The last 12 months have been quite difficult for the cinema. The cinemas remained closed to limit the spread of the Coronavirus as much as possible, the films already edited remained in the hard drives of the production studios, or they have populated the digital libraries of the main online streaming platforms (like Soul or Godzilla vs Kong, just arrived on demand). In May 2021, however, a small glimmer of light beyond the tunnel can be glimpsed, and the reopening of the cinemas has only one major title: Rifkin’s Festival, Woody Allen’s latest effort which will arrive exclusively in the hall starting from 6 May. With the New York author, however, the word “fatigue” fits anything but perfectly, for him to be able to write and shoot new films is equivalent to living, and with the recent controversies related to Mia Farrow Woody Allen really risked dying out definitively on the front. artistic. Fortunately for us it wasn’t and Rifkin’s Festival probably is the right movie at the best time, as it celebrates the seventh art in 360 degrees, with romance and a hint of nostalgia.
A festival within a festival
Looking at the technical side of the project, let’s immediately say that the usual Woody Allen is to be expected, or at least the Woody of maturity. We are on the side of Café Society, You will meet the man of your dreams, a few steps above A Rainy Day in New York and just one step below Midnight in Paris and the recent The Wheel of Wonders. With Wonder Wheel furthermore Rifkin’s Festival shares the same e splendid photograph by Vittorio Storaro: a little glossy, from old-fashioned color cinema, with artificial but functional lighting effects and atmospheres that warm the heart and make you want to travel, despite the extreme cleanliness of digital. Everything is set in San Sebastiàn, Spain, where the protagonists Mort and Sue have to follow the well-known International Film Festival that is held in the town every year for work. Or rather: only Sue has to work, she cannot abandon the director Philippe even for a moment during his stay, to take care of his image and pontificate it to the extreme.
Mort, a former film teacher with the dream of writing a great novel, chases his wife just to keep his eyes on her, as he is pretty much certain that his marriage is falling apart due to the sex appeal of the young and irreverent Philippe. This is just the fuse that will give birth to a festival within a festival, as the title of the film suggests: the event we will attend will not be that of San Sebastiàn, on the contrary we will continually enter the mind of Mort Rifkin, intent on revising and re-adapting his favorite films in every corner of his bizarre Spanish parenthesis .
An era now gone
With extreme respect and a wagon full of irony, Woody Allen celebrates an era of the seventh art that in fact no longer exists. Philippe, the young director whose PR is Sue, is the epitome of everything that doesn’t work in today’s cinematic world – of course according to Mort, therefore according to Allen. We are talking about a commercial, irreverent and self-centered author celebrated instead as a great artist, despite the mediocrity of his works. A cinematic scapegoat on which to lay all the blame of a superficial society, which no longer knows what true art is and is content with cheap entertainment – instead of seeking and expecting the great emotions that the masterpieces of the past were in able to give. Using Mort’s fantasy, we thus enter into the old films of Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman, by François Truffat, by Jean-Luc Godard and by Orson Welles, protagonists of a golden age that we will hardly relive again.
Yet Allen does not completely close the door of hope, on the contrary the bittersweet way in which his work ends indirectly tells us that a change is still possible, but it must start from each of us. In fact, we should stop being satisfied and shouting a miracle with whatever is served to us; this would put us on the path of research, discovery, wonder. It would probably be enough to start by rediscovering the great classics of the past to which Allen himself refers, which the new generations often tend to ignore completely.
Mort in pieces
Described and broken down in these terms, Rifkin’s Festival might seem like the pedantic reproach of an intellectual a little later in the years but it is not at all like that. The dialogues are very brilliant, with the lashing and shrewd irony of the American author that sprinkles from every joke – and laughing with the whole room was actually splendid, after so many months of closing and streaming. The script is dry just right and maybe it turns on itself only when Mort’s storyline gets a little more romantic and equivocal, however, nothing that really spoils the atmosphere. We can also criticize the slightly too didactic transition between Mort’s films and his real life, but the interludes are nothing short of brilliant and well done.
Rifkin’s Festival after all, he knows all his limits perfectly and never places himself at the same height as the masterpieces he cites and reproduces in an ironic way, indeed: Mort, between one disaster and another, is intent on writing a novel that tears up constantly since it is not as valid as a work of Tolstoy. It’s Woody Allen’s way of telling us that his films will never be on par with the works of the masters who inspired and shaped them, even though we know that with some titles that’s not the case at all. Rifkin’s Festival it will not end up in the drawer of Allen’s masterpieces, in any case the memory of 90 minutes well spent laughing and thinking will remain – also thanks to the contribution of the excellent cast.
A cast over the top
It is now a few years since Woody Allen no longer acts in his films, but it is clear to everyone that he is always the protagonist of his stories, with the author intent every time to search someone who can embody his own idiosyncrasies and neuroses. This time the choice fell on Allen and longtime friend Wallace Shawn perfect interpreter for Mort Rifkin. Watching the film in the original language, you can appreciate all the cold irony of the character, visibly disillusioned with life but still intent on facing it with ridiculous comedy. Next to him a Gina Gershon full of energy, rightly attracted to an always charming Louis Garrel called to play a French director with a bad English accent.
The whole work revolves around them, until Elena Anaya enters the scene as an element of disturbance and resolution, even if the interpretation of the Spanish actress is a few steps lower than the quoted colleagues. About listed actors: note of absolute merit for Christoph Waltz in the unprecedented role of Death of Bergman’s memory, who improvises himself as a chess player with a Mort increasingly confused about his destiny.