Mark Metcalf
Moving Pictures

“To Rome With Love”

Mark Metcalf explores Woody Allen's post-NYC filmmaking journey that has taken him to London, Paris, Barcelona, and now, "To Rome With Love."

By - Jul 6th, 2012 04:00 am
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It’s both sad and wonderful that Woody Allen has suffered economic banishment from his beloved New York and now seems to wander around the world with his laptop, his wit, and his famously light gray view of the world stuffed into his kit bag as an itinerant filmmaker.

The man who used to resent crossing the Hudson River into New Jersey, who carped publicly and hilariously about having to cross the continent and enter the wastelands of Los Angeles in order to work, in Annie Hall, has, for the last decade, been in economic exile in Europe plying his trade from country to country.

And from all appearances he loves it. I think he might be the most surprised of all.

The art of making movies begins with the business of raising money in order to bring together the sometimes vast assemblage of people and equipment that it takes to actually construct the artwork itself. When America fell in love with superheroes, special effects, and stupidity, it became very difficult for Woody Allen to raise money for the intimate, character and language driven, proudly intelligent films he liked to make. Rather than sell out and direct a movie about men and women from Mars he went to England and made his own kind of thriller in Match Point. He continued from country to country exploring the culture and the special dynamic between smart, creative men and women until he got to Rome, where, to hear him tell it, his love of cinema and its extraordinary storytelling abilities began, when he watched the work of De Sica, Fellini, Antonioni and the others in the post-war leap from despair that was like a second Renaissance. The result is To Rome With Love.

It’s a little clunky in places; not as fluid as Midnight In Paris. It takes a while for Judy Davis and Allen to get in synch as the parents of Alison Pill, the bride to be, in one of the four or five interwoven story lines. Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg are perfectly matched as a weary architect revisiting his own past, or a remembered version of it, when he lived in Rome, loved, and fell simultaneously from and into it with Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page. Page’s story of an affair with a model and Eisenberg’s slow ascent to what may be a first time recognition of erotic ecstasy as he listens to her story is worth the price of admission.

Roberto Benigni brilliantly explores the glories and impossible complications when full-on media celebrity comes from nowhere to take over the life of a simple office worker. Penelope Cruz is a Sophia Loren-like prostitute who spends a day passing herself off as the bride of a country boy visiting his relatives in the big city, and eventually initiates him in the joys of the flesh that, to Italians, are more pure than innocence. The beautiful and guileless Alessandra Mastronardi, as the country wife of the country boy, also loses that innocence and learns to embrace life and the pleasures of the body with a stranger. When she and her husband are reunited they are finally able to openly and joyously begin a life together.

Allen honors all the cinematic heroes of his youth. And he embraces Rome and everything that is Italian. It is amazing how much he manages to pack into an hour and a half, and he does it all with language and character and the gentle observation of a genuine artist. I’m glad the people with money in Europe recognize his genius and keep offering him the time and space to create. Maybe the time will come when we tire of dumb and dumber in tights here in the United States and he is able to return to New York and celebrate that city the way he has celebrated London, Paris, Barcelona, and now Rome.

To Rome With Love opens Friday July, 6 at the Oriental Theatre on Farwell, the AMC Mayfair Mall and the Marcus Ridge cinemas.

Categories: Life & Leisure, Movies

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