‘Rifkin‘s Festival’, which premiered in theaters and on video on demand on January 28, is Academy Award winning writer/director Woody Allen’s 49th feature film.
The movie tells the story of Mort Rifkin (Wallace Shawn), an academic and elitist film critic who accompanies his considerably younger wife Sue (Gina Gershon) to a film festival in the Spanish city of San Sebastian. At the festival, Sue, a press agent for Phillipe, a hot young French filmmaker, falls for her client and Mort tries to seduce an even younger local woman he meets, Dr. Joanna.
Before I continue with my critique of ‘Rifkin’s Festival’, I have a confession to make. I’ve never liked Woody Allen movies and never understood people who did.
As a devout cinephile who reeks of the arthouse, I’ve been relentlessly taught and repeatedly told that Woody Allen is a brilliant, master moviemaker.
“‘Annie Hall’ is a masterpiece!” “‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’ is amazing!” “‘Broadway Danny Rose’, ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ and ‘Zelig’ are stunning achievements!” the cultural gatekeepers all told me.
But having watched Woody’s filmography over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that none of that is true.
When I watch a Woody Allen movie, I realize only one thing, that Woody Allen is now, and always has been, a pedantic and pedestrian filmmaker who churns out vacuous, vapid, vain, insipidly mundane, middle-brow bullshit under the guise of being a high-brow, arthouse auteur.
In basic terms, Woody Allen is nothing but Adam Sandler for the intellectual set, and their egg heads are too far up their pretentious behinds to see that reality.
As you can imagine, my opinion of Woody’s work, which, to be clear, is not a function of hindsight but actually predates his troubling personal life being made public, has long put me at odds with the overwhelming majority of my cinephile tribe, but what can you do? I just call ‘em as I see ‘em, consequences be damned.
My biggest problem with Woody Allen films is, not surprisingly, Woody Allen.
I never thought Woody was charming or amusing, in fact, I’ve always found his nebbish neuroticism to be grating to the point of repulsive on-screen. I could never imagine any actor annoying me as much Woody Allen… and then I saw ‘Rifkin’s Festival’.
If you think Woody Allen is irritating, wait ‘til you get a load of Wallace Shawn being Woody’s de facto stand-in as the pathetic protagonist of ‘Rifkin’s Festival’. Shawn, who looks like a shell-less turtle, and whose signature lateral lisp makes you feel like you’re dodging spittle for the entire 91-minute run-time, makes the sniveling Woody Allen seem like the suave Cary Grant.
The plot of Allen’s movies are always romantically ridiculous, and in keeping with tradition, in ‘Rifkin’s Festival’ the repugnant Mort looks 35 years older than his wife Sue, and maybe 45 years older than his object of desire, Dr. Jo. The only way to make these couplings seem remotely believable would be to have them take place on ‘Fantasy Island’ under the watchful eye of Mr. Roarke and Tattoo.
The fact that Woody Allen is expecting audiences to accept that a beauty like Gina Gershon’s Sue would be married to a troll like Wallace Shawn’s Mort, or that the gorgeous Elena Anaya as Dr. Jo would contemplate being with Mort, is so beyond absurd as to be utterly delusional and insane.
Woody Allen has won three Oscars for screenwriting, but that says more about the groupthink of the academy than it does about Woody’s writing ability. ‘Rifkin’s Festival’ features more of the same pointless plot, lazy exposition, stilted dialogue, and flaccid humor as Woody’s other work, except worse.
The film also attempts to be a tribute to classic European cinema, with homages to Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Breathless’, Francois Truffaut’s ‘Jules and Jim’, Federico Fellini’s ‘8 ½’, Ingmar Bergman’s ‘The Seventh Seal’, among others sprinkled throughout. There’s even a hackneyed nod to ‘Citizen Kane’.
But referencing genius auteurs and their works doesn’t make Woody Allen a great filmmaker. In fact, it only spotlights his creative bankruptcy and highlights his relentlessly tedious, unimaginative and uncreative writing and direction.
In recent years, most notably after the #MeToo movement came to the fore and a 2021 documentary series ‘Allen v Farrow’ aired on HBO chronicling Woody Allen’s daughter Dylan’s claims that he molested her, weak-kneed critics have soured on Woody Allen films.
For years, I was always on the outside looking in when it came to Woody Allen. I was never in on the joke. But maybe I was just ahead of the curve. Woody’s movies were always awful, and the allegations of depravity in his personal life have nothing to do with it.
The truth is that ‘Rifkin’s Festival’, which is being skewered by many critics, lays bare the fact that the emperor Woody Allen has no clothes, and I would argue that he’s been stark naked all along and that his simple-minded, sycophantic worshipers among the critical community were too blind to see it.
Regardless of whether you think ‘Annie Hall’, ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’, and ‘Broadway Danny Rose’ really are masterpieces, it is simply undeniable that ‘Rifkin’s Festival’ is a dreadful and abysmal movie. In fact, the only debatable question about the movie now is whether or not it is Woody Allen’s worst. I think it is, which is quite an achievement.