After the world debut at the San Sebastian Film Festival (where the story is set) in September, the Spanish release in October, and December in the Russian and Dutch ones, Woody Allen’s new comedy, Rifkin’s Festival continues its European release, arriving in Italian cinemas on May 6th. The Italy-Spain co-production created by The Mediapro Studio, Gravier Productions and Wildside, is being acclaimed around the Old Continent, whilst it does not yet have a distribution in the USA.
The story centres around Mort Rifkin (Wallace Shawn), a former professor and cinephile married to Sue (Gina Gershon), film press officer, who attends the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain. His trip is troubled by the suspicion that Sue’s relationship with her young director client, Philippe (Louis Garrel), goes beyond the professional sphere. Meanwhile Mort meets a beautiful local cardiologist, Joanna (Elena Anaya), and while he is struggling with his marriage and the quest to write a novel, his nostalgia towards his days when he used to be a mirthful film lecturer, kick in. As he observes his own life, his night and daydreams blend with the works of his beloved European Masters of Cinema.
Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane acquires a new Jewish setting, as the famous sledge gets renamed Rose Budnick, Mort further feels the thrill of being at the centre of Federico Fellini’s 8½; as well as reliving glorious scenes from films such as A Man and A Woman by Claude Lelouch, Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard, Jules and Jim by François Truffaut and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal. Also Luis Buñuel is tributed, as Mort and his friends are unable to leave the dining room in one of his dreams, just like in the film The Exterminating Angel. This homage to the canonical classics of motion pictures is achieved with an oneiric black and white cinematography, by the great Vittorio Storaro, and Woody Allen’s hallmark wit. It is a true feast for both the screenwriter-director and the cinematographer to play with these humorously surreal, yet accurate, recreations of the films that have gone down in history.
Although many elements may recall earlier Woody Allen movies — with the neurotic protagonist venting out his story to his shrink and the surreal humour of absurd reveries intertwining with the storyline — the film is far from being platitudinous. The dynamic swing of the narrative and the talented cast provide an occasion for reflection, entertainment, and an encouragement to brush up the classics of cinema.
Wallace Shawn embodies the perfect Allenesque hypochondriac and cerebral alter-ego, whilst Gina Gershon is impeccable in the role of the career woman femme fatale. Louis Garrel is very well calibered in his performance as the successful and seductive filmmaker who will break up the marriage between Mort and Sue; just as feckless is Elena Anaya, playing the doctor who is living a conflictual open marriage with her artist husband. Also worthy of mention are the performances of the supporting actors: Sergi López, Christoph Waltz, Enrique Arce, Richard Kind, Nathalie Poza, Douglas McGrath and Tammy Blanchard. Rifkin’s Festival is further enriched by Alain Bainée’s scenography, the rhythmic editing by Alisa Lepselter, the voguish costumes by Sonia Grande and the enticing music by Stephane Wrembel.
Cinephiles will be delighted, not only by the intellectual challenge of recognising all the films tributed in Rifkin’s Festival, but by seeing the portrayal of the festival environment, as publicists lead their talent through press conferences, red carpets, screenings and retrospectives.
Final Grade: B+