The following essay by Father Robert Barron, rector of Mundelein Seminary, appeared July 31 on Real Clear Religion.
Who would have thought that Woody Allen, who twenty years after separating from his longtime girlfriend to notoriously marry her adopted daughter, would emerge as a defender of what can only be called traditional morality?
And yet, I find that conclusion unavoidable after viewing the writer-director’s most recent offering, To Rome With Love. This film is the latest in a series of Woody Allen movies — Match Point, Vicky Christina, Barcelona, Midnight in Paris — celebrating great European cities, and it shares with the last of those three a certain whimsical surrealism.
To Rome With Love presents a number of story lines, none of which interweave at the narrative level, but all of which share a thematic motif, namely, the need to resist those things that would tempt us away from real love. The funniest and most bizarre of Allen’s tales has to do with a very ordinary man, Leopoldo, played by the wonderful Italian character actor Roberto Benigni, who one day inexplicably finds himself the center of intense media attention.
As he makes his way to his car, Leopoldo is mobbed by photographers and reporters peppering him with questions about his breakfast preferences and his favorite shaving cream. Everywhere he goes, he is recognized and lionized. Women suddenly appear, offering themselves for his sexual gratification. When he asks one of his colleagues why this is happening, the answer comes: “You’re famous for being famous.”
Now at one level, of course, this is a parody of our “breaking news,” celebrity obsessed, Kardashian culture. But Allen uses this little fantasy to make another deeper observation.
Though put off by many aspects of his “fame,” Leopoldo also becomes addicted to it.
When another very ordinary figure suddenly attracts the media spotlight, Leopoldo, lamenting his lost fame, dances on one foot in the middle of a busy intersection just to get people to notice him once more. At this point, the poor man’s wife intervenes, and Leopoldo realizes that his notoriety, superficial and evanescent, is no match for the affection of his wife and children.
Another farcical tale has to do with Milly and Antonio, a newly-wed couple from the Italian countryside who have ventured into Rome for their honeymoon. Looking for a hairdresser, Milly gets hopelessly lost and finds herself on the set of a movie starring one of her favorite actors.
In short order, the leading-man charms her, romances her and leads her back to his hotel room. But before he can complete his seduction, they are held up at gunpoint by a thief who manages to chase the frightened actor away. Dazzled by his looks and by the “excitement” he represents, Milly then gives in and makes love to the thief.
Meanwhile, in a case of mistaken identity, the abandoned Antonio meets Anna, a voluptuous prostitute played by Allen favorite Penelope Cruz. Despite his embarrassment and protestations, Antonio gives in to Anna’s charms and allows himself to be seduced.
Both covered in shame, Milly and Antonio eventually make their way back to their honeymoon hotel suite and admit to one another that they would like to return to their home in the country and raise a family….
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