Woody Allen’s 44th full-fledged directorial venture brings us to Blue Jasmine, the unofficial modern day adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire. Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine here mirroring the enigmatic charms of Blanche Du Bois from Tennessee William’s legendary play. As the deluded, past-her-pomp socialite who runs bankrupt after the end of her conjugal bliss and her husband, Hal’s (Alec Baldwin) suicide, both coinciding, a troubled Jasmine goes to San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in hopes of recouping her identity and perhaps starting a new life…
A basic story told in a simplistic style, Woody Allen contrasts sequences from Jasmine’s life as the tip-top socialite in New York, wife to a philandering financial expert, to her present life under the influence of anxiety, panic attacks, and derangements. The sequences of Jasmine’s much decorated social life from her past juxtapose on screen with her present life living with her working class sister in San Francisco—much away from her aristocratic lifestyle and social circle in New York. Making it an appealing way of telling this story, the drastic spiral from an elitist to an impoverished woman sets the stage for this quintessential drama, with Allen giving it an artistic touch similar to what we witness in A Streetcar Named Desire. Although similar in broad strokes, Blue Jasmine does have an altered outlook pinned on the renaissance of Jasmine as an individual—jammed in her own psychological trap of vanity, deceit, and hypocrisy—as opposed to the undercurrent sexuality alive in Streetcar.
Quite simply, Blue Jasmine is an easy interpretation of a mumbled woman in her own jumbled world. Going back to Streetcar, the movie subtly represents that era, with a macho rich husband having loose affairs, while the wife is the loyal and pretentious socialite unaware, or at least pretending to be, of her husband’s exploit. Once misfortune strikes, her life falls apart in free fall: no college degree, no special talent, and no computer skills—a nice satire there—and nothing except a regal, glossy look, which would be all the more perfect for a man to have in a woman, especially those with social responsibilities… As such, Jasmine has nowhere to go, except for the place she loathes.
Blue Jasmine maintains a vibrant aloofness between the audience and the character of Jasmine. The manner of sequencing and the way it’s filmed, you’d find an invisible tablet between the viewer and the actions in the story, especially revolving Jasmine. The movie projects a clandestine charm of isolation that slowly peels off as the minutes pass by; ultimately, revealing the obvious but in an insistent, engaging style, which would augur down to the wits and mastery from Woody Allen. From such a simple premise, Allen develops a complicated psychological study of not just one character but the array of characters present, where you’d almost be confronted with the idea of the story divulging as social criticism through the lens of the social classes, political ideologies, stereotypes, and the principle of self-identity and personal space. As a story, Blue Jasmine manages to say a lot about social phenomena through little detailing and suggestive nuances, and those little detailing and suggestions make the movie a rich study—a valiant film from Woody Allen after a long time.
The camerawork, more so the composition of shots and of course the overall cinematography deserves a pat for creating a distinct visual story. The utilization of dynamic spatial relationships between the characters, especially Jasmine and Ginger and also Jasmine and Chili (Bobby Cannavale), Ginger’s brute fiancé—the Stanley Kowalski of Blue Jasmine—the spatial placements and camera angles distinguish the pedigree of these characters from one another, especially Jasmine from the rest. Nonetheless, despite being a part of this circle, Jasmine’s undermining viewpoint of Ginger’s entire existence creates a silent tension between all the three personalities. Allen doesn’t show them until it reaches breaking point, yet the silent killer is present in most of the scenes featuring the three characters (Jasmine, Chili, Ginger).
Cate Blanchett as Jasmine has been acclaimed at every corner of the film universe, and perhaps deservedly so. Her demeanor as Jasmine is uncannily real, from her make-up, physical mannerisms to her jabbering as the deluded, knocked out Jasmine. Chili’s mate, Eddie (played by Max Casella) asks Jasmine if she’s usually spaced out. Very relevant question because that’s how Blanchett proposes herself as Jasmine—mentally erratic and zoned out in her own world mumbling about all that’s gone wrong in her life. By the time she loses everything, she doesn’t even have her own child as a redeeming facet of her discolored and largely disfigured life, which we see so often in her face—no colors and charms—except for her dressing sense and conduct, which is all elegant and with a royal touch. In all that’s said about Blanchett, the entire cast makes this movie a rich presentation with natural performances. Understated, as it may seem, the cast of Blue Jasmine portray their skins with pragmatic natural instincts complimenting the world around the story and the lives and times of these characters.
Ultimately, Blue Jasmine works with a possibility—a possibility of a woman with nothing except the stature of her husband as her sole belonging and identity. Before him and after him, she stands as a naked figure lost in the world with myriad of complications. Always seeking the easy way out, Jasmine is a contradictory figure where one is lost whether to feel pity on her state, or to laugh at her inanity. Heartfelt in execution, with brilliant art direction, storytelling, and a subtle way of cinematography, Blue Jasmine is a thunderbolt wrapped in silence. An extremely rich movie with powerful performances, it slowly grows in the heart as tragic degeneration of a dysfunctional woman, one-of-a-kind, in such a predicament that not even she can help herself…