To Rome with Love

(This is a short review as published in the October 2012 issue of The NSW Law Society Journal).

The closing night film of the Italian Film Festival (Palace Cinemas, 21 September - 10 October) is not strictly Italian. It’s Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love, on general release from 18 October. Set in the Eternal City, it features a large, delightful cast of American and Italian actors, with dialogue in English, and occasionally Italian with English subtitles.

Fans of Allen’s comedies will not be disappointed: there are plenty of witty one-liners, piercing social observations and laugh-out-loud moments. Allen  plays Jerry, a retired record company executive and opera producer. Judy Davis is Allen’s psychiatrist wife. Alec Baldwin plays John, an architect revisiting Rome, where he lived as a young man. He meets Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), and becomes involved in Jack’s romantic life. Baldwin’s character is intriguing: he’s like a Greek chorus, but one that interferes. Is he reliving his youth through Jesse?

Allen’s love of European cinema is apparent: there are many references to classic Italian cinema, especially the films of Bertolucci (with plenty of sex and opera) and Fellini. The storyline involving a naive young couple honeymooning in Rome is directly lifted from Fellini’s film The White Sheik (1952). So that’s extra fun for those in the know. To Rome With Love consists of several stories that do not intersect, which is reminiscent of Italian films of the 50s and 60s where different directors presented individual stories within one “omnibus” film.

Allen also revisits issues and scenarios from his own films, including Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris, Stardust Memories, and particularly Celebrity, in a storyline featuring Roberto Benigni as an ordinary Roman who suddenly and for no reason becomes a celebrity, and in another story involving fabulous opera tenor Fabio Armiliato.

To Rome With Love is not as lovely a film as last year’s Midnight in Paris, but it just might be funnier.