Saturday, February 19, 2022

Woody Allen's Rifkin's Festival

You know you're in trouble 
when the poster is more
entertaining that the film.
While scanning for movie times for Parallel Mothers (because Penelope Cruz is Oscar-nominated for Best Actress and I want to see all the nominees in the major categories this year), I discovered that Woody Allen's latest (and perhaps last) film, Rifkin's Festival was playing at the Quad Cinema, a tiny fourplex. The film was completed a year ago and shown at the San Sebastian Film Festival, where it happens to be set, but there were doubts it would ever be released in the US because of renewed accusations against Allen by his adopted daughter Dylan that he molested her when she was a child. Rifkin's production and release were also delayed because of the COVID crisis. Allen's previous film, A Rainy Day in New York was dropped by its US distributor when the Farrows began ratcheting up their cries amidst the MeToo# movement. If Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were becoming pariahs and having their careers cancelled, why not Allen? Rainy Day was released around the world except for the US and was one of the maligned filmmaker's biggest international successes. Friends in Israel saw it and liked it. It finally showed up on streaming services like iTunes last year and it was slightly amusing.

Out of curiosity, more than anything else, I resolved to see Rifkin on a cold, drizzly Super Bowl Sunday with my friend Diane. After all, I have seen every one of Allen's 48 earlier works, so of course I had to include this one. Rainy Day had a few moments of fun and wit, but Rifkin is totally lacking in either. The screenplay is a sad retread of numerous Allen schtick-tropes with only one or two genuine laughs. Mort Rifkin (Wallace Shawn), the latest in a long line of schlubby, late middle-aged Allen stand-ins is a pretentious writer and former cinema studies professor attending the San Sebastian Festival with his gorgeous, younger wife (Gina Gershon), a publicist. She is escorting her client, an even more pretentious and handsome French film director (Louis Garrel). Naturally, the publicist and the director are having an affair and Mort manages to find an even younger and even more ravishing love object, a Spanish doctor (Elena Anaya) treating Mort's hypochondriac symptoms. (Shades of Hannah and Her Sisters). Of the latter Allen films, only Whatever Works contains a protagonist ultimately hooking up with an age-appropriate woman. 
Wallace Shawn and Elena Anaya
in Rifkin's Festival.
As Mort's marriage crumbles and his attraction to the doctor grows, there are several parodies of classic foreign films evoked as the characters discuss these movies or view screenings of them at the festival. (Allen has done this before in Annie Hall, Love and Death, Stardust Memories and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex) We are treated to not especially clever satires of Jules and Jim, 8 1/2, Citizen Kane, Breathless, The Exterminating Angel, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeois, Wild Strawberries, Persona, and The Seventh Seal. The latter features Mort encountering Death (Christoph Waltz) on a beach and they exchange tired cliches about mortality. Death challenges Mort to a chess game, just like in the classic Bergman film, but Mort has no chess set. Allen already mined this idea something like 60 years ago in a short sketch called Death Knocks, published in one of his prose collections, Side Effects, I think. Death climbs up a drain pipe to surprise a suburban business man who challenges him to a game of gin rummy instead of chess.

The few laughs I mentioned occur in the very beginning where pompous film types exchange absurd quips abut their product ("Was your orgasm in the movie achieved by special effects?" I did giggle at that one.) The film kinda peters out after a while and you don't care what happens to Mort, his wife, or anyone else because they're not real people, but retreads of Allen stock figures.

After the film, Diane and I enjoyed hot chocolate and latte in the cute little coffee bar at the Quad. It was warm and cosy as it drizzled outside and the rest of the world huddled around their TVs to watch the Super Bowl.

There are reports that Allen is not retiring just yet. He is contemplating making a 50th film, a drama like Match Point, Another Woman, or Cassandra's Dream, to be filmed in Paris. Rifkin is a sad afterthought to a brilliant, long career (I might do a separate blog on my thoughts of each of Allen's movies and where I saw them). I don't believe the accusations of the Farrows. Plus, I'm not going to be one of those haters who say Allen should quit making movies because his most recent ones have been so terrible. I hope he keep making cinema as long as he wants to and I will continue to see it.

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