The Purple Rose of Cairo

Director: Woody Allen

1985

“This sublime nostalgic comedy avoids the usual Allen formula of “goofy New Yorkers having trouble with relationships. Both Woody Allen and his famous neurotic monologue are absent this time […]” (716, Dana Duma, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) This would explain why I actually liked The Purple Rose of Cairo! I was a little reluctant to watch this when I realised it was by Woody Allen as in my opinion he is one of the most overblown, egotistical writer/directors in Hollywood. So you can imagine my surprise when it turned out that I actually quite enjoyed The Purple Rose of Cairo. And I think it’s precisely due to the lack of Allen’s signature moves that this film was somewhat of a delight rather than a chore.

purple-rose-of-cairoIt’s a strange little film set in Depression era America so everything is a little bit muted and washed out, a little broken, and yet there is a charm to it all. Mia Farrow’s Cecilia starts out as this quiet, almost dejected young woman, continually put down by her louse of a husband and through her love of cinema blossoms into something entirely different. You can’t help but respond to Cecilia. And she really is the focus of the film – she’s the character that develops the most.

It’s quite a kooky thing which breaks a number of the norms of cinema such as breaking the fourth wall. And then there’s the combination of colour (the ‘real world’) and black and white film (the film Cecilia falls in love with) which adds some interesting dynamics to the  aesthetics of the film. Jeff Daniels is wonderful in portraying two very different characters, both leading men (one imaginary and one the actor responsible for creating him) each with flaws that somewhat diminish through their interaction with Cecilia.

While it is a somewhat ludicrous storyline – a character walks off the screen in the middle of a film because he falls in love with a member of the audience – there is something magical about it. As a cinema lover myself you can tell that this film was created by someone who does indeed love cinema. There is a reverence to the film although Allen is not afraid to make fun of the cinematic universe with some brilliantly tongue in cheek performances but some splendid actors such as the enormously talented Edward Herrmann.

“Above all, The Purple Rose of Cairo is about love, perhaps Allen’s greatest love of all: for cinema.” (716) I would definitely suggest this to people – especially if, like me, you have found Woody Allen’s work pretentious and overwrought in the past – as this turned out to be a wonderful little film.

Rosemary’s Baby

Director: Roman Polanski

1968

Rosemary's Baby Mia Farrow“When a gaunt, hollow-eyed Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) exclaims with relief, “It’s alive,” about a third of the way into the film, the baby growing in her womb finally kicking, her insides before that eerily still, her husband Guy (John Cassavetes) recoils in horror touching her belly.” (486, Ernest Hardy, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

I found Rosemary’s Baby more disturbing than scary and that in itself makes the film even scarier. The horror is not tangible like in other horror films, there is no monster, no deranged serial killer or malevolent spirit. Instead the horror comes from the psychological games the surrounding characters unleash on the poor, naive, unsuspecting Rosemary. Hardy sums it up brilliantly when he says, “[…] it isn’t only the Satanic aspect of the film that makes your skin crawl. Predicated on the abuse of marital trust, on the idea that the security of family and friends might all be an illusion, a force to be used against rather than for you, Rosemary’s Baby taps into visceral fears.” (486)

Yes there is the element of witchcraft and Satan worship but what it really boils down to is her marriage turning into an abusive relationship. Guy’s success in the fickle world of show business matters to him more than the health and well-being of his wife. His new friendship with their over-friendly, outrageous neighbors compounds the turn in their marriage. It’s the little things at first like making her eat something she doesn’t want to and then escalates to ensuring she sees the doctor the coven wants her to see and throwing away her belongings. It all chips away at her sanity leaving her a shell of  her former self. “[…] she quells both her better instincts and her growing suspicion that her husband, their new apartment and neighbors, and even her pregnancy are all somehow mysteriously and darkly linked.” (486)John Cassavetes Mia Farrow Rosemary's Baby

The film is situated very much within the 1960s mostly through the fashion and stunning outfits Farrow wears as Rosemary. It’s a secluded film with the majority of the action taking place within the Woodhouse’s apartment and apartment building. “[…] the good people around her fall dead or ill, all while discovering just how pervasive the evil is around her.” (486)  Towards the end of her pregnancy, and the film, Rosemary begins to assert some defiance and venture out into the world again for all the good it does her, but it does provide a nice break from the same four walls of their apartment.

Although Cassavetes gives a wonderful performance, Guy is not a character I sympathize with at all. In fact I find him more repulsive than any of the others. Similarly while Farrow is spectacular as Rosemary at times I found her extremely annoying and weak. How could she allow herself to be controlled and manipulated like that?

Like every good horror film there is a creepy song that plays throughout the film and s guaranteed to get stuck in your head for hours after the film has finished. It’s an interesting film that was surprisingly hard to watch for a horror film. But then I guess that’s because it’s more of a psychological thriller with elements of horror thrown in as opposed to a straight horror film. However it’s not a film I think I would watch again. As talented a director Polanski is I often find his work too dark and depressing to warrant multiple viewings on my part.