Sunday, 15 May 2016

Café Society

Set in the 1930s, a young Bronx native moves to Hollywood where he falls in love with the secretary of his powerful uncle, an agent to the stars. after returning to New York he is swept up in the vibrant world of high society nightclub life. 


Café Society opened this year Cannes Film Festival and is the latest film directed by Woody Allen. It's a story that mixes various parts of the Allen back catalogue to varying degrees of success. A film that wants more than anything to entertain. In many ways Café Society could be said to restate almost all of the key ideas and themes of Woody Allen's films in one way or another: life, chance, fate, love and guilt. 


It also comes from the movie providing the performances. Jesse Eisenberg is so seamlessly cast as the prototypical Allen protagonist that when the film shift from Allen's voice over to Bobby speaking it feels continuous. Bobby's broken heart has caused him to undergo a Bogartian growing up: from a gauche boy to a mature disillusioned man, trapped in the wrong marriage. Moreover, Kristen Stewart sad eyes, throaty delivery and slightly heartbreaking aura make her almost interesting, ad an easy chemistry between her and her third-time co-star Jesse Eisenberg and he fits perfectly into his role while she simply overflows the screen. 


But if Café Society is Allen quoting Allen, sometimes literally, at least he's quoting his better bits. Surprise comes from the movie providing the honeyed cinematography by V. Storaro which uses silhouette, graphic compositions and glowing close ups in an often genuinely breathtaking manner. "Life is comedy, but it's one written by a sadistic comedy writer" says Bobby. The comedy writer Allen on display here is more wistful and nostalgic for the very concept of unfulfilled true love, for the heyday of the Hollywood star system, for a New-York of gangsters and back alley craps game and stolen kisses at dawn in Central Park. And all of that nostalgia is okay. Because we were getting pretty nostalgic for the good odd days of warm, witty, fond and funny Woody Allen too. 


Make no mistake Café Society is still late-period Allen. Men are described in terms of their characters and complications, while women are still described in terms of their beauty and their effect on said men. When Blake Lively's character motherhood becomes the butt of an exchange between two men, about how women who become mothers devote way too much time to their children (and ultimately not enough to their husband); it's a sour note that reminds us that Bad Allen is always there, underneath. 


Overall, this film is Woody Allen's most charming film since Midnight in Paris and maybe most beautiful to look at, maybe ever. It's a little pretty little reminder of what once was.

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