Review: Blue Jasmin

Located on South Van Ness Street SF

Residence of Ginger located at South Van Ness Street in SF

This is a detailed analysis of the film Blue Jasmin for an audience that has watched and thought about the movie.

For Cherif’s birthday weekend we planned to start the celebrations by doing something very different from our usual activities. Hence we decided to go to the theater for a movie!

There had been quite a stir last year about Woody Allen shooting a film in San Francisco. His last movie locations have been Rome, Paris, and Barcelona. So it was exciting to hear that he had added San Francisco to his list of movie destinations. Soon all the rumor sites had information about where the movie scenes were being filmed and the locations where the actors were being spotted.

The film lived up to its hype and was a delight to watch. Even the renowned film critic David Thomson called it the ‘Best film Woody Allen Every Made’. The plot was gripping and thought provoking. The acting was superb. Cate Blanchet brilliantly transformed herself to play the role of a disoriented character Jasmine who is trying to find her true self apart from the society she once belonged to.

Summary of the film

The movie begins with Jasmine flying from NYC to SF to live with her menial wage worker sister Ginger. Jasmine parades her upper class status through her attire and demeanor. Ginger is a complete contrast to her sister.  She bags groceries at the supermarket, lives in a tiny apartment, and dates scums. Their class difference plays a central role in the film.

The story delves into what caused Jasmine’s immediate downfall. The trauma leads her to re imagine her past. Through these flashbacks the audience gets to see her once prominent, wealthy, and established life. Her husband Hal, played by Alec Baldwin, was a well respected business tycoon in NYC. Together they were an influential society couple and lived a life of luxury and grandeur. Suddenly Hal is caught by the FBI for corrupt business practices. Ginger had also lost her lottery winnings due to investing with Hal. He then commits suicide by hanging himself in his jail cell.

Jasmine is in an utter shock and wants to escape the shame and humiliation of the scandal. She loses every penny, feels out of control of her life, and wants to rebuild her fortune. Now there is no Hal and she has to face the hardships alone. But living in a San Franciscan shabby little apartment is in complete contradiction to her upscale being. She is not able to adjust to her present situation and wants to seek a quick way out of her misery.

Unexpectedly she runs into a charming wealthy diplomat. He is magnetically drawn to her and she is tempted by his elegant lifestyle. He promises her trips to Venice, antique furniture, marriage, and adopted kids. Is this character a figment of her imagination? An ideal maybe she herself wants to achieve?

Did she know or did she not know?

Jasmine’s personality is shown to be in a flux. The secondary characters keep asking her about her husband’s illegal business transactions. Was she part of the fraud? Why did she let it go on for so long? Had she been corrupted by the wealth? Why did she not report his crimes?

Woody Allen is psychoanalyzing the choices made by an individual. He has masterfully tried to create Jasmine as a fallen hero and surprisingly we feel empathy for her. What is unclear is the cause of her angst. Whether it is the loss of her wealth and prestige, or being involved in financial crimes, or the death of her husband.

The final call

In the end, the mystery of Hal’s sudden arrest is solved by giving the audience a glimpse into a  tense scene between the husband and wife. After confronting Hal about one of his intra marital affairs, he finally confesses about being in love with a young French girl.  He asks Jasmine for a divorce. In a flurry of confusion and jealousy, Jasmine makes the call to the FBI. An action she later admits to regret.

If Jasmine knew of her husband’s business affairs why did she not do the right thing earlier? What are Jasmine’s principles? Was she merely being an obedient wife and could only do the right thing after the pact of marriage was broken by Hal? Why was she able to withstand a person cheating with other people’s money but not a cheating husband?

Woody is trying to make a social commentary on the morals of today’s world. As Anais Nin once said “Every individual is representative of the whole, a symptom, and should be intimately understood”. By focussing on the tragedies of Jasmine, Woody is reflecting on the social ethics of the masses.

NYC vs SF:

Blue Jasmine characters are very much New Yorkers. Then what role did the city of San Francisco play in the film? Why did Ginger move from Brooklyn to San Francisco? Why did Jasmine relocate to this part of the coast? The move symbolises Woody pushing his characters to coerce themselves outside their comfort zone. In San Francisco he wants them to have a fresh clean start. Even though Jasmine imagines Hal to be a cool collected figure, he is the one who committed suicide. He chose the easy way out. Jasmine, even in her dementia, is strong in facing her existential crises and that makes her heroic.

Art Imitates Life

Upon little research it turned out that the character of Jasmine is largely based on Ruth Madoff, the wife of the disgraced financier Bernie Madoff. Ruth also stayed with her sister after her husband’s arrest. Her sister Joan, like Jasmine’s sister Ginger, had also lost money in the swindling scheme. In Ruth’s case it was her son not her husband who committed suicide also by hanging like in the movie.


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