Narrated by Woody Allen himself, $30-million “Cafe Society” is his most lavishly mounted and first digital movie, lovingly photographed by famed Italian three-time Oscar-winner Vittorio Storaro in highly stylized compositions on the Sony CineAlta F65 camera. Another nomination may be in the offing for the cinematographer of “Reds,” “Apocalypse Now,” and “The Last Emperor,” along with production and costume design.
For the first time in the Cannes competition, the Amazon Studios logo came up on the screen at Cannes’ Debussy Theatre as the assembled press corps Monday morning welcomed the dour period valentine with applause and crammed into the press conference and press room. (Allen demanded a conventional theatrical release; Lionsgate will open it on July 15th.)
At the conference, a poised Stewart admitted that she had to audition for Allen, who needed her to be able to play the sweet young secretary from Nebraska of a power agent (Steve Carell), “cute as a button,” he said, who shows his naive New Yorker nephew (Jesse Eisenberg) around Hollywood, as well as an elegant sophisticate in jewels and furs in New York. Of course he falls for her, but she is in the midst of a love affair with an older man. “The best relationship you can have with a director is when they show you something you didn’t know about yourself,” said Stewart, who shines in the role.
Every actor on a Woody Allen movie must figure out how to bring his recognizable cadences to life. “He just was hired to do the dialogue,” Allen said of Eisenberg and the other actors on his film, adding, “I’m happy for the actors to use their own words, happy for them to change the sentences and make them their own.”
He wanted the movie to take the shape of a novel, he said, and therefore decided as the writer to narrate it himself. And while he might have played the Eisenberg character when he was younger, in no way is the character based on him nor is Eisenberg imitating him.
Critics and audiences will likely be split on how well Allen carries off the romantic dalliances among four main characters, including Carell and Blake Lively. “Midnight in Paris” veteran Corey Stoll plays a Jewish thug from the Bronx who offs anyone who gets in his way. “Woody Allen has defined New York for years,” he said.
Stewart and Lively both criticized Hollywood today. “There’s an opportunistic, hungry, insane fervor that occurs,” said Stewart, who said it isn’t necessarily a bad thing if Hollywood people want to entertain and make money. “Human beings are always clawing at each other to get on top in most industries and Hollywood has a surface nature that makes it more obvious…Take high school and amplify it, it’s pretty intense.”
While Allen doesn’t pay much attention to what Hollywood is like these days, “in the thirties, it was a dog-eat-dog world,” he said, rife with tough studio heads and “back-biting carnage.”
While old Hollywood movies from this era informed Allen’s sense of the romantic, he said, the movie has a dark side, as one line suggests: “Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.” “It’s amusing but it has a very sad element to it,” Allen said, suggesting that we all need “laughter to deal with an existence fraught with sadness and cruelty.”