by Travolta Cooper
Cannes, France – Today is the day we open the 69th Cannes Film Festival with Woody’s Allen’s latest work “Café Society.” And the reason why one of the most iconic, respected, and prolific cinema minds of the last century can open this festival, speaks for itself. Cannes, by all accounts, is the most respected, iconic, and prolific of all film festivals on our planet. Here, there are films playing in competition (with George Miller, director of the Mad Max Films leading its Jury) while there are others playing out of competition, just here to be sold (that component is called “the market”). To be here is to see that it really transcends the “film festival.” And with just about ever nation represented in booths here on the famous Cannes Pavilion, it actually feels like the Olympics of Cinema.
Set up against the gorgeous Mediterranean backdrop, Cannes contains a Hollywood glamour while simultaneously maintaining an artistic integrity. Its beaches are lined off with millionaire movie elite yachts, while at the same time its streets are lined off with poorer French people begging for free movie tickets. The greatest stars of the cinema crowd Cannes glamorous and famous red carpet while at the same time unknown “stars” drink champagne with the best of them at the after parties. Cannes is one big celebration and party of movies, but it also manages to be very serious business. Cannes exploits all the trappings of the “mainstream” cinema screening at the modern multiplexes, while at the same time maintains the “art house” cinema reverence of the film.
“Café Society,” in a tricky way, could have also been called Film Society. The film, which at heart is romance that stars Jesse Esienberg and Kristen Stewart, also blends and plays with the ideas of the mainstream versus the film society. It takes us into the 1930’s, the golden age of Hollywood when studios ruled, yet also takes us into 1930’s New York where “café societies” ruled. Hollywood practically created the “mainstream” cinema while New York has been known historically for its more “indie” cinema sensibilities. While very different cities on the West Coast and East Coast of America, what both share in common, at times, are the social sensibilities their elites. From the very first long shot of the movie (a movie filmed by the great Italian Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro), where an old Hollywood Agent sits at a party talking about the next star he will sign, we are drawn into a world where mood and atmosphere will not just serve as a backdrop to the story, but also be the story. The story? Café Society is about of Bobby Dorfman who moves to Hollywood for a change of scenery from New York. After being hired by his high-powered Agent uncle (Steve Carell) he meets and soon falls in love with a Hollywood secretary named Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Vonnie has a boyfriend, that presents a challenge for Bobby, but when Vonnie become single again, Bobby’s life takes a new and romantic turn.
While a romance at heart, it’s more than that. “Café Society,” blends all of the themes that have become synonymous with the best of the Woody Allen brand. And if you’re familiar with Woody Allen cinema as I am, you’re not entirely sure where the story is going. This makes “Café Society,” wonderfully unpredictable. It has the light comedy of Deconstructing Harry, the social commentary of Annie Hall, and the intrigue of Crimes and Misdemeanors. If you’re as familiar with the man Woody Allen as I am (albeit through scandal and gossip) the film exists in a world Allen must know: a world of the Hollywood and New York elite where manners, scandal, and mischief are all too common. Woody Allen, who has several books written on his cinema sitting on shelves at any the public library, has also become a bit of a pop culture icon for a tabloid scandal of his own that resulted in his divorce from then wife actress Mia Farrow.
Watch the Trailer:
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Most actors, Hollywood and otherwise, will jump at the opportunity to work with Woody Allen. You just never know who’s going to be cast in the next Allen film. Jesse Eisenberg is as strong and promising here as he’s ever been. In the press conference today, some likened him to an early Woody Allen. Allen replied saying that if he were younger he would have played the role himself. But he also remarked that Jesse did a far better job and brought a greater “complexity” to the part. Kristen Stewart continues to shake off her Hollywood weight with smaller understated roles and creates, again, great chemistry with Eiseneberg (this is their third film together). There is also great supporting work I’d like to point out in Steve Carrell who’s very good as the Hollywood Agent with a secret scandal of his own, and the luminous Blake Lively, who plays a New York socialite dumped by her cheating husband. Lively is only in the movie for a few scenes, but, for me, steals them all in a quiet and nuance performance that one person in the press conference remarked brought a “humanity” to the film.
As a native of the Bahamas and the Caribbean Region (a backdrop which looks like Cannes at times), I imagine we can have a similar event on our shores where an Allen film can open the festival. But this can only happen when the Region becomes (as it is becoming overtime and increases) both a Market and a Film Society for cinema. While a “film society” as they exist in cities like Paris and New York is really a membership club where people can watch films that would not otherwise be screened at mainstream cinemas, the term here has a greater emphasis. We’re not short on mainstream Hollywood cinema in the Region but, thankfully, the potential for a film society of Caribbean (as it takes a village) is also growing. There are no feature length films playing in competition here or on the Market present from the region. I am told that there are a few playing in Cannes’ “Short Film Corner.” And I’ve yet to search out the pavilion for the presence of Caribbean countries (stay tuned for an update). If they are here, they are here for the same reason as I am. We’re here to fuel, encourage, and promote Caribbean cinema. Our very own Film Society.
Come back for tomorrow’s report.