ROME, WITH REGR

To Rome with Love

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Evan Wil­liams

IDIS­COV­ERED by chance the other day that I was the same age as Woody Allen — a lit­tle older, in fact — and the knowl­edge af­forded me a quite ir­ra­tional sat­is­fac­tion. Woody and I had some­thing in com­mon. The same Woody Allen who had given me more sheer plea­sure across a greater span of years than any other liv­ing film­maker was some­how on a sim­i­lar wave­length, shar­ing, if not a com­mon store of wis­dom or ex­pe­ri­ence — hardly that — then at least a cer­tain chrono­log­i­cal per­spec­tive on the world.

And the idea made sense. It is surely true that our sense of hu­mour evolves with time. And look­ing back on Allen’s films — more than 50 of them in five decades — it is pos­si­ble to de­tect a pat­tern of chang­ing moods and flavours, from the ex­u­ber­ant ro­man­ti­cism of the early come­dies to the sterner and more cyn­i­cal at­ti­tudes of Woody’s mid­dle years to the more re­flec­tive works of more re­cent times, all some­how at­tuned to the pass­ing of the years. His new film, To Rome with Love, might be called an old man’s med­i­ta­tion on mor­tal­ity, a hymn to the lost pos­si­bil­i­ties of youth.

I loved it, as I’ve loved nearly all his films — which is not to say To Rome with Love is with­out flaws or one of his best. It lacks the co­he­sion, the joy­ous sense of fan­tasy of his pre­vi­ous film, Mid­night in Paris, and the wit and poignancy of ma­ture master­pieces such as Han­nah and Her Sis­ters and Crimes and Mis­de­meanours. Char­ac­ters seem to have been plucked at ran­dom from some cor­ner of Woody’s con­scious­ness and left hang­ing in the air, their sto­ries un­de­vel­oped, their fates un­re­solved. There are only the most ten­u­ous con­nec­tions be­tween the var­i­ous nar­ra­tive

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(M) ★★★

✩ strands. And even the best jokes tend to be laboured. It’s hard to for­give such awk­ward for­mu­la­tions as ‘‘ Ozy­man­dias melan­cho­lia’’ (to de­scribe one’s feel­ings in the pres­ence of old ruins), and the joke about the singer un­der the shower ap­par­ently was bor­rowed from an old episode of The Flint­stones. When this was pointed out to me by a younger mem­ber of my fam­ily I had hopes of be­ing the first re­viewer to draw at­ten­tion to the fact — un­til I dis­cov­ered that the in­ter­net had al­ready gone vi­ral with spec­u­la­tion about seem­ingly re­mark­able co­in­ci­dences and vague hints of pla­gia­rism.

And yet . . . the film has a fresh­ness and charm that only Allen can bring off. Af­ter all, what’s one bor­rowed idea be­tween friends? The cast could hardly be bet­ter and the film is a plea­sure to watch. From its sweep­ing open­ing shot of the Pi­azza Venezia, where a friendly traf­fic cop greets us with an in­tro­duc­tory nar­ra­tion, from glimpses of the Trevi Foun­tain, Span­ish Steps and other fa­mil­iar land­marks to the more in­ti­mate sur­round­ings of lit­tle streets, squares and cafes, Rome looks ev­ery bit as en­chant­ing as Paris did in Allen’s pre­vi­ous film. Here is a pic­ture-book Rome — all pink and ter­ra­cotta ma­sonry set against patches of daz­zling blue sky and rich, ver­dant ten­drils on walls and arch­ways. The cast — even the more pro­saic char­ac­ters — seem to take on an added vi­brancy from their sur­round­ings. It’s a trick that worked in old Hol­ly­wood mu­si­cals and, with the help of his cam­era­man Dar­ius Khondji (who also shot mas­tered it.

Woody him­self has a fairly small part. It’s his first act­ing ap­pear­ance in one of his films since Scoop (2006), and ev­ery­thing turns on his re­sent­ments and dis­sat­is­fac­tions. He plays Jerry, a re­tired New York opera pro­ducer un­happy with his life and ca­reer. Poor Jerry has never got over the shame of a failed pro­duc­tion of Rigo­letto with a cast of white mice. He hates the idea of re­tire­ment and har­bours vague dreams of a late-life come­back. His wife, Phyl­lis (Judy Davis, in her first ap­pear­ance in an Allen film since De­con­struct­ing Harry), bluntly tells him: ‘‘ You equate re­tire­ment with death.’’ And when we first meet Jerry death seems to him an im­mi­nent pos­si­bil­ity. Un­nerved dur­ing a tur­bu­lent de­scent into Rome aboard an air­craft, he is pow­er­less to pray for de­liv­er­ance: ‘‘ I’m an athe­ist.’’ It’s the purest ex­am­ple of the ag­nos­tic hu­mour that was a fea­ture of all Allen’s early come­dies. And how pa­thetic this Jerry seems — frail, iras­ci­ble, petu­lant, ar­gu­men­ta­tive. And yet how funny.

There are 13 prin­ci­pal char­ac­ters and none of their sto­ries amounts to much on its own. But each has a lovely comic twist, and the film is made with such skill that ev­ery­thing seems to flow eas­ily. Jerry and his wife are fly­ing to Rome to meet their daugh­ter Hay­ley (Ali­son Pill) and their prospec­tive son-in-law Michelan­gelo (Flavio Par­enti), who have fallen in love at first sight. Next we meet John, a cel­e­brated Amer­i­can ar­chi­tect (Alec Bald­win) who is search­ing Rome for the house where he lived as a young man. Like Jerry, John is pin­ing for lost youth, a fresh start in life, and meets by chance an ea­ger young ar­chi­tect called Jack

Mid­night in Paris),

Woody has

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