‘To Rome with Love’ is Woody Allen’s valentine to Italy

In his 44th film To Rome with Love, Woody Allen plays Jerry, an opera director who travels to Italy with his wife (Judy Davis) to meet the parents of their daughter’s fiancé. Jerry is retired and officially out of the game, but when he hears his soon-to-be in-law (played by the celebrated Italian tenor Fabio Armiliato) singing in the shower, he becomes obsessed with turning the undertaker into an opera star.

To Rome with Love, which opens Friday, marks the first time Allen has acted in one of his own movies since 2006’s Scoop. The film is also the final stop in his recent European tour, during which he made pictures outside the United States in various countries (Spain, England, France) where he was offered financing. Allen spoke to The Miami Herald last month, during the week of the NBA finals — he correctly picked a Heat win in five games — about Italy, opera and acting:

Q: Early in the movie, Judy Davis tells your character “You equate retirement with death.” She’s annoyed that Jerry can’t relax and is still thinking about his career. That line could certainly apply to you. You’re 76, and this is your 33rd film in 31 years.

A: I have friends who have retired and are having a wonderful time. They travel to Europe; they go fishing; they go on cruises; they love it. And then there are other people who retire and just stay home and watch television and have nothing to do. I’m that guy. If I retired, I’d be sitting around watching baseball games. I don’t want to do that. So if my health holds out, and I continue to raise money to make movies, I’m going to keep making them. The activity is good for me. It can’t hurt me. It gets me out of the house, and it provides a distraction against gloom.

Q: Most of the movies you’ve made in Europe have been valentines to the cities where they are set. But To Rome with Love also feels like a love letter to Italian cinema.

A: That wasn’t a conscious decision, but I can see why you would feel that. I grew up watching European movies, and so many of them were Italian. I loved all those filmmakers — Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Mario Monicelli — and that sort of seeps into your pores. It’s like listening to a jazz musician you love, and then when you play, you sound like that musician.

Q: The movie has a vivacious, spirited tone. You play around with time and chronology without explaining things. It feels even more fantastical than Midnight in Paris, which already was a fantasy.

A: Barcelona, London, Paris — all these cities have very strong personalities. But Rome inspires you differently: The incredible amount of ancient ruins juxtaposed with modern architecture, the fact that the Romans are so vibrant and outgoing … in other countries, people live indoors. In Rome, because of the weather, everyone is always out of the house. It’s a country that loves living and food and music. Even the president [Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi] was having parties with these young girls, and the people still loved him!

I was so inspired that I couldn’t figure out which story to tell. First I thought “This one,” then “No, this one.” Finally I decided to make one movie with a lot of stories in it. I couldn’t keep it to one, because the city has so much vitality.

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