The Purple Rose of Cairo

The Purple Rose of Cairo is one of the best movies of the ’80s, by Woody Allen; an American screenwriter, actor, writer, playwright, musician, comedian and film director. This movie was released in 1985 and attracted heavy polemics of the time. It was categorized as one of the ”All-Time 100 best films” by Time magazine. The film won the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Award for Best Film, César Award for Best Foreign Film and, the FIPRESCI (Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique) Prize at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.

The leading roles in this movie are played by Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels and Danny Aiello. Dianne Wiest and Glenne Headly, among the others, have played prostitutes as people from the occupation, were not permitted to play the role under the production code. Some other significant roles in the ”film-within-the-film” are played by Van Johnson, Zoe Caldwell, John Wood, Milo O’Shea and Edward Herrmann.

The director Woodey Allen who, also wrote the script of the movie, is well known to be a maverick auteur. He is the one who redefined comedy in films during the 1970s. Engaging audience at all the three levels; emotional, intellectual and entertainment, the director has always come out with outstanding movies like, Crimes and Misdeameanours and Braodway Danny Rose. He seems to have an uncanny knack of talent, when it comes to juggle philosophy and comedy in a movie. The ‘Purple Rose of Cairo’ can be sighted as a perfect example of the true blend of philosophy and comedy. His works are always interpreted as a break-away from convention and for having unprecedented substance and depth.

Cicilia (Mia Farrow) is a clumsy, fragile and befuddled young women living in a small town of New Jersy during the the Great Depression. She works as an unsuccessful waitress in the town’s single greasy ‘spoon. The Depressed era of 1930’s has rendered people unemployed and pushed them into penury. Dissatisfied with her menial job, meagre salary, a cad of a husband Monk (Danny Aiello), she goes to a movie theatre Jewel, to escape her bleak life and loveless marriage to Monk who, is a good for nothing drunken bum.

During one of her visits to the Jewel, she gets enrapture by a movie titled ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’. The Purple Rose of Cairo is a film-within-the-film depicting a perfect blend romanticism set in a city of Egypt and, sophistication of the nightlife set in New York city. However, the movie is a black and white one; it is rather preferable over Cicilia’s colourful yet drab life. Cicilia watches it over and over again and one day, to everyone’s great surprise, one of the characters of the film who, is an ingenious and dashing young archaeologist called Tom Baxter (Jeff Danniel), walks off the screen to enter Cicilia’s life!..

After losing her job, because of her clumsiness, Cecilia goes to the local theatre ‘Jewel’ to see the same movie in the hope of raising her spirits. Tom Baxter, in one of the scenes stops, in between the dialogues, and starts talking to Cicilia saying he has seen her several times in the theatre sitting in the same place, and that, she must be loving the movie. Surprized Cicilia starts fidgeting in her place as Tom literally breaks the fourth wall and steps into the other side of the cinema screen and, drags her out of the theatre expressing his desire to talk to her, in private, because she was his great fan.

While Tom and Cicilia are enjoying each other’s company, the whole Hollywood is worried after learning that other Tom Baxters are trying to leave the screen in other theatres. Consequently, the producer of the film and Gil Shephered (again Jeff Danniel) who, has played the character of Tom Baxter in the-film-within-the-film, fly cross-country to the New Jersy to salvage the situation. Gill meets Cicilia as a means to reach his own defiant creation, Tom. All the situations and developments result into an unique love triangle involving Tom, Cicilia and Gil.

At one crucial moment, Cicilia must choose between the perfect but naive and unreal Tom and, imperfect but real and hard-working Gil. What will she chose?..The rosy world of fantasy or, the bitter-sweet real life?..Will she finally be able to lead a sanguine life of perfection and, get rid off the unhappy and loveless marriage, or, the reality has something else in store for her…To know all this watch this highly enjoyable movie which is also one of Allen’s favourites.

Mia Farrow has put up a great acting performance in the movie as, she plays a pathetic young girl who, is always day-dreaming and lives in fantasy. Her star-struck behaviour goes quite well with the character. Jeff Daniel has given a brilliant duel performance as he plays his roles as a naive Tom and a cunning Gill. Other characters also fit their roles perfectly making the movie worth 84 minutes to spend on.

The good point about the movie, that left an impact on me, was the depiction of marriage between; fantasy and real life and, the fictional characters of the screen and the audience. The movie appeared hilarious and poignant at the same time. The kind of skill and imagination that has been involved in this movie can be expected only from a writer-director like woodey allen. It’s one of the most original and inventive of all the Hollywood movies. I enjoyed the movie at all levels and I guarantee it’s not going to let you down too

At some points of time, the movie appears a little bit dull; but overall it’s a great movie of all the time. Music is given by Dick Hyman which is very soothing to the ears. The movie is visually interesting and discursive as well. Gordon Willis’ charishmatic photography has made the movie a classic phenomenon. The lighting aspect of the movie, has also been dealt with, quite judiciously. Where Cicilia’s life is not depicted as totally gloomy or melodramatically dark, it has also not been shown in the same light as in the theatre Jewel. In the Jewel, as the name suggests everything is radiant in the dazzling light, in contrast with Cicilia’s life which is not colourless; but it is lonely and unilluminated.

The most interesting special-effect shot that captures audiences’ fantasy is that of showing Tom and Cicilia stepping into each other’s world through the film screen.

This movie is inspired by Sherlock, Jr., Hellzapoppn’ and Pirandello’s ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ which is the tale of a film character who leaves the film screen and steps into the real world.

This movie is a perfect combination of fantasy, drama, romance and comedy added with a unique storyline. A movie that debates the ontological status of fictional characters and, shows the adventures of looking-glass world is highly recommended for those who, want to give their fantasy and imagination a new height.

Sangya Supatra