Woody Allen takes on the film culture that abandoned him
Entering the “likely money-laundering scheme for Spanish businessmen” part of his European travel diary era, Woody Allen becomes particularly narrow-minded and bitter with Rifkin’s Party, which takes aim at the film culture that has both alienated and abandoned it over the past decade. As exciting as it might be to see the proverbial gloves come off, the hands, unfortunately, don’t get very dirty.
Starting out on the therapist’s couch, failed film critic, professor and novelist Mort Rifkin recounts how he accompanied his wife Sue (Gina Gershon) to the prestigious San Sebastian International Film Festival, where she was handling publicity for Philippe (Louis Garrel), a socially conscious filmmaker, a fan of classic American cinema, diametrically opposed to Mort’s own cinephilic tenets. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly which frontman Allen is looking for here — maybe Phillippe is just a stand-in for all the A24 millennial directors who’ve pissed him off in recent years — but regardless Either way, the peak of annoyance comes for Mort when the famous new author smugly declares that his next film aims to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Yet, for Mort, “politics [in cinema] is ephemeral. The big questions are missing. Here, Allen expresses his frustration with a new type of art film that is more concerned with ticking boxes and following the trends of the day than trying to cater to the interest of everything – like, say, that of ‘Ingmar Bergmann. Through dark glass or something.
The journey takes a positive turn, however, when, through some bodily pain, Mort finds a new friend in Dr. Jo Rojas (Elena Anaya in a role presumably written for Penelope Cruz). Revitalized by this endearing woman who seems to care about what he has to say about the cinema, he continues to look for excuses to see her while his wife runs away with Philippe behind her. What looks like a classic Allen plot, but it seems like less room for witty banter, more for Mort dreaming himself and other characters in wildly lazy, jokeless parodies of Janus classics like Jules and Jim, Personageand The Exterminating Angel. It’s pretty hard to discern how Allen, even with such a spotty record over the past two decades, could have engineered such disastrous streaks. Not helping things is Rifkinthe lackluster look of, despite cinematographer Vittorio Storaro still on board; nothing quite like the wild modern digital technicolor look of marvelous wheel or a quasi-structuralist rotating camera work of A rainy day in New York.
Regardless of its many flaws, the film garners plenty of attention thanks to the sheer novelty of longtime actor Wallace Shawn in a rare lead role. His high-pitched voice and slow gait make Rifkin a particularly piquant but also intentionally (and unintentionally) hilarious character to center a feature film. It is undeniably the writer-director’s most memorable creation since, at least, Scumbag X in Hollywood end and a replacement for the disconnected Allen (not knowing exactly that Godard probably wouldn’t leave home to pick up a lifetime achievement award in Spain); it’s already been proven that legions of sneaky Twitter users will be making jokes about Mort Rifkin for years to come.
What ultimately sinks this film, however, is the lack of any real emotional payoff, even if Mort and Jo’s unfulfilled romance has a nice melancholic quality (and feels more mature than the very incredible May-December relationship of moonlight magic). After all, it’s a bit difficult to be upset by the ideas of an old man who admits defeat early on; the film cuts the sound just before his therapist can even answer Mort’s questions. As now, essentially, a kind of European exile, maybe it’s good that Allen works in such a narrow register. But even for someone who’s so past his prime, you can’t help but wish he had a little something more controversial and feisty about him, someone willing to ruffle the feathers of the culture that put him there. avoided. But who knows, maybe the kitsch of its main character will make it last well beyond the alternate universe iteration, where Rifkin’s Party possibly an Amazon production with an awkward Robert De Niro.
Rifkin’s Party opens January 28 in theaters and on VOD.