Cannes Opener: Café Society

If you never know what you are going to get from Woody Allen, a director who writes notes on an old typewriter which do not always translate into great movies, the same could be said for the Cannes Festival’s opening films. Sometimes you just have to look away towards the bigger fish of the competition and hope like hell.

This time, however, most people were satisfied with Café Society, which sets itself in the Golden Age of Hollywood, is wonderfully shot by Vittorio Storaro, one of the best cinematographers around, and tells the story of a young nightclub manager (Jesse Eisenberg) who goes from gauche young man to disillusioned veteran largely because of a broken heart. There are echoes of Crimes and Misdemeanors here. But the film never quite reaches those considerable heights.

Maybe because Allen is now 80, and still plagued by his son Ronan Farrow who has reasserted old charges of sexual abuse and doesn’t much care for the way Cannes celebrates his father, the film’s tone is ironic rather than acid where Hollywood is concerned. It is almost as if Allen is ambivalent about what fame and celebrity does to you and, while appreciating the upside, knows about the downside pretty well.

Café Society, lest we forget, may be a minor strut in the large Allen canon but it has been made by one of the most fluent directors in America and, for that reason alone, is worth savouring. Add the excellent performances from Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart as the object of his love, and you get a decent essay on love, guilt and, above all, fate.

This must have suited a security-obsessed Cannes very well, and even Woody’s barbed remarks about the unfair nature of competition, were not taken as an offence. George Mad Max Miller, head of the jury, merely opined that “the simple joy of being here” countered any doubts about handing prizes around. Allen, of course, won’t get one since Café Society is firmly out of competition.