Irrational Man (2015): A Teaser for Sartre

Can a director who churns out a movie every year continuously over the past four decades bring us anything new at age 79?

Yes, and no. But here’s the thing with Woody Allen’s annual offering, a summer treat in recent years, the answer is… does it matter?

Before you read on, be warned that the following discussion contains, no, implies, Spoilers.

Unlike his recent films – Magic In the Moonlight, Blue Jasmine, To Rome With Love, and Midnight In Paris – Irrational Man is not a comedy. It is a semi-serious drama carrying some signature WA thematic materials. Those familiar with his Match Point (2005) and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) will find Irrational Man a variation on the same theme, but this time with a twist. So there you go, the old has become new.

Here again, the writer/director is toying with Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov’s idea of getting away with crime for those who are superior. What if one commits a crime out of a superior motive, purely altruistic and benevolent? If a crime is committed with the full intention to rescue someone from a miserable predicament, shouldn’t the criminal be thanked rather than punished?

Interesting premise, and when the idea is embodied in Joaquin Phoenix, the character actor who is beyond categorization, here’s the attraction. First time in a WA film, Phoenix has prepared well with the right physique – an obvious paunch – to show his method immersion. He plays a listless philosophy professor Abe, who has no life purpose, no drive even when starting a new position or finish writing his book, but just passing his summer teaching hours with easy chats on Kant, Kierkegaard, and Sartre, while still attracting students and colleagues alike.

Irrational Man's pivotal scene

One day in a coffee shop, upon overhearing a woman talk to her friends about her desperate child custody case, Abe is overcome with empathy. (Photo above: a pivotal scene.) He is ready to live out an existential choice: by taking actions in his owns hands in committing a crime to help the woman, he in turn discovers the purpose for his own existence. Did I say this is not a comedy? Well, let me qualify that. There’s no laughter in the theatre. However, Phoenix’s character and action is inherently an ironic jest; the story we see on screen works like an object lesson on the freedom of choice, and a teaser for Sartre.

I look forward to these annual WA productions, even when I hear dialogues that sound like I’ve heard them before. Why? Where else would one find nowadays philosophical chitchats on screen for our entertainment? Philosophical chitchats, the term itself is an oxymoron; here lies the fun of a WA film. Allen doesn’t take his characters seriously, so we have light characters engaged in serious talks.

The psuedo-intellectual screen talks are humour in themselves. Just because we can’t spot a Marshall McLuhan in a theatre line-up anymore to clarify his own ideas as in Annie Hall, let alone get Sartre to referee the on-screen discourses, so we can sit back leisurely and be amused at Allen’s characters delving in philosophical problems, while their life and fate collide in twists and turns.

The is Emma Stone’s second WA movie back-to-back with her Magic in the Moonlight in 2014. As a college student falling for her philosophy prof sounds more convincing a role for Stone than as a young medium with telepathic ability to contact the dead. What’s interesting about these annual WA productions are the interesting combinations of A-listers being cast in some wacky roles. Something new, something old… thought you’ve seen it before? Just wait till the end.

To kick off your Philosophy 101 class, Irrational Man could be a lively visual aid to hold your students’ interest. Breezy, entertaining, lines to discuss and dispel, with an ending that long-time WA watchers could well interpret as the director redeeming himself from creating those in Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors in his younger days. Turning 80 the end of this year, maybe Allen has finally decided to lean towards the side that says, yes, there’s poetic justice after all.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Other Related Ripple Reviews:

Magic In The Moonlight (2014)

Blue Jasmine (2013)

To Rome With Love (2012)

Midnight In Paris (2011)


Magic In The Moonlight (2014) Enchants Despite Flaws

Let me guess. To see or not to see, that is the question on your mind. No? You’ve decided to skip it, heeding critics’ view that it is a ‘minor’ Woody Allen?

Magic In The Moonlight Poster 1

Well, here’s my take. To begin with, a director’s repertoire has to be large and significant enough to be categorized into ‘major’ and ‘minor’. I’ve enjoyed Allen’s previous ‘minor’ works like Match Point (2005), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), or his noir dealing with magic and the circus Shadows and Fog (1991). Or, is that a ‘major’?

For some reasons, even a ‘minor’ Allen work piques my interest. Further, a new Woody Allen movie is like the perennials shooting up in the summer garden. Going to see one has been on my summer to-do list in recent years.

This 47th directorial feature of Allen’s uses magic as the storyline, a reprise of his well-known preoccupation. Instead of casting himself as a magician like he did in Scoop (2006), Allen has Colin Firth play the role of the renowned Wei Ling-soo, master of illusions who specializes in disappearing and reappearing acts shrouded in oriental mystique. Just a reflection of the time, 1928 Berlin.

After a successful show, Stanley Crawford, Wei Ling-soo’s real-life persona, is recruited by his childhood friend and fellow magician Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) to go with him to the Côte d’Azur in France to debunk a fake clairvoyant, played by Emma Stone.

Stanley is pleased to take up the challenge, for in his rational mind, the spirit world does not exist. He will be doing everyone a favour to expose the trickery of this young, self-proclaimed spiritualist Sophie Baker, whom he firmly believes to be a crook. Stanley tells Howard, ‘she can’t fool me’. In his mind, Sophie and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) are out to hoodwink the heir of a rich family, Brice (Hamish Linklater) and his mother Grace (Jacki Weaver), a fraudulent scheme that must be thwarted.

You might have read about the mismatch of Firth and Stone starring together. If there is anything that seems incompatible, it is Stone playing a medium with the expertise of contacting the dead in a séance. No matter, Stone’s appearance can only substantiate the magic.

Sure enough, the ‘minor’ notion applies with the film’s simple, stretched-out, single plot line. A subplot could add more texture to the film, and giving some talented actors more story and character development. Further, there are moments and dialogues that look tedious and unnecessary. Thanks to the cast of fine actors, we can see their concerted effort in making the film more interesting than the simple plot can offer.


And there are scenes we have seen before. The Gatsby-esque ball, the observatory moment as in Manhattan (1979), as well as reminiscence of other sources. But then again, are fairy tales not meant to be retold?

You might want to add in one more familiarity. France. This is the second time in four years Allen makes a movie in France. Following the successful Midnight In Paris (2011), cinematographer Darius Khondji reframes the country with idyllic French Riviera through a golden filter. I would not argue against that ‘repeat’.

And the music, how often we hear them in movies depicting the 1920’s, in particular, Allen’s own. From Cole Porter’s “You Do Something To Me” (opening credits, sets the mood right away) to Harry Carroll and Joseph McCarthy’s “I’m Always Chasing Rainbow” (Brice serenading Sophie), from Beethoven to Ravel, music only adds in the magic.

Stanley takes Sophie along for a ride to Provence to visit his Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins). The veteran, low-keyed but always reliable Atkins as the wise and knowing Aunt Vanessa plays a pivotal role in the story. While Sophie has the chance to demonstrate her extraordinary gift by revealing Aunt Vanessa’s past, Aunt Vanessa has also shown that she knows her nephew Stanley much more than he knows himself.

And (possible) spoilers coming up...

One of my favourite scenes is in the third act, when the seemingly oblivious Aunt Vanessa while playing a card game of solitaire is subtly prodding her nephew to clearer self-understanding, to act upon his heart rather than relying only on his rationale. This one reminds me of a nuanced and endearing scene in another movie, exactly with these two actors, Atkins and Firth, playing mother and son and engaging in a similar kind of dialogue. Yes, the two of them are charming together in both. That movie? What A Girl Wants (2003).

But what’s interesting is Colin Firth here shines as a chatty Darcy. He plays the role with such an amusing familiarity as if he has just changed costume from an Austen set to the 1920’s. Stanley feels superior, thinks Sophie beneath him. He is arrogant and smug at the start, challenging and badgering Sophie at every turn, full of pride and prejudice. Why of course, Sophie, from small town America, has not heard of Nietzsche, or Bora Bora, can’t tell Dickens from Shakespeare. A ready target for Stanley’s jest.

And Stanley is such an expert in alienating people. Sophie’s mom Mrs. Baker could not have agreed more with Lizzy’s mom Mrs. Bennet, this guy is an obnoxious snob. From Darcy to Stanley, two sides of the same coin. Firth knows how to play this one by heart.

Quite like Darcy, Stanley is such a poor (first-time) marriage proposer. Take her under his wings? No rational reason for doing this? Against his better judgement? Haven’t we heard such a marriage proposal before when Darcy first messed up his in front of an incredulous and fuming Lizzy Bennet?

Not to aspire to his ‘major’ endeavours, Magic in the Moonlight is a lighter piece in Allen’s humungous directorial repertoire. He deals with it like bringing work on his vacation, emphasis on the vacation. Don’t we all need a break every now and then? And isn’t the French Riviera an ideal spot?

~ ~ ~ Ripples


I’m linking this review to Paulita’s Dreaming of France Monday Meme. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.


Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Midnight In Paris (2011)

Blue Jasmine (2013)

To Rome With Love (2012)



Blue Jasmine (2013): Homage and Re-Imagining

Sometimes when we see different versions of an original piece of art we tend to dismiss them as cheesy imitations, turning art into a cliche, like, the many faces and parodies of the Mona Lisa.

And sometimes, when we see a work that we know is a new version of an older masterpiece and yet we appreciate it, all because it brings us a breath of fresh air, a different perspective, new insights, a re-imagining, or offers us some new pleasures.

Here are a few examples. Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959) is the auteur’s version of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and movingly crafted. West Side Story (1961), we appreciate it as a different styling of Romeo and Juliet. Kurosawa’s Ran (1985), we know it to be a Japanese rendition of King Lear, and we marvel at the director’s handling of a Shakespearean classic from a different culture. A bit later, the younger generation in the 1990’s enjoyed Clueless (1995) even though they may not have noticed the resemblance to Jane Austen’s Emma. With Disturbia (2007), we see Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window making its way into the minds of teenaged viewers, and who cares that they didn’t even know it.

Woody Allen has done that many a times in his over four decade career as a director, creating different versions of the works from those he had expressed deep admiration. Call it homage, if you will, or borrowing, but we never have the impression that he’s ‘copying’. Copying is mindless triviality. But a look at Allen’s Interiors, we’ll see the deep shadow of Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, the intense yet intimate styling of a chamber drama. Or Hannah and Her Sisters, an apt parallel with Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point, we see him deal with the issue of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, or rather, crime and the absence of punishment. I’m sure you can think of some more examples.

Blue Jasmine Movie Poster

So here with Allen’s 48th feature Blue Jasmine, does it matter that its structure and characterization parallel Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, the Elia Kazan 1951 classic movie? Especially when we see such a finely crafted, enjoyable, and impressively performed modern version, we can only admire Allen’s imagination and creativity. I have a feeling that he (or his casting staff) gets Cate Blanchett to star as Jasmine because of her on-stage mastery of Blanche Du Bois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire performed not too long ago.

With Blue Jasmine, the 77 year-old director seems to have hit his stride yet again. Two years ago, Midnight in Paris brought him the highest opening box office gross in his career, now Blue Jasmine has surpassed that. Blue Jasmine will also be the widest screened Woody Allen movie, so far. It reaffirms the director’s talent in how he can bring out the best from his actors.

Cate Blanchett turns from blanche to blue, but just the same as she steps down the social ladder in a fragile mental state, dependent on a cocktail of alcohol and anti-depressants. She is Jasmine, a New York socialite who has to go stay with her working class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco after her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) meets the full legal consequence of his fraudulent business dealings, a definite change of course from Allen’s earlier movies Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point.

The real and imaginary in Jasmine’s mind is smoothly shifted as we see her delusional self living in the present and the past at the same time. Allen handles it very well. The non-lineal storytelling is seamless. Blanchett is superb in her lucid performance, portraying convincingly a whole spectrum of emotions and mental states, while tugging at our heartstrings as we see her try desperately to stand on her own two feet for the first time in her life. This is where Allen is best, piercing sad human situations with light and gentle humor.

Allen has plenty of materials to poke fun at and chances to deliver his social commentaries. Yes folks, there is a class system in democratic America, and the humor in the film is at the expense of both the upper class and maybe more, the menial workers. Mind the gap, for it is unbridgeable. Fact is, the fun of the film, I’m afraid, is at the expense of depicting some of the characters a bit like caricatures. Having said that, I must applaud the wonderful acting from the supporting cast. They look like they are convinced first of their character’s idiosyncrasy, making their portrayals so unabashedly natural.

Further, Allen seems to redeem himself in presenting a moralistic stance. True love can be found right there in Ginger’s circle with her devoted boyfriend Chilli (Bobby Cannavale), whom Jasmine calls a ‘loser’; the deceivers are from the upper crust, Hal (Alec Baldwin) being the prominent figure. Others who may look like a step up for Ginger could well be a mirage. The wonderful supporting cast includes Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger’s ex-husband Augie, Louie C. K. the seemingly hopeful sound engineer, Michael Stuhlbarg, the serious man turned desperate dentist, and Peter Sarsgaard as Dwight, no doubt the parallel of Mitch (Karl Malden) in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).

Blanchett’s Jasmine performance has already sent out Oscar buzz, and it’s only August. She carries the film through brilliantly. An Oscar nomination should be well deserved. We are glad to find too that Allen has not missed a beat after his success with Midnight in Paris, still churning out enjoyable films on an annual basis, while sometimes a superb actor can much enhance our appreciation, as it is the case here. 

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Other related posts:

Midnight In Paris

A Serious Man (Michael Stuhlbarg)

An Education (Peter Sarsgaard)

Do we need a Rebecca Remake? Another Grapes of Wrath?

Art and Cliché


To Rome With Love (2012)

If you’ve been writing and making one movie every year, you’re faced with a greater challenge after each production. It’s an annual increment of difficulty. You need to create something original and not recycle old jokes, not a clone from your previous works but still imbued with your own style and signature.

A movie a year, that’s what Woody Allen has been doing for over four decades. Hats off to him for his creative energy and motivation. I’m more than willing and ready to overlook the ones that are not so great in his repertoire. For me, his misses are still better than some others’ hits.

And for those who still linger in the Annie Hall/Manhattan trance, I’d say, move on. His recent works may not be as unique and stylish as those in his earlier days, they are still entertaining and funny in their Woody Allen way.

Last year’s Midnight In Paris is an Oscar worthy hit. First you think, then you laugh. This year, Allen brings us To Rome With Love. You can just laugh. It is not as cerebral as Midnight. You don’t get to meet Hemingway or Dali, instead, you see the vignettes of ordinary folks who happen to be living in or visiting Rome.

An interesting film structure here, and in the hands of an auteur, it looks alright to tell four totally unrelated stories at the same time. The plots are interwoven well, albeit the ending, or endings, seem a bit abrupt.

Here they are, simple stories in the hands of a veteran writer/director…

A prominent American architect (Alec Baldwin) revisits Rome where he  studied architecture in his youth. He encounters a young architecture student (Jesse Eisenberg) and is most ready to offer the young man his advice, not on his profession but relationships, as he sees the young man succumb to the lure of his wife’s (Greta Gerwig) best friend (Ellen Page) staying shortly in their home while recuperating from a failed relationship.

It seems in every Woody Allen film, there’s a pseudo-intellectual. This role falls surprisingly on Ellen Page, giving us a fresh view of the young Canadian actress, a departure from Juno, Whip It, and Inception. Jesse Eisenberg is dreamy and sweet, unlike his Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. And Alec Baldwin is… Alec Baldwin.

Six years after Scoop, Woody Allen comes back on screen in his own movie as a reluctantly retired opera director. He travels with his wife (Judy Davis) to Rome to meet his daughter’s fiancé and his family. While in their home, he can’t resist the talent he finds as he hears the father sing in the shower. The real-life, acclaimed tenor Fabio Armiliato has many chances to sing in this movie, but in a very different setting. Some hilarious scenes, albeit they look like they are made in the expense of culturally stigmatizing. But I admire that Armiliato is willing to go along with the wacky Woody scenarios.

A third story line is a mistaken identity subplot with a newly-wed couple moving to Rome from a small town. As the wife (Alessandra Mastronardi) steps out of the hotel room to get her hair done, a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) drops in, to the horror of the husband (Alessandro Tiberian). His relatives are just outside the door soon after so the two have to improvise.

The fourth story is very funny and could well be Allen’s commentary on the making of celebrity by paparazzi. An ordinary citizen, well-played by the animated Roberto Benigni (Won Oscar for his role in Life is Beautiful), is turned into a celebrity for no apparent reason. He is chased everywhere by the paparazzi, interviewed on TV, asked the most trivial questions like what he has for breakfast, shaver or razor, boxer or brief… Uncanny parallels of what social media make of us, everyone can be readily exposed, everyone can be a celebrity if only one has enough followers. The simple lesson here is, they can drop you as quickly as they pick you up. Unfollow by just a click.

A breezy summer treat. The scenes may seem episodic but they are smoothly woven. Again here, the actors are the major assets, especially when you need to improvise as some scenes look like. Every character likable, and the overall effect enjoyable. Not epic but still an entertaining piece of Allen humor. After all, you don’t churn out an epic every year.

~ ~ ~ Ripples


A NOTE ABOUT MOVIE PHOTOS: These images are used according to the Fair Use guidelines for criticism, comment and educational purposes. CLICK HERE for more information. CLICK HERE to read the Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Society For Cinema Studies, “Fair Usage Publication of Film Stills” by Kristin Thompson.


2012 Golden Globes Results

Some of the major winners at the 69th Golden Globes Awards last night.

  • Best Motion Picture – Drama: The Descendants
  • Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical: The Artist
  • Best Actress – Drama: Meryl Streep (Iron Lady)
  • Best Actor – Drama: George Clooney (The Descendants)
  • Best Actress – Comedy or Musical: Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)
  • Best Actor – Comedy or Musical: Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
  • Best Director – Motion Picture: Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
  • Best Screenplay – Motion Picture: Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris

I must say I’m not too excited about this year’s Golden Globes to start with. Main reason: how can they totally snub Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life? Not even one single nomination for that epic production! I hope the Academy Awards can correct that negligence.

But I’m glad though for The Artist winning Best Picture, Comedy or Musical. It offers me a unique experience: watching a silent movie made in 2011 in the theatre, a successful, nostalgic attempt paying homage to the golden era of Hollywood. Last night, Uggie got a chance to share the spotlight.

Michelle Williams is impressive as Marilyn Monroe. Just a look at her at the Golden Globes and you’ll know how acting and make-up can create a whole world of difference. The transformation of an understated actor into a legendary personality in a dreamscape is what’s so magical about the cinema.


George Clooney is good in The Descendants, a showcase for his acting talent. You can actually see a tear welling up in his eye then flow slowly down his cheek to the tip of his nose. That scene is so deeply imprinted in my memory.

Haven’t seen Iron Lady yet, but what I remember from last night Meryl Streep winning Best Actress is her presenter, the inimitable, ever poised (even more so this time… marvellous result of some great workout?): Colin Firth.

And last but not least, excited to see Woody Allen once again getting recognized for his talent, albeit not in directing, still a worthy nod, winning Best Screenplay with Midnight In Paris. And I must mention this: not too long ago I read a book entitled Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose by Woody Allen. In it I read a story called “A Twenties Memory”.  O what a discovery! Of course! This piece of writing dating back to 1971 must be the original spark that later materialized into the script for Midnight In Paris, some forty years later. CLICK HERE to read “A Twenties Memory”. This just shows it’s never too late to bring ingenuity to life.


For a full list of nominations and winners, CLICK HERE.


Then Again by Diane Keaton

It’s interesting to read Diane Keaton’s memoir after Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. In contrast to Tony’s hazy past in Barnes’s novel, here we have memories strung together with clarity and adequate documentation. Take a look at these insert photos. I admit, they were the very reasons the second I opened the library copy that I decided I must get my own to keep.

Dorothy Keaton’s Journals

These are journals belonging to Diane’s mother Dorothy Keaton.  She first started with a series of letters she wrote from her California home to her eldest daughter Diane, who had moved to NYC at age 19. Letter writing developed into full volumes of family journals and scrapbooks. Further, she had kept detailed documentation of Diane’s career from 1969 to 1984. With the onset of Alzheimer’s, Dorothy still kept close contact with her daughter through letters and phone calls, leaving phone messages which showed the signs of a mind quickly sliding down the slope.

Stacks of memories

Diane has poignantly interwoven her own thoughts and memories with her mother Dorothy’s, a daughter’s attempt to capture life that was THEN in order to relive the moments AGAIN. Diane’s father Jack Hall died of cancer in 1990, only a few months after the diagnosis. Dorothy died of Alzheimer’s in 2008. This memoir is a joint endeavor of a daughter with her mother who has passed on, yet whose presence is strongly felt:

Now I’m alone, juggling with a memoir that’s also your memoir.

Family Scrapbook

Diane Hall grew up in California and had enjoyed a vibrant suburban family life before she moved to NYC to study at The Neighborhood Playhouse. She kept close contact with her family through letters. I admire her courage to reveal these correspondences, for through them, we see the private side of Diane Keaton, a persona with all the insecurities and non-glamorous aspects of a real life human being. After the Neighborhood Playhouse, she decided to change her name from Hall to Keaton. She got her first break in the musical Hair. This is her letter home:

Hi, Everyone,

Well, I’m in a hit, we opened the 29th… A real job, and on Broadway. Big stars have come to see it, like Warren Beatty (remember my crush on him from Splendore in the Grass) and Julie Christie, who is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, and Liza Minnelli… Apparently Hair is the in thing to see. People stand in lines every day to get tickets.

Things are pretty much the same. I’m certainly the same. Will I ever change? I’m still the dumbest person alive. One apparently does not grow out of stupidity. Oh, also I’m on a diet…

And on that note, Diane goes on to reveal her past battle with bulimia in the next chapter, a piece of private history that has been kept secret until now.

From Hair, to Play It Again, Sam, and later from stage to screen. Thanks to Woody Allen, we have many fabulous movies but the most memorable probably is Annie Hall (1977), which brought Diane Keaton the Best Actress Oscar, and Woody Allen the Best Director and Best Writing Oscars. It also won Best Picture. Here’s Diane’s memory of the production:

Woody’s direction was the same. Loosen up the dialogue. Forget the marks. Move around like a real person. Don’t make too much of the words, and wear what you want to wear. Wear what you want to wear?  That was a first. So I did what Woody said: I wore what I wanted to wear…

And her choice of ‘costume’ became a classic:

And yes, there was a real life Grammy Hall. She was Jack Hall’s mother Mary Hall. She could have given Woody the idea of the movie character, for she was just as nasty. Regarding Diane winning the Oscar, this is Grammy Hall’s response when interviewed in the local paper:

People say I’m in the clouds, I ain’t in no clouds. I’ll tell you one thing about the Academy Awards. It’s something big for a small family. That Woody Allen must be awfully broadminded to think of all that crap he thinks of

As for Woody Allen, he didn’t even attend the Awards ceremony nor did he talk about it afterwards.

Diane is also candid about her ‘romantic failures’, beginning with Woody Allen, then Warren Beatty whom she co-starred in Reds, and Al Pacino as they worked together on Godfather II & III.

At age 50, Diane stepped out to make a most courageous move: she adopted a newborn baby girl, Dexter, and  five years later a baby boy, Duke. Her role as a single mother bringing up a daughter and a son is probably the most gratifying.

In between some serious skirmishes–like when he refuses to have his diaper changed, or when he starts crying because he’s been put down or Dexter has stolen his waffle, or when he bangs his head on the sidewalk… –in between these scuffles, there are moments that feel like an eternity of bliss.

The final pages of the memoir are the most moving for me. Diane Keaton as daughter who ultimately had to say farewell to both parents, writing at 63 and as mother to a 14 and 9 year-old, she could hear as if Dorothy is telling her: “Dear Diane, my firstborn, take a deep breath, be brave, and let go…”

Here’s her reply:

I’m trying, Mom, but it goes against every instinct I possess. I promise you one thing though. I promise to unleash Duke and Dexter from the stranglehold of my need before it’s too late. I promise to give them their freedom no matter how much I want them to hang on. I promise to let go of you too, the you I created for the benefit of me…

Through her memoir, moments Then are relived Again. It is also a catch and release, the challenging process of gathering and letting go.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples


A Moveable Feast (Restored Edition) by Ernest Hemingway

Reading A Moveable Feast is like walking along the sea shore. On the fine sandy beach you see many attractive shells, but you don’t have a bucket with you. You pick the finest ones and put them in your pockets, until they’re full. But every step you take further, you see more that you want to keep. This post is too limited for me to display all the shells I’ve collected, but allow me to just pour them out from my pockets, without sorting, sand and all.

I first read about the term “Moveable Feast” while sitting in an Anglican church in Vancouver, flipping through the The Book of Common Prayer. After some googling later, I got the idea. A feast in the liturgical calendar that you commemorate no matter which date it falls on year after year. In the Foreword of this restored edition, Hemingway’s son Patrick (with second wife Pauline Pfeiffer) writes:

The complexity of a moveable feast lies in the calculation of the calendar date for Easter in a given year, from which it is simple enough then to assign a calendar date to each and every moveable feast for a given year. Palm Sunday is seven days before Easter.

A memorable experience that will follow you all the years of your life. You’ll cherish it whenever and wherever you are. Hemingway’s friend A. E. Hotchner suggested this title. Author of the biography Papa Hemingway, Hotchner recalls Hemingway once said to him:

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

Like Rick says to Ilsa in “Casablanca”: “We’ll always have Paris.” Same sentiment.

A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir written from notes he had forgotten in two steamer trunks stored at the Ritz Hotel in Paris since 1928. In 1956 he repossessed the treasure trove, upon the urging of the hotel management. The book details his experience while living in Paris from 1921 to 1926, when the author was in his early 20’s. The memoir was first published posthumously in 1964. The Paris Years was a period when Hemingway, just married Hadley Richardson, young and care-free, decided to give up journalism to strive at being a novelist.

He would write in a rented room or in a café over café crème,
meet Gertrude Stein for critique of his writing, go back home for lunch with wife Hadley, or have oysters and wine in a restaurant, socialize with Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and other expats, borrow piles of books from Sylvia Beach’s library in her bookshop Shakespeare and Company, visit Luxembourg gardens and museum…

Two people, then, could live comfortably and well in Europe on five dollars a day and could travel.

No wonder Gil in “Midnight in Paris” dreams of such a life.

What strikes me initially is Hemingway’s frankness, sometimes blatant description of his opinion about the people he met. Like the first time he saw the artist Wyndham Lewis through Ezra Pound:

I watched Lewis carefully without seeming to look at him, as you do when you are boxing, and I do not think I had ever seen a nastier-looking man… I tried to break his face down and describe it but I could only get the eyes. Under the black hat, when I had first seen them, the eyes had been those of an unsuccessful rapist.

According to grandson Sean Hemingway who edited and wrote the introduction of this restored edition, Hemingway developed his sharp eye and ear during these Paris years. Here’s an account of Scott Fitzgerald when Hemingway first met him in the Dingo bar:

Scott was a man then who looked like a boy with a face between handsome and pretty. He had very fair wavy hair, a high forehead, excited eyes and a delicate long-lipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of a beauty. His chin was well built and he had good ears and a handsome, almost beautiful, unmarked nose.

This is only a little excerpt in a two page description of Scott’s appearance. It’s sentences like these that stand out for me. They all point to the writer at work: observing.

I kept on looking at him closely and noticed…”

“I kept on observing Scott.

And putting down in words later:

I wasn’t learning very much from looking at him now except that he had well shaped, capable-looking hands, not too small, and when he sat on one of the bar stools I saw that he had very short legs. With normal legs he would have been perhaps two inches taller.

But it was Scott’s talents despite his eccentricities and alcoholism that formed the building blocks of their friendship.

When I had finished the book [The Great Gatsby] I knew that no matter what Scott did, nor how preposterously he behaved, I must know it was like a sickness and be of any help I could to him and try to be a good friend. …   If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one. I did not know Zelda yet, and so I did not know the terrible odds that were against him.

It is perhaps with such candour and devotion in writing that he constantly sought to “write one true sentence.” Woody Allen has grasped the essence in this juicy line from “Midnight in Paris”:

No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.

The restored edition brings back sections missing in the earlier 1964 publication which was edited by fourth and last wife Mary. According to Sean Hemingway, this restored work represents the content that Hemingway himself had intended the book to have, with the chapter “Nada y Pues Nada” (Nothing And Then Nothing) written three months before his suicide.

The second last chapter “The Pilot Fish and the Rich” shows he was remorseful over the breakdown of his first marriage to Hadley towards the end of his Paris days. A mutual friend they both knew, journalist Pauline Pfeiffer, came in between them. “You love them both now… Everything is split inside of you and you love two people now instead of one.”

But A Moveable Feast belongs to Earnest and Hadley and their young son Bumby.  “… this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.” As a reader, I feel a sense of loss as I come to the end, for Earnest and Hadley were so much in love the first few years in Paris:

She: ‘And we’ll never love anyone else but each other.’

He: ‘No. Never.’

Their 2-room rental walk-up with no electricity and no hot water had been a haven of warm meals and intimate talks. It was the time when he was “a young man supporting a wife and child … learning to write prose.” Their short marriage lasted only six years. In 1927 Hemingway married Pauline, four months after divorcing Hadley.

The last section at the end of the book is entitled “Fragments”. These are “false starts”, beginning paragraphs of an introduction Hemingway tried to write for this book. Interestingly, every one of these attempts starts with: “This book is fiction.” Many include this sentence: “I have left out much and changed and eliminated and I hope Hadley understands.” In another fragment he wrote: “No one can write true fact in reminiscences…”

I’m baffled. But maybe unnecessarily. From our very subjective mind, our often hazy view of what did happen and what we wish to have happened and what could have happened, we conjure up a fusion. Should there be a clear line separating them? It’s because the demarkation of fact and fantasy is fluid that we can appreciate the arts, such as the film “Midnight in Paris.” The events that happen to Gil after midnight would remain fondly with him as reality, so real that they change his decision regarding his future. Facts or fiction… or fusion?

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples


A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition by Ernest Hemingway, published by Scribner, NY, 2009, 240 pages. Foreword by Patrick Hemingway, introduced and edited by Sean Hemingway.

This post is to participate in the Paris In July blogging event hosted by Karen of BookBath and Tamara of Thyme for Tea. You can also find another review of A Moveable Feast here at Dolce Bellezza.

To read my review of “Midnight In Paris”, CLICK HERE.

Photos: Paris, Shakespeare and Company, Writers’ portraits and The Library in Shakespeare and Company taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, Aug. 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Click on the following links for some insightful interviews:

National Post Interview with Sean Hemingway on the restored edition

Interview with Woody Allen on making “Midnight In Paris”

Midnight In Paris (2011)



A Woody Allen movie rated G? Yes, and maybe only in B.C. where I saw it in Vancouver yesterday. If you’re offering charming characters, lively performance from some talented actors, Woody Allen’s own clever screenplay inundated with witty dialogues, and have him direct in the backdrop of dreamlike Paris, the result is pure delight. You don’t need too much of anything extra, hence the MPAA PG-13 rating. And maybe because of that, clean and crisp, this is one of the Woody Allen movies I enjoy most for some years. And yes, this is the one with French first lady Carla Bruni in it, where Allen has to direct under the watchful eyes of the French President and his security personnel.

Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) are engaged to be married. They take a trip to Paris with Inez’s parents John (Kurt Fuller) and Helen (Mimi Kennedy) for John’s business merger. While Gil and Inez first appear to be a romantic pair, we soon find them to be incompatible. Gil is an underachieved screenwriter from California, aiming to write his first novel. His dream of Paris is one of the golden age, nostalgically inhabited by the modernists, the artists and literati of the 1920’s.

However, his fiancé Inez fails to see his aspiration or potential, and the imagination that the cultural city can unleash in him. Rather, she falls for their American friend Paul (Michael Sheen), the intellectual snob whose self-importance drives him to snub Gil and even counter their museum guide (Carla Bruni) in the accuracy of her information. But Gil is more preoccupied with his midnight encounters, which ultimately transform him and change their individual paths. These experiences after midnight are just wonderful surprises for Gil, and me. Without giving too much of a spoiler, let’s just say it’s Woody Allen’s version of ‘Back to the Future’.

When I first saw the trailer, I had reservation about Owen Wilson being the leading man in a Woody Allen movie set in Paris. Would that be a miscast? Well, I’m proven wrong the moment he appears on screen. Wilson embodies the unassuming and delusional Gil, screenwriter from Pasadena, CA. He casts all of his previous film roles out of my mind and replaces with only this one of the moment, offering a performance that is impressively convincing. He leads a cast of wonderful actors, including the charming Marion Cotillard, veteran Kathy Bates, the versatile Michael Sheen, and a very dramatic Adrien Brody. And I won’t give away who is supposed to be who, I’ll leave that joy of discovery for you.

This is a movie for art and literature lovers, ideal for book bloggers and discussion groups. Allen has cleverly juxtaposed the modernists in the turn of the 20th century with their contemporary admirer Gil. We encounter all these iconic figures in the film: Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali, T.S. Eliot and more… it’s so much fun to hear allusion to their works, and some of them utter lines that are their own but in the style and wit of Woody Allen’s.

What makes the movie gratifying of course is not just the visuals, people and places, but how the story leads. The twist towards the end is the pivotal revelation for Gil. While one can bask in nostalgia, one needs to embrace the present in order to fully live. As I watched the movie, I wanted to read the script and capture Allen’s ingenuity. As I left the theatre, I wanted to see it again.

~~~1/2 Ripples

To read my review of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast CLICK HERE.