03 September 2013

A Streetcar Named Retribution

One of Ingmar Bergman's most overlooked and theatrical films is The Devil's Eye.  Released in 1960 and sandwiched between classics like Wild Strawberries and his Trilogy of Faith (Through A Glass Darkly, Winter Light, The Silence), it's easy to see how The Devil's Eye has become lost in modern film circles.  But it's one of Bergman's most inspired works.  The film opens with Don Juan seducing a young maiden only to have his conquest fizzle into nothingness at the moment of consummation.  You see, Don Juan is in hell, and his eternal punishment is to replay this Sisyphean game of seduction, without respite. 

Jasmine, played to neurotic snobby brilliance by Cate Blanchett in a likely Oscar nominated role, shares a similar fate.  The titular character in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, Blanchett is a cold, condescending gold-digger whose sole talent in life is to attract and gracefully seduce obnoxiously wealthy men.  This is in extreme contrast to her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a simple woman drawn to salt of the earth types.  Their paths intersect when Jasmine's husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), a not-so-thinly veiled version of Bernie Madoff, loses everything and hangs himself in his jail cell, leaving his estranged wife with no choice but to move from Park Avenue to live with her blue collar sister in San Francisco.

Yes, in Woody Allen's world, San Francisco is representative of a rough-talking, pizza-loving, grease-monkey working class because, obviously, his conception of the City by the Bay is stuck on Sam Spade and The Maltese Falcon. 

Jasmine, destitute, is forced, horror of horrors, to work as a dental assistant, and worse, share an apartment with her sister and two kids.  And yet, by the grace of the 1%, wealthy men find her irresistible.  Blanchett's best moment comes when she's dragged to a Marin County fête whose regal vacuousness quickly reminds her of own glorious Hamptons past.  When wealthy widower Dwight Westlake (Peter Sarsgaard) begins cooing to her of a home by the bay, a diplomatic mission in Vienna, and a potential future in politics, Jasmine realizes she unwittingly has got a live one.  The universe is restoring her innate place at the top of the social order.  The light in her face is reilluminated as she instantaneously spurns her unbalanced self-pity for a confident, alluring, and completely fraudulent air.  Jasmine's transmutation alone is worth the price of admission. Dwight falls for her immediately.

Somewhat clumsily (Allen loves churning out these films with such frequency that sometimes details aren't given the attention they deserve), it all falls apart for Jasmine, via Andrew Dice Clay in an understated performance as Ginger's ex-husband Augie who was burned personally and professionally by Jasmine and her criminal husband, and her dreams are once again fizzled into nothingness just at the moment of material consummation.  It's a classic morality tale of the pitfalls of greed, pride, and selfishness.  Maybe in some seventh circle, Don Juan and Jasmine will find each other.  

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