Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s latest film, a sort of tragicomedy, depicting the fall of the eponymous Jasmine, in a virtuoso performance by Cate Blanchett, whose millionaire husband lost everything through fraudulent business dealings (primarily a Ponzi scheme) and who is trying to rebuild her life while living with her wayward, estranged sister.
Allen’s film is very of our time; the parallels to the Madoff scandal and the feeling – especially in the US – that the rich are take, take, taking from the poor are keenly observed and are surely resonant with current audiences. They certainly were with me. While the rest of the audience I saw it with seemed to think it was a comedy (and there are some very funny scenes) I found the film utterly heart-breaking and quite disturbing at points. Allen examines one woman’s psyche, with both he and Blanchett laying Jasmine completely bare to the audience. She is delusional, deluded and not really prepared for any sort of reality. The film switches between the present and Jasmine’s former life, showing us both the extreme contrast between her present poverty and previous luxury and the events that led up to her world collapsing. We understand just how deep her refusal to understand the world around her and to see the truth of the people she loves goes. For Jasmine, life must be perfect, easy and beautiful. It must be according to her rules and her design or she cannot cope.
The film lives and dies on Blanchett’s performance and what a performance it is. Always good, here she is extraordinary, giving an exquisite and incredibly moving portrait of a clearly damaged and flawed woman trying to build a life she understands and recognises. Blanchett plays the contradictions within Jasmine beautifully. She is perpetually telling her sister Ginger (energetically played by the lovely Sally Hawkins) that she can do better with her boyfriends, blithely ignoring her own catastrophic mistake in partner: a husband who lied, cheated and built their lives on matchsticks. She talks about gaining qualifications and getting a job, slowly realising that she is totally unqualified for life as an independent adult; yet the moment a man of ‘the right sort’ appears she pursues him far more aggressively than her education, desperate for the safety and security of a wealthy and important man who will – essentially – let her do what she is best at; looking pretty and being charming.
The shock of all she has been through – losing her husband, fortune, friends and home – also causes her to lose her mind. Jasmine is clearly unstable and has vivid hallucinations that Blanchett plays with total sincerity and desperation, making them a retreat, a safe place for Jasmine in amongst the chaos around her. The film also teases us with the idea that Jasmine’s instability might stem from her part in her own destruction. As the flashbacks move closer and closer towards the present day, more and more questions are asked (and answered) about Jasmine’s role in what’s happened to her, making the study of her character even more interesting than if she had been a passive victim.
The film is an excellent character study and an incredible showcase for Blanchett’s considerable talents. Not the happiest film going experience, but if you have an interest in the mechanics of acting, then well worth a watch.