Woody Allen’s ‘To Rome with Love’ is a gorgeous tribute to the “eternal city” and a feast for the eyes.
The Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Roman Forum, the Spanish Steps, quiet cobbled back streets and rooftop panoramas are the backdrops to four off-beat stories about people caught up in various adventures and mis-adventures in Rome.
While not a classic among the director’s huge body of work (no less than 50 movies), it is filled with enough classic “Woody Allen” moments to make it one I would recommend to fans.
There are plenty of trademark Annie Hall-style intellectual jokes delivered by Woody Allen’s character, Jerry an unhappily retired opera director, much to the exasperation of his wife Phyllis (played by the always brilliant Judy Davis):
Jerry: “I couldn’t be a communist. I could never share the bathroom”
Jerry: “You know, you married a very bright guy. I got a 150/160 IQ.
Phyllis: You’re figuring it in euros, in dollars it’s much less
There are also some very funny moments as when Giancarlo (played by real Italian opera singer Fabio Armiliato) – the soon to be father-in-law of Jerry’s daughter Hayley – is wheeled on stage in a production of the opera Pagliacci singing in a portable shower while he soaps himself (I am sure you can work out the reason for yourself).
Jerry: I see New York. I see Vienna Opera House. I see Paris.
Phyllis: All in the shower?
Jerry: Yes. They love it that he sings in the shower. They identify. You know, he’s going to be the most popular opera singer in the world.
Phyllis: Certainly the cleanest.
Like the more successful Midnight in Paris, elements of magical realism are interwoven in the story as when Leopoldo (played by the charismatic Italian Oscar winner Roberto Begnini) awakes one morning transformed into an instant celebrity (much like George Samsa in Kafka’s Metamorphosis, though a slightly more appealing predicament) hounded by the paparazzi:
Journalist: Good morning. We are at the home of Mr. Leopoldo Pisanello. It’s half past seven, and Mr. Pisanello is shaving…an event that we document
from first to last gesture. Mr. Pisanello is having his hair cut. – Look, just a trim – He opted for only a trim.
There’s also a sensational performance by Penelope Cruz as Anna a gorgeous, buxom prostitute and great cameos by Italian actors Rosa Di Brigida and Antonio Albanese among others.
Watching ‘To Rome with Love’ took me back to my last visit to the city, in 2010, when I was backpacking around the world with my wife.
I blogged on July 15 under the heading: “No roman holiday” –
“Rome is too bloody hot, too overcrowded with tourists and we can’t wait to leave”
Rome felt nothing like the care free, enchanting city depicted by Woody Allen.
Our few days in the “infernal city” had been a disaster from beginning to end starting from nearly getting run over by Italians in small cars as we hiked down a narrow road, in desperation, trying to find our budget hotel on the edge of town.
After that ordeal, we spent our days fighting our way through traffic jams of tourists at every famous site and on every crowded piazza. Even getting a simple scoop of gelato meant standing in a long line. Worse was the sun which pounded down relentlessly while Rome seemed to offer no shade or escape from the heat. Everything was too expensive, the subways and trains were like ovens and we felt like the only two fools in Rome without a penny to scratch between us. We were glad to leave.
This was nothing like my experience of Rome about eight years prior, when I visited with friends.
I was living in London at the time and money was less of an issue.
We hired a large rooftop flat with sweeping views over the city. We ate delicious pizza and pasta al fresco on big piazzas with the locals. We drank lots of Italian red wine, sipped cappuccinos and shots of Amaretto liquer and watched the sun sink below the white church domes from our mock-castle in the sky. At least that’s how I remember it!
We visited all the sites; stared up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and explored countless old churches. We went walking along the Appian Way to find the ancient catacombs and took naps in parks in the afternoons.
I remembered getting lost outside the Altare della Patria, the white marble national monument known as the ‘wedding cake’ on our way to find some famous site just as Hayley (Alison Pill) does at the start of the movie, only for Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) to show her the way.
When John (an architect played by Alec Baldwin) is drinking a glass of wine with his wife and friends on the piazza, I remembered sitting at an outside table in front of the Pantheon, ordering a ‘prosciutto’ pizza only for the waiter, confused by my poor pronunciation to bring me a ‘bruschetta’ – much to the amusement of my friends.
‘To Rome with Love’ is not Woody Allen’s greatest film or even a great one, but as a homage to Rome, it is practically flawless.
It reminded me of all the reasons I loved Rome the first time.