The first nice surprise on a Christmas Saturday: go to the cinema, and find it full. The second nice surprise: see Woody Allen's latest film, and not be disappointed. Hurray! I'm easy to please; I now have spiritual nourishment for the rest of the holidays. At 75, Woody Allen's engine is still running strong, and it thrills me to see it.
We thought that any film about the crisis had to be a tragedy, that there was no room for anything else, and then good old Woody comes along, who had never aroused any enthusiasm since Match Point, and tells us the fictionalized-but-true story of an elaborate swindle that sprouted in his native city and infected Europe too: the story of a financial speculator and his wife, and he tells it with his usual lightness of touch, without pretensions of topicality or of making the Great American Movie.
Woody Allen relies once more on his accustomed minor tone of gravity veined with humor. For all its lack of pretension, I have never seen a more original view of the financial bubble. He uses the mental decadence of a woman called Jasmine, wife of a speculator based on Bernard Madoff, who sees how her husband's fortune, drawn from a house of cards and the ruin of others, evaporates. Jasmine has the face of Cate Blanchett, as a sort of contemporary Blanche Dubois. But while the latter represented the ruin of the Southern-belle gentry, in this case it is the downfall of a fairly concentrated pack of predators, whom the state, with its lack of regulation, allowed to appropriate the savings of other people.
They also exist in Spain, though in this country money tends to hide itself, on the principle of non-ostentation
The story is focused on her, on that woman. We know that Alec Baldwin represents one of the Madoff breed, but she embodies a more unknown, more sophisticated personality. I have seen women like this, entering the shops on Madison Avenue. True, many lack the natural elegance of Cate Blanchett and wear faces that have gone through a few operations, but they wear the same uniform: a bit of Hermès on the arm, Chanel jacket, lowish heels. There is an hour of the day, about twelve, before lunch, when they show up, equipped with huge sunglasses: a doorman opens the door of the shop to them, and a chauffeur the door of the car. Theirs are hands that never open doors, hands that are never befouled with the dirty businesses of their husbands; minds that wash their consciences with charitable works; leisured spirits that seek amusement and reasons for living in interior decoration and the maintenance of an eternal youth. They people the bistrots in the side streets off Park and Madison. I have seen them.
They also exist in Spain, though in this country money tends to hide itself, on the principle of discretion and non-ostentation. But they are there. Every country has its own. What essentially they share is a disregard for where the bountiful supply of money comes from, easily convincing themselves that it is all the product of their husband's talent. They are not really any more respectable than Carmela Soprano, the TV gangster's wife, though they dress with more class. While they gladly forget their spouse's rackets, it is not so easy to look the other way when he cheats on them with other women. Perhaps the reason why many of them emerge from the shop a bit hunched over, holding the handbag in front, is instinctive reflex so that their huge branching horns will not hit the doorjamb. Somehow the horns come in the same lifestyle package with a climbing, get-rich-overnight, fast-talking, wheeler-dealer husband. When bad luck has it that the hand of the law falls upon their talented guy, they say that they believed the money was manna from heaven. And they expect us to believe them.