Eye For Film >> Movies >> To Rome With Love (2012) Film Review
To Rome With Love
Reviewed by: Ali Hazzah
"Serial filmmaker" aptly describes Woody Allen's prodigious output over a stellar but uneven 40-year career.
His latest, To Rome with Love, is a whimsical, multi-part concoction that seemingly unfolds in the Eternal City, with its famous tourist attractions serving as a gilded backdrop.
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But the film actually takes place in Woodlandia, that is to say, in that increasingly removed place where the jokes are served like free wine at a SOHO gallery opening, modern technology is largely unknown, characters agonise over somewhat dated existential questions, sexual undercurrents flow between salacious older men and naive ingenues, and no one has any problem financing a trendy, upscale lifestyle.
With a structure that strongly evokes Steno's 1965 Love, Italian Style (to see an episode of this film featuring the great Paolo Panelli, go here), the action in this postcard fantasy consists of four loosely-intercut plot strands that are framed by the opening and closing commentary of a municipal policeman.
The first thread involves a young American tourist (Alison Pill, Zelda in Midnight In Paris) who gets lost on her way to the Trevi Fountain, runs into a handsome young Italian lawyer, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), and suddenly decides to marry him.
Her father, Jerry, a retired music impresario (Allen), and mother, Phyllis (Judy Davis, Lucy in Deconstructing Harry), fly in to meet their future in-laws.
Jerry soon discovers that Michelangelo's father, a mortician named Giancarlo (real-life tenor Fabio Armiliato), has a Pavarotti-like singing voice, but only under certain conditions, which Jerry eventually attempts to replicate on stage, in order to escape retirement, which he equates with death.
The second fable involves a successful, middle-aged architect, John (Alec Baldwin, Ed in Alice), who designs malls.
John is in Rome on holiday with his wife Carol (Carol Alt), and, following a plot development borrowed from Midnight In Paris, implausibly runs into Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), who, as it turns out, is an architecture student who lives in the same Trastevere neighborhood where John himself once resided.
Jack invites him to visit the apartment he shares with an American girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig), whose best pal, Monica (Ellen Page), is a pretentious LA actress who blows into town and seduces Jack with her movie star looks and superficial familiarity with the touchstones of high culture. Incidentally, Jack keeps a T-square in the apartment, suggesting here, and later, elsewhere, that the two characters are actually one.
The third tale, spoken entirely in Italian, follows two rube-ish young newlyweds from the South of Italy, Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and his wife (Alessandra Mastronardi) - I'm surprised Allen didn't also use these actors' actual first names. At any rate, they temporarily are drawn apart, and end up in bed with strangers, one a red-dressed prostitute (Penelope Cruz), the other a cartoonish, early Sixties movie star type (Antonio Albanese), with whom things come to a head in a posh hotel room and a lusty, opportunistic robber.
Finally, we meet Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), a boringly ordinary man who leaves his house to go to work one morning only to find himself inexplicably famous and surrounded by paparazzi and breathless talk-show hosts who obsess over every last trivial detail of his quotidian life, until they abandon him as quickly as they turned him into an instant celebrity. It is a one-note but initially screamingly funny skit that parodies the banality of Italy's TV-centric culture.
While some critics have complained that these farcical episodes are narratively unrelated, amounting to little more than character sketches and vignettes which never come together in any meaningful way, To Rome With Love's stories evoke underlying themes that have long dominated Allen's work - the fleeting quality of what passes for love and romance, the desultory side effects of transient fame, the universal fate of everyone's inevitable decline and death, all depressing themes that Allen has previously explored, making them palatable to audiences with his often priceless one-liners.
Earlier this year, at the film's Italian premiere in Rome, in which the topic of disgraced former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was broached (Berlusconi's production company, Medusa Films, is a majority backer of the film, which may bring up serious ethical questions for some audiences, in particular with those who might remember Medusa's imbroglios with the UK Film Council, and various other scandals), a number of leading local critics took Allen to task for ignoring the grim realities of today's Italy, and his adding of laughably naive details (such as the policeman being able to afford an apartment in the Piazza di Spagna).
To which the director responded: "I give you my own interpretation of Rome in the film, and I don't pretend to have any insights about the culture or the politics. We set out to make a film set in Rome that's entertaining to watch, and that's what we did."
My opinion is this.
If you care to idle away a couple of hours in Woodlandia watching Allen have some harmless, nostalgic fun in one of his lesser, light comedy romps, then you can't go wrong with this film. As an added bonus, any completist fan of Allen's oeuvre will no doubt enjoy the many direct references, if not extensive recycling, of his previous work, as well as, in his homage in the quasi amusing third vignette, to an obvious deep and early influence, Fellini's The White Sheik.
Personally, I'd make it a point to also watch the 1952 original. But if you actually are interested in experiencing an edgy and droll look at the social problems besetting modern Italy, by two young up-and-coming directors, I would recommend Luca Ragazzi and Gustav Hofer's Italy: Love It or Leave It (to see the official trailer, go here).
Meanwhile, you might be pleased to know that Allen is already busy filming his next one. Baldwin's in this one, too. It's set on more familiar territory, this time round.
Welcome back, stranger.
It's been a while.Reviewed on: 21 Aug 2012
If you like this, try:Swept Away