Woody Allen is as meta as Spider-Man.
Looking askance at the latest Woody Allen film one could easily claim that it’s the Woodman naming his top ten films from the history of cinema.
At various points in “Rifkin’s Festival” Allen segues into take-offs of the following classic films: “Citizen Kane;” “8½;” “A Man and A Woman;” “Breathless,” here Allen uses actual clips from the Godard film before gradually melding the Rifkin cast into the scenario; “Jules and Jim;” “Persona;” “Smiles of a Summer Night;” “The Wild Strawberries;” “The Exterminating Angel,” a Buñuel film Allen previously referenced in “Midnight in Paris;” and “The Seventh Seal” with two time Oscar winning Christoph Waltz playing Death.
Japanese cinema also gets a shout out in one of the cleverest scenes you’ll see at the movies.
In a segue that illustrates Rifkin’s smooth transition from a sunlight drenched palette to black-and-white fantasy Wallace Shawn, the titular Rifkin, a film professor with an encyclopedic grasp of cinema, wanders into the dinner scene from “The Wild Strawberries.”
Rifkin is challenged to name some films that the group would like and without missing a beat he rolls out “Chushungura” followed by “Kagemusha.”
“Kagemusha,” says Rifkin accenting the ‘ge,’ “with Tatsuya Nakadai, and music by Shinichiro Ikebe.” The other dinner guests are open-mouthed stunned.
The humor of course, other than the fact that he doesn’t even mention Akira Kurosawa for the latter film and that his pronunciation of Japanese syllables is perfect, is that these action packed Japanese samurai and war films are surefire crowd pleasers yet these staid guests are speechless at the thought of watching a foreign film.
San Sebastian locales
The main story is a man being cuckolded by a pretentious Spanish director. Rifkin’s wife works as a publicist and the couple are attending a film festival. “Rifkin’s Festival” was shot at the San Sebastian Film Festival and surrounding area in 2019 and premiered at the same festival the following year.
The idyllic town in Spain on the Bay of Biscay lends itself to scenic beauty and in fact feels like one of the characters of the movie.
“Rifkin’s Festival” rolls out domestically starting January 28. Another irony that plays out is that the film is practically two years old and yet here you have a filmmaker who for the last fifty-years has churned out a film a year.
Woody Allen films used to be considered date films after the success of “Annie Hall,” which incidentallly is another film parodied in “Rifkin’s Festival.” Allen is as meta as Spider-Man.
Wallace Shawn totally owns his film at the beleaguered Rifkin, Gina Gershon as his wife has a great role and she knows it, at time playing to the rafters. Spanish actress, and a performer perhaps not that well known to domestic auds but on the same level as a Penelope Cruz, Elena Anaya plays a medical doctor. Blink and you may miss Steve Guttenberg.
Vittorio Storraro (“Apocalypse Now,” “Wonder Wheel”) captures colorful images that suggest a happier world than the one the characters inhabit. Storraro’s black-and-white evocations of other classic cinematographers amazes with its tone and lends credence to the film as a fantasy.
Shawn plays the Woody double to perfection. We’ve seen it before with, say, Kenneth Branagh in “Celebrity” or John Cusack in “Bullets Over Broadway,” or Owen Wilson in “Midnight in Paris.”
Shawn is constantly uttering witty asides that reference prescription medicine. But his wry sense of humor hides his greater sense of irreverence as a teacher and a husband.