Some of the greatest writers have created short stories, many of which are fables with a lesson to learn. Character-driven plays focus on a situation facing a key protagonist whose unique qualities provoke a resolution of a dilemma.
At the start of the motion picture era, on December 28, 1895, short narrative films were the rule, and some scholars believe that these fictional silent films remain the best examples of how to tell a story on screen. A number of feature film efforts were made in the early 1900s, but on the whole short films, especially comedies, were the focal point of cinema.
On October 19, 1896, brothers Mitchell and Moe Mark opened Edisonia Hall in Buffalo in the Ellicott Square Building on Main Street as the world’s first purpose-built movie theater. Edisonia began with a program of short films.
Many young filmmakers begin their careers making short films, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences strives to honor them with an Oscar.
Today, few established directors and screenwriters produce short films; however, the short story literary tradition continues with films made by writer-director Woody Allen. He’s a filmmaker whose themes fit comfortably into character-rich stories filled with people who find themselves searching for a solution to a personal crisis or searching for an answer to a philosophical question.
Allen’s standout films, many of which are classics made over a remarkable 50+ year run, tend to flow effortlessly up to around 90 minutes.
Allen’s latest feature, from his own original screenplay, is “Rifkin’s Festival.” It now plays across the United States, including at the Amherst Theater and the Eastern Hills Cinema in the Buffalo metro area.
As the very comedic film begins, we are in the beautiful city of San Sebastian, Spain, for the annual San Sebastian Film Festival. The hotel is luxurious, the weather is beautiful and if there is one word to describe the experience, it’s that everyone seems to be having a “wonderful” time.
Well, almost everyone. Mort Rifkin (played with sweet whimsical elvishness by Wallace Shawn, whose real father was the legendary editor of the New Yorker Magazine in his glory days), actually has no trouble adjusting to the rhythms of the festival. What troubles him is his decision to stop teaching film studies at the university level and his current arduous and sporadic attempts to write a novel.
As he told his therapist, Mort worries about the lack of energy in his marriage to his wife Sue (played gloriously by Gina Gershon), a pretty good-looking publicist with a lively and lively personality. career momentum. Mort accompanied his wife to watch her.
Sue’s task is to publicize and guide through the events of the festival a steamy young Frenchman named Philippe, who is a popular actor with a movie to promote and a roving eye and funny disdain for almost everything. His eyes roamed over Sue with abandon. It has a soft crackle and smooth prying movements. Philippe is played by Frenchman Louis Garrel. In real life, his father is a director also named Philippe.
It’s no wonder then that Mort worries about the pains affecting his heart. The duality of the heart as both a symbol of romantic love and a source of pain has Allen wandering into clever parallel territory.
Mort, being a hypochondriac, goes to cardiologist Dr. Jo Royas (an endearing Elena Anaya) for a quick checkup. She is warm and witty, and he becomes enamored with her. Will the two meet? She is a professional at heart. However, she is amused by Mort’s attentions. Moreover, she hates Philippe’s film and has problems with her tempestuous husband (a perfect Sergi Lopez), an artist who has an eye for women other than his wife.
If that’s not enough to spin Allen’s entertaining film into its hectic orbit, Jo also loves classic new wave European cinema from the 1960s and 1970s, which sits right in Mort’s professorial wheelhouse.
This is where the “Rifkin’s Festival” really takes off. Allen delivers a series of delicious dream-state tributes to the great films of Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini and Luis Bunuel. Look for Christoph Waltz as Death in the Bergman and a clever nod to Bunuel’s “The Exterminating Angel.” As an added attraction, there is an Orson Welles joke, “Citizen Kane”, Rosebud.
However, Allen also cleverly reveals that Mort is a realist. And, you really believe that a woman as smart as Sue knows what game Philippe is clearly champion at. The route the film takes is based on its understanding of musical beds and everyone recognizing that they are in Spain, where only Jo and Sergio live.
Allen offers a reconsidered philosophy on the armor people must wear to cross the minefield of love. Or is it the minefield of lust? It’s a welcome development that he has surprises in store for his audience.
The acting from the entire brilliant cast, which also includes Richard Kind and Tammy Blanchard, is flawless. Legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro compels you to consider booking a visit to the magnificent city of San Sebastian.
“Rifkin’s Festival” unfolds like an alluring short story. There’s a depth of feeling Allen has for his characters on many levels, which is a welcome break from the icy cloaks in which some directors drape the emotionless human cutouts that populate too many contemporary films.
Allen has a movie he plans to shoot in Paris and a new book is in the works. His autobiographical “About Nothing” is delightfully skillful. Meanwhile, check out “Rifkin’s Festival.”
Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI news network. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.