Movie Review: Rifkin’s Festival

I think it’s great that someone who is in their mid-80s is still working. However, if all you’re going to is rehash ideas and themes that you dealt with many times over in your career, maybe it’s time to fold up your director’s chair and call it a day. That’s the situation we have with Woody Allen. His latest film – his 49th feature – RIFKIN’S FESTIVAL, plays like showreel of the acclaimed director’s Greatest Hits, using a group of B-List American and A-List European actors, set in a picturesque location.

As a moviegoer, you can safely assume that a film isn’t very good when the only reputable film festival that takes it is the one that is used as a backdrop for the story. As RIFKIN’S FESTIVAL starts, audiences are informed that the film was an official selection at the San Sebastián International Film Festival in 2020. (What isn’t mentioned is that it opened the festival playing out of competition, a slot reserved for high-profile, commercial films that will give the festival a lot of press coverage.) Then, as the lights come up on the opening scene, we see Mort Rifkin (Wallace Shawn, MAGGIE’S PLAN; TV’s YOUNG SHELDON) on his psychiatrist’s couch talking about a recent trip he and his much younger wife, Sue (Gina Gershon, SHOWGIRLS), took to that very festival where Sue ran PR for Philippe (French actor Louis Garrel, LITTLE WOMEN; LE REDOUTABLE (aka GODARD MON AMOUR)), an up-and-coming French filmmaker whose latest work played in competition there. Mort, a retired film studies professor who is struggling to finish his first book, tagged along to keep his wife company. Sue didn’t seem to need it, though, as she and Philippe have a very palpable connection.

While at the festival, Mort, who is also a hypochondriac, makes an appointment with a local GP, Dr. Jo Rojas (Spanish actress Elena Anaya, WONDER WOMAN; THEY ARE ALL DEAD), only to discover that Jo is not just a woman, she’s also younger and hotter than his wife – a shiksa goddess, if you will – and she just happens to be going through a tough time with her own marriage.  As Sue is busy fawning over Philippe, Mort and Jo strike up a friendship that proves to be the tonic for Mort’s malaise, whose nighttime black & white dreams resemble scenes from the filmmakers he admires most – Welles, Bergman, Truffaut, Godard, Fellini and Buñuel. With the festival drawing to a close, all the characters take decisive actions with their lives.

So, yes, RIFKIN’S FESTIVAL is a rehash of PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM; ANNIE HALL; MANHATTAN; SHADOWS AND FOG; HUSBANDS AND WIVES; CELEBRITY; VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. I may have missed a few others. Now too old to play himself, Shawn steps into Allen’s usual role as the cerebral yet highly neurotic Jewish nebbish but his delivery of Allen’s quips falls completely flat. Even if Philippe were Ted Bundy, with a husband like Mort, I wouldn’t blame Sue for running to be with him. Though their May-December relationship is explained, one has to wonder if Mort hounded Sue much like he hounds Jo.

Sadly, the only interesting part comes in the film’s final scene where Mort, in an obvious nod-and-a-wink to Bergman’s THE SEVENTH SEAL, plays a game of chess with the Death (played with tongue firmly in cheek by Christoph Waltz, DOWNSIZING; THE LEGEND OF TARZAN; SPECTRE; INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS).

RIFKIN’S FESTIVAL opens on Thursday (June 24) here in Hong Kong. Even die-hard Woody Allen fans and lovers of European cinema will find this one a slog to get through.

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