I am a very late Woody Allen convert since I only started watching his films 6-7 years ago. But I say without doubt that he probably understands the human mind more than any other film maker in the world. Characters in his movies are so real that one would be forgiven for identifying with all of them at different levels. After making New York based films for decades, Allen suddenly ventured out to Europe in the mid 2000’s. He gave us Match Point – a brilliant film set in London, Vicky Cristina Barcelona in Spain, Midnight in Paris and his latest To Rome With Love.

TRWL explores brief slices of lives of four different sets of people. If you are nodding your head and saying – Sure Allen has made another Crash or Babel, then you are wrong. Unlike Crash and Babel, the stories do not connect with each other. The narratives are complete by themselves and the only connecting thread remains the hauntingly beautiful city of Rome with its cobblestone streets, charming cafes, magnificent ruins and passionate people. They do not traverse the same timelines either as two stories are about just one day in Rome whereas the other two span a much longer period of time. 

The film opens with Hayley (Alison Pill), a young American tourist who is trying to find her way around Rome. A helpful young lawyer Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) helps her with directions and we see them fall in love. Michelangelo is an idealist and does pro bono work for people who cannot afford expensive lawyers. Hayley’s parents Jerry (Woody Allen)  and Phyllis (Judy Davis) fly down from the US to spend some time with their daughter and meet her prospective husband and in-laws. Jerry is a recently retired opera director with ‘ideas-‘before-his-time’. He is charmed with Michelangelo’s father Giancarlo’s (Fabio Armiliato) singing in the shower and insists on him taking an audition, much to the dismay of his wife and sons who are quite happy with his profession as a mortician. Watch the film to see what follows thereafter! 

Newlywed couple Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) move from their little hometown to Rome when Antonio’s rich uncles offer him a job in their family business. After checking into a hotel, Milly realizes her hair is a mess and decides to go to the salon to fix it since she wants to appear sophisticated in front of the uncles and aunts. The hotel salon being booked out, Milly has to venture out and gets hopelessly lost thanks to the myriad directions given by various people. She does not know the name of the hotel and also manages to lose her cellphone. Her anxiety however changes to excitement as she spots one of her favorite actresses, Pia Fusari (Ornella Muti) at a film shoot. Milly is overwhelmed when Pia introduces her to Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese), the actor she has fantasized about since childhood! The afternoon unfolds dramatically with Milly being wooed by Luca; Antonio having to introduce a prostitute Anna (Penélope Cruz) as the wife to his uncles and also learning to shed some inhibitions thanks to her! 

Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) is an average office goer with a wife and two children. The most exciting part of his day is passing comments with colleagues while watching his boss’s very sexy secretary Serafina in office. One morning he wakes up to find himself a celebrity with the paparazzi hounding every step! His boss assigns Serafina to him, gorgeous actresses and models want to date him and he gets a table at the best restaurants in the city when there is a queue of diners waiting. Does this last or does Leopoldo go back to his mundane existence?

John (Alec Baldwin), a famous architect is on a holiday with his wife. Having lived in Rome thirty years ago, he prefers to go for a trip down memory lane and check out old haunts than go sightseeing with his wife and their friends. He meets Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), an American architecture student who lives with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) on the same street where John lived as a student. John becomes Jack’s mentor during the next few weeks when Sally’s best friend Monica (Ellen Page) arrives for a visit. Monica is an aspiring actress who according to Sally, gives out a sexual vibe that drives men crazy. Jack finds himself drawn to Monica despite his best intentions. This is probably the most interesting narrative that leaves you wondering whether Jack is actually the young John! 

Like all Woody Allen films, the casting is bang on target. Who else could be the hyperactive Jerry but Allen himself? Nobody other than Penélope Cruz could pull off playing Anna, the much sought after prostitute with such aplomb. Roberto Benigni is Leopoldo – as simple as that! Jesse Eisenberg (known best for essaying the role of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network) as the well meaning but hapless Jack is just right. And Rome is more than just right whether it is drenched in the afternoon sun or bathed in moonlight and pouring rain. 

Watch this film to laugh and exult in the craziness of the human psyche; rejoice with young lovers and empathize with the not so young. For me, it is another feather in Woody Allen’s already crowded cap. 


Copyright © Taraa Vermaa Senguptaa September 2012

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