The Purple Rose of Cairo

The Purple Rose of Cairo (Woody Allen, 1985)

Another film in the golden years of Woody Allen’s monstrous career, The Purple Rose of Cairo stars Mia Farrow, Allen’s life partner at the time, and Jeff Daniels. In the Depression era a little frail woman named Cecilia (Mia Farrow) tries to make a living by waitressing while daydreaming of pictures, actors, and fictional stories. Her husband (Danny Aiello), a rude employed child-like man gives her every reason to want to escape her life with movies.

Made two years after his faux-documentary Zelig set in the same time period, the Great Depression, Woody Allen exploits the film in the film or the concept of the ouroboros. The simple act of going to the movies is reduced to its initial purpose here: to have a good time, dream, live or escape to another life. The moments where Cecilia sits in the theatre eating popcorn and delivering herself from her meaningless job and rough husband are pure cinematic bliss. We easily identify ourselves sitting in this almost empty theatre and watching Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) in the movie showed actually also titled The Purple Rose of Cairo. At first, when the character of Baxter gets out of the screen and flirt with Cecilia when might think that it is surrealist, and be a direct reference to Buster Keaton’s masterpiece Sherlock Jr. But, Baxter actually gets involved with the characters of Cecilia’s reality, with her husband, Hollywood actor Gil Shepherd (also Jeff Daniels), and the girls of a brothel. However, every scene involving Baxter seemed so caricatured that it is definitely an expansion of Cecilia’s phantasm of evasion and letting everything behind and realizing her dreams of Hollywood scale.

For those who care for that there will be spoilers in the next paragraph. In the final moments of the film there are many true Woody Allen signatures. First, when Shepherd convinces Cecilia to let Baxter go back in the movie and follow him to Hollywood we have a clear shot of Shepherd in the plane alone thinking of what he has done to save his career and hurting Cecilia in his measure. This is one of Woody Allen critic over Hollywood in his disdain for this city and how it all works. It also represents the structure of story he usually makes with the complete turnover until the final ending where almost everything is back in its place like it was when the film began. Allen likes his scripts to be like a two way ticket. Well, here you have these people they live an adventure and then they go back to their normal lives. Just like the audience that lived the movie and then go back home with the memories of Cairo, adventurers, etc.

With The Purple Rose of Cairo, Allen manages to blend one of his most well mastered mixture of romantic comedy and drama. Once again, this is one of Allen’s great genuine pictures, he is not trying to be Ingmar Bergman or Federico Fellini here, he does a Woody Allen picture that works and that deserves its place within the 1000 Greatest Films of All Time by They Shoot Pictures. It is also worth to mention the excellent work of cinematographer Gordon Willis, a long- time Allen collaborator. A touching film that reflects the love of movie from a movie lover to movie lovers.

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