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'Rifkin's Festival' is Woody Allen's tepid love letter to classic film

Phil on Film
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Posted at 11:23 AM, Jan 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-26 12:23:28-05

TUCSON, Ariz. — Even amid a cloud of sexual abuse allegations, Woody Allen continues to crank out a film a year.

The 86-year-old cinematic master still has plenty to say as an artist, but his voice and platforms seem to be shrinking.

The release of his movies used to be anticipated events for cinephiles, but now they are closer to curiosities. His latest film, the rom-com "Rifkin's Festival," was released Friday on-demand and in a few theaters. The paltry release is the fallout after Amazon dropped Allen from a five-picture deal, and likely what Allen will face for the rest of his career.

It's nearly impossible to discuss any Allen film — new or old — without the influence of his alleged crimes.

Understandably — perhaps due to the pressure of Allen's self-imposed production rate and the stresses of old age and his reputation being dragged — the quality of his recent work has suffered. "Rifkin's Festival" is probably an example of Allen's new normal, which is approaching mediocrity.

The newest Allen movie is competent and pulses with Allen's wit and whimsy, but the weak plot strains to carry even the slim 91-minute running time.

The movie is an opportunity for Allen to pay tribute and lightly satirize great filmmakers of the past who influenced him and every other director. Dream sequences replicate famous scenes from the likes of Fellini, Godard, and Bergman.

Wallace Shawn plays Allen's stand-in, Rifkin — an aging filmmaker whose work has fallen out of fashion. He and his publicist wife, Sue (Gina Gershon), are in San Sebastian, where hotshot young French director Philippe (Louis Garrel) is the belle of the ball.

Rifkin wallows in his neuroses as Sue and the press fawn over Philippe. He continually retreats to his hotel room, where he dreams in film sequences that mock his plight in life.

Rifkin glumly watches Sue drift away in his waking hours as his own romantic interest drifts toward Dr. Jo (Elena Anaya), who is about half his age.

In typical Allen fashion, a much younger woman has an inexplicable passion for the nebbish male lead.

Some funny moments sprinkle their way in, but the stale storyline becomes a grind as it plays out. Partly comforting and partly distracting is the hand-waving acting style Allen encourages in his comedies. Without Shawn's inter relatability — his charm at age 78 continues to thrive — the film would be just about irredeemable.

Unfortunately, no amount of gesturing can make a weak, unbelievable, and sparse script interesting. "Rifkin's Festival" is mainly for Allen completists. Most other viewers are, like Rifkin, better off wallowing in slumberland.

RATING: 2 stars out of 4.

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