After shooting in London, Barcelona and Paris, Woody Allen made his latest European backdrop Rome. To Rome With Love opens Friday in Italy — in Italian.
The movie is a magnificent postcard of the eternal city — a carefree romp along cobblestone streets nestled between ancient ruins and Renaissance palaces. A soft yellow glow pervades every scene. It projects an image of the sweet life with all the charms under the Italian sun, set to the tune of old standbys like "Volare" and "Arrivederci Roma."
Allen has said he grew up watching Italian cinema and was influenced by its grand masters. While there's nothing neorealist in his latest movie, it has an echo of Fellini's The White Sheik, and Penelope Cruz's performance in one segment calls to mind Sofia Loren's high-end call girl in Vittorio de Sica's Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.
The movie is made up of four separate vignettes about love swaps, mistaken identities and the cult of celebrity. One features Woody Allen himself playing a retired, neurotic opera director who tries to make a star out of a man who can sing Pavarotti-quality opera, but only in his shower.
In another episode, Alec Baldwin plays a famous architect vacationing in Rome, reminiscing about his youth in the city. Along the way, he meets a young American student, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who is love-struck by Ellen Page, playing a narcissistic young actress.
Italy's Oscar-winning comedian Roberto Benigni plays a Mister Nobody who suddenly and mysteriously becomes a celebrity. He's hounded by paparazzi and TV crews, and courted by glamorous women. Just as suddenly, he returns to being Mister Nobody — but seems deranged by his loss of visibility. It's a reference, perhaps, to the power of television in the country where a media tycoon like Silvio Berlusconi can become prime minister.
The Italian critics had no love for To Rome With Love. Woody Allen is a cult figure here, but reviews of his newest movie were lukewarm — nowhere near the charm, critics said, of last year's Midnight in Paris. Critics called the movie superficial, banal and full of stereotypes, and said it lacks the irony and scathing satire present in most Italian postwar cinema.
Several complained that Allen's Rome is the one foreigners have in their mind's eye even before setting foot here. And it's a vision filtered through the prism of the 1 percent — the characters lodge in grandiose baroque-style rooms in five-star hotels and enjoy grand vistas from terraces the average Roman can only dream about.
Paolo d'Agostini of La Repubblica quipped, "Can you imagine a Roman traffic cop living in an apartment overlooking the Spanish Steps?"
To Rome With Love opens in the U.S. — in English — in June.