*Editor’s Note: As you might know, this film is from Woody Allen. While the following review only focuses on the movie itself, we’re aware that many of you won’t even consider something made by Allen. So, while this is only a critique of the work, in no way is it an affirmation of him.*
Attending a film festival is a unique experience. Assuming you love cinema, you’re both in your element and out of your element, to a degree. That feeling is captured somewhat in Rifkin’s Festival, a comedic movie utilizing a fest as the backdrop for neurotic musings and relationship worries. These are staples of the storyteller, to be sure, but this location is a very new one. While it doesn’t lead to a rejuvenation of anything of the sort, making it a vehicle for Wallace Shawn is a definite positive. Of course, for a large number of reasons, your mileage may vary drastically here.
Rifkin’s Festival is breezy, light, and thoroughly inconsequential. In many ways, it’s the Woody Allen template over the past decade or so. Your reaction to that will largely dictate how you respond to this movie, if you opt to take it in at all. Whether it seems like a harmless diversion or something you wouldn’t dream of enduring, it does nothing to change your mind.
Mort Rifkin (Shawn) has come to the San Sebastian International Film Festival with his publicist wife Sue (Gina Gershon). She’s repping a director (Louis Garrel) that he can’t stand, so this is more of an opportunity to wander the Basque Country than to bond. There are familiar faces that Mort encounters, but he’s also in a rut. Then, a light medical issue presents something different for him.
While Sue is constantly off with her client, Mort begins visiting a doctor (Elena Anaya) repeatedly. Initially surprised to find that she’s a young woman, he finds someone more eager to converse than he’s found in years. As they talk less about his health and more about their respective ruts, he becomes more and more invested in her personal life. He suspects his wife is falling for the filmmaker, but is he falling for his new doctor friend as well?
Wallace Shawn rarely gets to be a leading man, so there’s something fun about seeing that. While the rest of the players here are fine, he’s really the only one getting too much to do. It’s the sort of role you’re expecting, but Shawn’s delivery does set it apart a bit. His scenes with Elena Anaya and Gina Gershon do pop, though. Rounding out the cast are Enrique Arce, Richard Kind, Nathalie Poza, Bobby Slayton, and Christoph Waltz, among others.
For better and worse, this is a modern Woody Allen picture. It looks nice (credit to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro) and has plenty of solid one-liners, but also feels like it’s being made with some degree of indifference. No one has expected a modern classic in some time, but at least this isn’t necessarily the filmmaker overtly repeating himself. The themes are still there, but they are presenting in somewhat of a different package.
Rifkin’s Festival is what you think it is. For some, it will mean a film that you’ll get some chuckles out of. For others, it’ll mean something you’ll never see in a million years. Both are valid takes. For me, I separated the art from the artist and had a reasonably good time. Watching Wallace Shawn deliver snide remarks is far from the worst way to spend 90 minutes, after all.