More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
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Few people might expect so much dialogue in Italian with English sub-titles from To Rome with Love (2012), even after seeing Midnight in Paris (2011) - I hope that the fact will not put off members of a typical Allen audience who are maybe less used to following text and action together in this way, either by their telling friends to avoid the experience, or by having it as a mental reservation for his next release.
(I could speculate as to how the Italian dialogue was arrived at, because it does not quite seem as if Allen wrote the sub-titled speech and it was translated into Italian, but something more complicated than that, and maybe Woody's Italian is much better than mine and he worked on writing the Italian parts of the screenplay.)
A traffic-policeman, balletically directing the thronging vehicles high on a tub in their centre, first introduces us to two of the couples in the stories that we will see, and then thankfully, unlike the narrator in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), leaves us to our own devices. He, himself, is a device, because he purports to be able to see what he shows us from his vantage-point, and he is competing to be important to us.
Moreover, he is a symbol for Allen in exactly bringing the four stories before us beautifully in one timescale, all of them humorous, but all of them, despite the humour, nonetheless serious in some way. One story takes place in a single day, another in a week, and the remaining two in probably two or three weeks, but they begin and end together, and we are never worried that time is running more quickly for someone than for someone else, which is the film’s real triumph, that we can accept what we see so easily because the different lines are woven together, but are separate, happening in their own universe.
We first meet Hayley, an American woman spending the summer in Rome and falling in love with the first Roman whom she asks directions, Michaelangelo. (And, yes, in another strand, Allen gives us Leonardo.) Later, her parents (Judy Davis, being waspish as Phyllis, and Woody Allen being one of his typical creative roles as Jerry) meet his parents, and so begins the most bizarre story of Michaelangelo’s father Giancarlo giving an operatic performance under Allen's bizarre direction. This should not be spoilt, so do not imagine what will come better as a surprise - and even did fine the second time around. Allen calls his film to Rome, and he shows us himself going there, both as an actor (and hating the turbulence), and to bring us there with him.
Pure Italian is used to tell the tale of Milly and Antonio, newlyweds from Pordenone who came to Rome for a honeymoon and a new life with Antnonio’s relatives' company, if only he had something in common with his aunts and uncles! Enter a wish to impress them with a new haircut for Milly, Penélope Cruz as the fortuitous Anna, and chance encounters with the cast of a film, allowed by the running joke of directions to anywhere being endlessly complicated and losing Milly further and further, but somehow bringing her having lunch in the same restaurant with actor Luca Salta as Cruz hilariously stands in as Milly (but - fear not - all ends well!).
Cruz being who she is not, and performing the role so delightfully that she steals virtually every scene, is part of what the story, equally deliciously portrayed by Roberto Beningi, of Leopoldo Pisanello (another painter’s name) is about : suddenly, everyone wants to know all about Pisanello, a little as he had wished, and is whisked off to answer questions about what he had for breakfast. He does not get used to all the attention, all the desire to know his opinions, and comes to see it as a curse. When it has gone, this take on modern celebrity mixed with Warhol’s notorious pronouncement leaves Pisanello a little bereft by the change, and he has to satisfy himself that he once had a chauffeur and people knew who he was.
The last story has an on-screen American narrator in older architect John (Alec Baldwin), who is not ever visible to more than one person (more or less), trying most of the time to share his wisdom with the younger architect Tim, and thereby giving us a great deal of amusement in his ironic comments and predictions, and ultimately proving right when Tim has decided to follow his romantic feelings. Baldwin finds an on-screen equal in the acting presence of Ellen Page as the bewitching Monica, who draws Tim despite what he or John can say to the contrary.
The film is thoroughly charming, but my hesitation is whether two strands in Italian is taking things too far for some potential viewers. It ends with a competing claim, from a man who emerges from behind some shutters near The Spanish Steps, to see everything from where he is, and, a bit like Beckettt ('Oh the stories I could tell if I were easy', from Moran's part of Molloy), the offer to tell some of these stories some other time.
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