Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Purple Rose of Cairo


Dir: Woody Allen (Love and Death; Husbands and Wives; Annie Hall; Crimes and Misdemeanors; Manhattan; Deconstructing Harry; Hannah and Her Sisters)

My favorite Fellini film (so far) is Nights of Cabiria. It is hard to find a better juxtaposition of crushing life experience with transcendent human spirit and hope. Comedic and tragic, real and magical, it is a brilliant movie.

The Purple Rose of Cairo is not quite that good, but in its exploration of similar themes it puts in a monumental showing itself. Mia Farrow is a woman in a loveless and abusive marriage during the Depression. She escapes through the cinema and the sweeping lives of playboys and adventurers on the screen. One day, one of the actors in a movie she has seen several times walks off the screen. He himself seeks escape into reality, and the rest of the film explores themes of romance and reality, and the elusiveness of happiness. Allen takes a story that could easily have been one-note and augments it in suprising ways that I will not divulge here. But these twists open up new aspects of his theme, keeping the film from becoming a gimmick and nothing else.

Farrow is never my favorite actress, but she gives one of her best performances here. The standouts are Daniels and Danny Aiello as the abusive husband. The latter provides some moments of true menace among the whirlygig of the films and the romance, a reminder (along with the bread lines) of the harsh reality that films help us escape. The former plays a duel role with sufficient contrast to make it work.

The most overt Fellini reference comes at the end, where Allen lifts the ending to Cabiria. It was, for me, in both instances, one of the best film moments I have ever seen. It melts the heart of even this gruff cynic. Simple, subtle, honest, beuatiful, both endings are the perfect embodiement of "bittersweet." All of the events in both films lead up to that last moment, a testament to the patience of both directors and the focus of their vision.

Purple Rose is without a doubt among Allen's best, less complex or intellectual than some of his others but no less technically sound or well thought out. Romantic comedy at its highest form. A totally satisfying film experience, which is pretty much the point of the film.