‘Rifkin’s Festival’ Review: Woody Allen Travels to Movie Memory Lane

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DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIÁN, Spain — In Luis Buñuel’s “The Exterminating Angel,” one of many canonical European classics that’s immediately referenced in Woody Allen’s “Rifkin’s Festival,” company at a bourgeois dinner in a lavish mansion discover themselves unable to depart. Provides dwindle. Tempers fray. Some odd stuff occurs with a bear. It’s an exaggeration to counsel that, aside from the bear half, the state of affairs is likely to be in any respect much like that of the jobbing movie critic, or the completist filmgoer, in the case of Allen’s late-period films. However then once more, it’s true that irrespective of how a lot, and for what exact causes, one could lengthy to depart this social gathering — one which began winding down fairly a while in the past — a brand new Allen film reveals up yr after yr (virtually with out fail, 2018 being an anomaly).

So it’s a reduction to report that “Rifkin’s Festival” is, to the ravenous captive, like discovering an surprising stash of dessert: not substantial and never nutritious, however candy sufficient to remind you in passing of the great instances you as soon as had, regardless of all that’s occurred within the interim.

It’s not exhausting to see why the San Sebastián Film Festival selected “Rifkin’s Festival” as its opener on Friday. Not since Brian De Palma set “Femme Fatale” (2002) in Cannes has there been a film so symbiotically linked to a pageant, and this time no person will get robbed within the bogs. All through, characters exit of their approach to inform one another how good a pageant it’s. “This is such a nice festival!” they’ll say, typically whereas standing in entrance of one of many city’s many landmarks or fairly landscapes, or within the terrace cafes, suites and grand stairways of the fabulous Resort Maria Cristina (rooms $475 to $1,775 per evening). It will be virtually suspicious if San Sebastián weren’t, factually talking, a really good pageant.

Even so, the ex-film professor and struggling novelist Mort Rifkin (Wallace Shawn, one of many extra endearingly self-effacing of Allen avatars) shouldn’t be having fun with himself. The environment are beautiful — so beautiful that the veteran cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s determination so as to add much more amber oomph to the pictures is considerably questionable when there’s a lot available Spanish sunshine — however Mort is depressing. As he tells his therapist in voice-over, he solely went to San Sebastián to control his publicist spouse, Sue (Gina Gershon, relishing a greater function than she’s had shortly). Sue is taking a bit an excessive amount of care of her shopper, a hotshot director performed with horny hateability by France’s most sexily hateable actor, Louis Garrel, and named Philippe, identical to Louis’s personal director father.

Sue and Philippe’s flirtation has two results on hypochondriac Mort. First he imagines he’s having coronary heart issues, so he visits a heart specialist, Dr. Jo Rojas (Elena Anaya). “I didn’t know you were a woman,” marvels Mort, apparently the only individual in existence who has by no means heard the previous “The doctor is a woman!” riddle. He’s immediately infatuated, much more so when he discovers she too loves traditional movie, despises Philippe’s film, is conversant with New York Metropolis and is experiencing marital woes. These are attributable to her untrue painter husband, Paco, performed by Sergi López in a implausible, bottle-smashing, self-harm-threatening parody of the passionate, inventive Spaniard archetype that Allen so embraced in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”

Second, every evening Mort goals vividly literal reinterpretations of the traditional movies he loves, recast with himself, Sue, Philippe and Jo taking part in the pivotal roles. And whereas it’s somewhat unusual that Mort’s ostensibly obscure and snobby tastes ought to be represented mainly by the highest 10 tracks on Now That’s What I Name the Greats of Cinema Vol. 1, and a few of these black-and-white interludes are overworked — the “Citizen Kane” Rosebud gag is especially compelled — just a few are pretentiousness-puncturing enjoyable. In moments just like the “Breathless” “Why are we under this sheet?” sequence, or the “Persona” riff during which Sue and Jo lapse into Swedish to complain about Mort’s love of subtitles, there are glimmers of the extra anarchic cinephilia of early Allen.

Typically he even lands an honest-to-God zinger that wouldn’t really feel misplaced in one in every of his personal classics. In a dream, a rabbi berates Mort for not being observant sufficient. What would he say to God if he met him? “God? After all he’s done, he should talk to my lawyer,” replies Mort. “Who but a Jew would think of suing God?” sighs the rabbi sadly. “Who but a Jew would have such a slam-dunk case?” retorts Mort as he wakes up.

However as a lot as Mort will get to be witty or catty every so often — on listening to Philippe has gained an award in Cologne, he mutters, “Isn’t that where Eichmann was from?” — maybe probably the most salutary and stunning side of “Rifkin’s Festival” is that he’s additionally made correctly ridiculous, and never simply within the wistfully tragic register during which Allen’s unlucky-in-love stand-ins typically function. No matter Mort might imagine, at no level does Jo, 30 years his junior, regard him even remotely as a viable romantic possibility. As an alternative, she’s only a very good girl attempting to be pleasant {and professional} towards a boring previous man in granddad denims who retains wittering on about Shakespeare within the Park whereas her precise life is falling aside.

“Life is meaningless, not empty,” chides Loss of life, when Mort lastly meets him within the inevitable “Seventh Seal” pastiche. “Don’t confuse the two.” And as skinny on actual that means as it’s, “Rifkin’s Festival,” seen charitably, is definitely fairly full — of a rueful acknowledgment of the lateness of the hour, and the silliness of an previous man making use of old-man values to a world that’s getting youthful round him by the day.

Dawning consciousness of 1’s personal irrelevance shouldn’t be fairly the identical factor as relevance, but it surely’s a small breakthrough. And it’s infinitely preferable to 2019’s “A Rainy Day in New York,” during which obsessions and behaviors of a musty classic had been forcibly decanted into an anachronistic Gen Z forged. “Rifkin’s Festival” is way much less objectionable, and although that’s reward so faint it wants smelling salts, with latter-day Woody Allen, we should be pleased about small mercies, and this bauble is, at the very least, a mercy of the smallest sort.

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