Film: “To Rome With Love”; Cast: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz and Judy Davis; Director: Woody Allen; Rating: ****
Love and romance come in different shapes and sizes. But the usual prerogative of commercial cinema keeps us hooked to one ‘ever after’ or ‘never ever’ kind of romance. Thus, the major difference between most love stories made in the 1930s to 1940s Hollywood, and those made now, is only one of aesthetics and not of emotions or morality.
Then there is Woody Allen. For the past 40 years, he has been challenging our notions of love, romance, sex and lust. “To Rome With Love”, he is at it again. The master hasn’t lost his voice as he comes out with one of his strongest films in recent years.
In the ancient city of Rome, different people fall in love with different things. A retired music producer (Woody Allen) discovers opera in the bathroom singing of his daughter’s would be father-in-law. An old architect (Alec Baldwin) reminisces his love story with his girlfriend and his brief affair with her best friend. An ordinary man (Roberto Benigni) falls in love with being ‘famous for being famous.’
A newly married, newly moved to Rome, couple discover brief-sex with strangers and thus their love for each other and their small town.
Love is often said to be eternal. And one of Rome’s sobriquet is that of ‘an eternal city’. Rome, for Allen, is thus a perfect setting for that eternal feeling we call ‘love’. Allen, as always, begs you to ask yourself what love is, how is it different from lust and sex, what is love for something as untouchable as fame or a person’s voice.
Allen weaves in different stories, with different themes, all funny and all having a touch of Kafkaesque surrealism and a few with more than a touch of melancholia. In the past, he might have made different films of each of these stories. But he is old and seeped in nostalgia about life. That is perhaps the reason for this medley; call it a foursome love story if you will.
He chooses his own pace in all the stories, rushing through one while meditating on another.
Yet, one of the best thing about the film is that it takes an ‘old man’ like him to have a modern morality in commercial cinema.
In one story, a married man has sex with a prostitute, while at the same time his wife is with an actor and is tempted to sleep with him. In the hands of ‘take-no-risk’ commercial cinema, she would emerge from the experience as a ‘virgin Madonna’. In the hand of Allen, she emerges just like anyone of us would emerge. Allen prevents her from sleeping with the actor (‘thank god’ the morally upright amongst us will say), but has her sleep with someone else instead in a hilarious encounter.
The last time you had a heroine of a commercial cinema so unapologetically sleep with two men, was in the brilliant 1933 film “Design For Living”. Morality in our modern times, have gone far ahead, but cinema has chosen to stay in rigor-mortis on the subject.
Romance and love can be of many types. And it is this variety that he achieves in a light, breezy, funny and sometimes nostalgic manner with a cast, especially himself, delivering praiseworthy performances.
Watch this film because you truly deserve a modern interpretation of love, lust and sex. An eternal interpretation, if you will.