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Cate Blanchett saunters through Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” like a nervous pearl. Dressed in soft, pale colors, hair and skin expensively glowing, she’s Jasmine French (born Jeanette), a woman perpetually on the verge of snapping like a twig. Jasmine was formerly a New York socialite with an absurdly wealthy husband (Alec Baldwin, shown in flashbacks); as the film begins, she’s arriving in San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) for a while. She’s broke — her husband, it turns out, was a Bernie Madoff-type, eventually indicted — and has nowhere else to go, but she clings to the breezy language and manners of her past. “Your place is … homey,” she tells Ginger, barely concealing her dismay at her sister’s modest (though pleasant) apartment. “It’s got a casual charm.”

Allen tends to throw a drama into the mix every so often (now in his late 70s, he still makes a film a year), and make no mistake: “Blue Jasmine” is no comedy, but a wrenching portrait of a woman whose life has fallen apart. Jasmine, like Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (a play whose themes Allen seems to be echoing here), is horrified by her sister’s working-class boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale), and by the realities of working for a living. Allen has constructed the film in two overlapping time frames; gradually, as we come to know Jasmine in San Francisco, we learn what happened to her in New York before. Fueled by vodka and pills, she tries to make a go of a new life: taking a job in the office of an amorous dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg), romancing a wealthy diplomat (Peter Sarsgaard) in whose sad eyes she wants to find a home. But Jasmine moves as if under a cloud — resentful of, yet reliant on, the kindness of strangers.

“Blue Jasmine” is wonderfully cast, particularly velvet-purry Baldwin and the irresistibly sweet Hawkins — her unlucky Ginger is the soul of kindness, and it’s almost unbearable when we have to watch her, in a phone conversation, have her heart broken in two. But this is Blanchett’s film, and she masterfully creates two characters within one: a before-the-fall Jasmine, all sleekness and confidence, and what remains of her afterward; the brittle, cracked, but not quite broken shell of the woman she once was.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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