hallmarks of the director, as he celebrates Rome's allure. Recommended!

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