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A broken woman hastily reassembled

  • 19 September 2013

Blue Jasmine (M). Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Stuhlbarg, Louis C. K. 98 minutes

2013 is clearly an 'on' year for Allen. One of the great American filmmakers, he is an institution unto himself, although in recent years his strike rate is no better than 50/50. Last year's Roman tourist video To Rome With Love was largely deplorable. By contrast Blue Jasmine is a dark gem that deserves to be named one of his best.

It is worth seeing for Cate Blanchett alone. Armed with Allen's dialogue and under his gaze she turns out one of he performances of her career, as Jasmine, formerly Janet, an upwardly mobile socialite lately brought low by the dubious business practices of her husband Hal (Baldwin), and by a subsequent nervous breakdown.

The film opens with her travelling from New York to San Francisco, to the working class neighborhood where her sister Ginger lives with two young sons. Ginger has offered Jasmine a place to live while she regroups, though she is bemused to learn that the penniless Jasmine has flown first class. Jasmine dismisses this as a reflexive extravagance. But it is a glimpse of the delusions held by a woman who has made self-delusion an artform.

The film juxtaposes the snobby Jasmine's attempts to start again from the bottom, with copious flashbacks to her previous life that provide hints to the exact nature of her downfall. The disjointed chronology is dizzying at times, although even this seems to reflect Jasmine's erratic state of mind. Blanchett's Jasmine is a tightly twist-tied bag of snideness, nervous tics and affected elegance; a woman seemingly hastily reassembled following her breakdown, her desperate self-doubts cobbled together with utter self-absorption.

Hawkins, too, is wonderful as the dowdy, humble foil to Jasmine's whiplash pride. The relationship between these two sisters — born of different mothers, but raised by the same adoptive parents, and so reperesenting a kind of living case study for nature versus nurture — provides a measuring rod for Jasmine's world view. She openly condescends to Ginger for not improving herself, and, in assessing Ginger's loud but essentially sweet boyfriend Chili (Canavale), berates her for not finding a 'decent man'.

Of course, the fact that Jasmine appears to conflate decency with upward mobility is blatantly ironic, given the rich scumbag she had previously in Hal. The cruel absurdity of Jasmine's snobbishness in this regard is underscored