Produced by THE MEDIAPRO STUDIO, Gravier Productions and Wildside, “Rifkin’s Festival” recently inaugurated the 68th edition of the San Sebastian International Film Festival and is coming soon to theatres in Spain from Tripictures
The opening number invites us to “Wrap your troubles in dreams”, welcoming audiences along with the now iconic title credits in Windsor Light Condensed font on a black background, to our annual ration of Woody Allen’s work. The phrase is probably the best summary of the New Yorker’s filmography: life is an absurdity that ends in an abyss, so the only option is to escape. And there are two main access points to this world of dreams: cinema and romantic fantasy. “Midnight in Paris”? A romantic, dreamlike fantasy with a woman from the past. “Blue Jasmine”? A woman constructs an alternate reality wherein she maintains that she will marry a lover who has already run away, so as not to accept that she is alone and ruined. “Match Point?” A man kills the mistress threatening his social status (and is punished with unhappiness for choosing reality over passion). And we could go on as such through his movies.
So, exactly how does his latest piece, “Rifkin’s Festival” fit into this scheme? Escapism comes in the form of the world of cinema. The protagonist, the Rifkin of the title, named Mort, is a retired film critic and frustrated novelist who decides to accompany his wife, a generation younger than him and to stay true to form, to the San Sebastián International Film Festival. But Mort is already out of tune with contemporary cinema, embodied here by Louis Garrel in the role of a young director so vain that he believes his next movie can resolve the conflict between Jews and Palestinians once and for all.
To round off the exasperation, Mort realizes that his wife, played by trusty stalwart Gina Gershon, is attracted to the new filmmaker, threatening to deal the death blow to an already moribund relationship. The critic’s descent into the hell fires of life failure is peppered by a series of dreams that reproduce famous scenes from classic movies only adapted to the life situation of the unhappy Rifkin. Films by Bergman, Fellini, Buñuel and other masters of celluloid parade, in a serenade to the artform not unlike others we find in so much of Allen’s previous work, from “Manhattan Murder Mystery” to “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, to name but two of the most obvious examples.
And, to wrap it all up in compliance with his own canon, romantic fantasy is not lacking. In this case, and despite being fully aware that his hopes of turning his office visits into a romance are somewhere between Bob and no-Hope, Rifkin falls in love with a doctor played by Elena Anaya. By the way, the character of the doctor is married to an alcoholic and (self) destructive painter, played by an off-the-leash Sergi López, who at times seems like a parodic tip of the hat from Allen to Antonio Banderas’ character in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”.
This series of events and elements are set to the backdrop of the (blissful) city of San Sebastián, which has also become another distinctive element in Allen’s recent work, having landed in Barcelona, Paris, London and Rome for previous projects. And, again, the director commissioned cinematographer Vittorio Storaro whose drive makes a huge impact on the film. The king of amber and gold once again saturates color to the limit, so that the film ends up acquiring a varnish of fantasy and idealization. A light tale of summer love (or fall, to be more precise). This drift towards yellow is even more evident when contrasted with the rigorous black and white with which film re-enactments were shot.
Wallace Shawn is one of the movies strongest points and as a regular in Woody Allen movies, he has already appeared in “Manhattan”, “Radio Days”, “Shadows and Fog”, “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” and “Melinda and Melinda”, although for the first time here he embodies the role audiences unfailingly identify with the hypochondriac filmmaker. Although the script is laced with typical Allen jokes, the tone is generally pessimistic, and Shawn masterfully portrays the moment when one assumes they have indeed stepped onto the slippery slope of decline, as he resigns himself to accepting his projects will remain in the pipeline and that the world – here in the form of an insolent director – is letting him know that he’s no longer factored in. So, if in his previous film we witnessed the beloved Chalamet invoking the magic of Central Park to reside in a perpetual state of infatuation, here Allen confronts us with an old man’s realization, not of the end of a specific love, but of the end of love itself.
“Rifkin’s Festival” doesn’t have the perfection that Woody Allen is still capable of delivering from time to time, much to the despair of those who cyclically enjoy declaring his demise. But he is clearly above average if we focus on his filmography of the last two decades. The movie may not attract new fans to his cinema, but it certainly won’t keep those away who still consider that one of the highlights to the coming of Fall is the arrival of a fresh bouquet of problems wrapped in dreams from the skilled hands of Woody Allen.