Review: Dream Your Troubles Away at 'Rifkin's Festival'

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday January 24, 2022

'Rifkin's Festival'
'Rifkin's Festival'  (Source:MPI Media Group)

Has Woody Allen broken new ground with his latest film, "Rifkin's Festival?" Did anyone think he would? In truth, hasn't he been exploring the same basic themes all his career, just doing so in different and, often, more creative ways? His obsessions remain the same: Love, death, film, art, betrayal, fidelity, failure, death, sex, success, the meaning of life, infidelity, death, and the heart wanting what the heart wants. Oh, and death.

The basic plot has Mort Rifkin (Allen stand-in Wallace Shawn) accompanying his PR maverick wife Sue (Gina Gershon) to the San Sebastián Film Festival because he's worried that she's spending too much time with her handsome, brooding client, Philippe (Louis Garrel, satirically sending up "serious" French auteurs), who makes films with happy endings. It becomes ridiculously obvious that there is more going on between Sue and Phillippe than work, but Mort, ever the Allenesque hypochondriac, has quickly fallen for a married cardiologist (Elena Anaya).

Peppered throughout the narrative are dream sequences that Mort has which are homages to the works of Fellini, Buñuel, Bergman, Welles, Truffaut, Lelouch, and Godard, shot with loving admiration by the great cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.

Often, "Rifkin's Festival" feels like a grand excuse to show off the great seaside views of San Sebastián, as well as have great fun with the parody scenes of films such as "8 ½," "Jules et Jim," "Breathless," "The Exterminating Angel," and, most hilariously, "Persona." Also, there's a very odd, but funny, "Citizen Kane" send-up.

The plot is almost secondary, and I wish it had focused more on Sue and Phillippe, since the actors were having great fun with those roles. Gina Gershon seemed to be having a blast, turning on her sexy charms and delivering her dialogue with aplomb.

Shawn is just a bit too overbearing and curmudgeonly. I understand why Allen didn't cast himself, but why not cast a Larry David type? Or, God forbid, someone younger?

And Anaya looks uncomfortable. It doesn't help that some of her dialogue reeks of Woody words being forced into characters that would never speak them ('dilettante,' for example).

With all the tribute to classic films of the past, I wish Allen would have included an overt homage to one of his own. There are certainly references to his oeuvre ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona," "Stardust Memories"), but a direct hit would have been welcome.

Still, I found the movie to be quite enjoyable, Shawn notwithstanding, and some of the jokes quite funny. And the film lampoons are a delight.

Christof Waltz shows up at the very end as an infamous figure from a classic film to steal "Rifkin's Festival," make me finally laugh out loud, and basically sum things up.

Life may be meaningless, but for Allen — still — you can spend some time with your favorite film dreaming your troubles way.

"Rifkin's Festival" opens in select theaters on January 28, 2022.

Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute