Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Review: The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

I'm currently on a two week break which means...more movies for me (even with essay deadlines hovering in the air). So I had the urge today to do some reviews since I haven't done any of those this month.

So I guess while on the topic of films (and my self-declared incessant love for them), there's no better place to start than with Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo. To me this film is about films and how being in a cinema and watching lovely people have lovely idle fun, can somehow restore and rejuvenate you after reality has let you down (phew, long sentence). And also it's a heck of a creative and somewhat surreal film.

The film stars Woody Allen's main muse of the 80s, Mia Farrow, as Cecilia. She's somewhat in her late 20s in a period that is probably the mid 30s (so the depression is very much in the backdrop here). She struggles to commit to her job as a diner girl and at the same time she's enduring abuse and neglect from her husband. So it's no wonder Cecilia likes to go the movies so much. Cut to the latest film that's out, The Purple Rose of Cairo. It's characteristic of those 30s escapist films with their lush art deco and hot night spots and an explorer guy (played by Jeff Daniels) who ditches his search for 'the purple rose of cairo' to enjoy the company of wealth and an attractive night club singer.

Well Cecilia takes such a fancy for this film (as she finds herself increasingly dissatisfied with her real life) that she goes to see it about five or six times. It's on this last time that something really unreal happens: the explorer guy notices her in her seat, and then he speaks to her. Moments later he leaps off the screen (and we're to believe this is actually happening since both the cinema-goers and the characters on screen notice this). And so begins Cecila's too good to be true love story off the screen.

This is quite an intriguing film. I really like its blend of comedy and drama. I like how it's captured the 30s in its reality and made sure to separate this from the films of the same era. And I really like Mia's Cecilia, a very sympathetic character, who somewhat reminds me of Giuletta Masina in Nights of Cabiria. Both films are explorations of fantasy and idealistic dreams and both women find themselves used by men. And I think most significantly, the final shot of both is an affirmation of the human spirit.

So I guess in the end Cecilia learns that those lush 30s films are too good to ever be true, but that doesn't mean they have no purpose. They can still give her one and a half hours of bliss. I guess it's a bittersweet ending, but it shows me that film can be a source of strength and restoration (which they kind of were in 30s Depression).

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