(Woody Allen, 2013)
Still formally adventurous and thematically ambitious, still capable of moments of sublime comedy, the main element of Woody Allen's late work which is substantially different from his classic era is the strong dose of pure bitterness laced through much of the material. Blue Jasmine may just be the best example of this.
A twisted character study of a New York socialite, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) after her world is destroyed and she finds herself living with her semi-estranged sister (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco, here Allen balances comedy and drama very effectively. Pitching Jasmine in at the deep end of a new life surrounded by her sister's children and boyfriend, Allen then pitches the audience into Jasmine's own mess of a past, depicting flashbacks to a privileged Park Avenue life alongside her ex Hal (Alec Baldwin), who ruined it all by getting arrested for stealing and spending millions of the other peoples money.
As the story progresses Allen and Blanchett illustrate Jasmine's degree of complicity via a series of short, telling scenes depicting her in her natural Manhattan environment where she shops, hosts dinner parties, and relaxes in the Hamptons, then contrast it with her new Bay Area life, working as a receptionist for a lecherous dentist, going to adult computer courses, drinking incessantly and rowing with Chili (Bobby Cannavale), her sister's mechanic boyfriend.
Allen is brilliant at winding his themes around his characters and story, but Blue Jasmine throws up a more problematic area: his discomfort with working class characters. His San Francisco seems populated mainly by New York Italians in vests who like to drink beer and have inarticulate conversations, and though this patronising tone is addressed - these characters are often seen as morally and sensually superior to Jasmine and her tribe, and her undisguised snobbery is never validated - it still feels an awkward misstep for the film.
For so much else is clever and stylish here. Allen casts his films beautifully and everyone in this is superb, the photography by Javier Aguirreasarobe is subtly textured throughout, and the direction is as measured as ever, the storytelling nuanced and mature. But Blanchett holds the film together, delivering an immensely powerful performance lacking in any vanity. Her Jasmine is a monster, a sympathetic victim, a mess and inimitably human throughout. She is magnificent, in what is one of Allen's most interesting and darkest films.