Saturday 7 July 2018

Cafe Society

Woody Allen's 46th film at the age of 80 rolls out for us all to enjoy. Critics of his work might suggest that they're all the same, follow similar themes, that it's become formulaic, but if the viewer takes each film in isolation, there's so much to admire and enjoy in the ways in which Allen creates a story, executes it on-screen and picks just the right cast to make the most of the 90 minutes or so of our lives. I always prefer to see Allen acting in his films, but, as I've said before, maybe he's wisely stepping down from that. In fact, through his narration you can hear that he's becoming an old man, but kudos to him for his relentless wonderful storytelling.

Café Society is a film about a Jewish chap, of course, from New York, of course, who heads for bright lights, glitz and glamour of 1930's Hollywood to try and carve out an interesting path and life for himself. His uncle is a big-shot agent to the stars there and our hero, Bobby, is shuffled his way by his overpowering mum, beautifully played by Jeannie Berlin and long-suffering dad, by Ken Stott (Fortitude, The Missing, The Hobbit) to carve a niche for their son. Bobby is depicted by Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, To Rome with Love, The Social Network) and plays the part of the under-trodden but thinking, philosophical and innocent lead perfectly.

When he arrives, he falls for the young and spunky Vonnie played by Kristen Stewart (Still Alice, Twilight) who in turn falls for him, but the situation is complicated as she's having an affair with a married man. The leading lady plays it beautifully and could so easily be Mia Farrow, Diane Keaton, Emma Stone, Scarlett Johansson or any one of the people in Allen's backlog of actors fulfilling this sharp and interesting female role. Allen has a way of squeezing the very best, interesting performances out of actors within whom's eyes he sees a twinkle and Stewart can happily be added to the list of people who have triumphed. As you'd expect, things get complicated as the comic love story cum tragedy heads to wards a climax back in New York, but as usual, all the strings are pulled together nicely.

Woody Allen just can't leave Casablanca alone! As Bobby becomes a night club owner/bonhomme, he could just as easily be the confident big-fish-in-little-pond white-suit-clad Rick and the way in which the story unfolds at the end, he provides so many nods to the great work of Bogart/Bergman which we know Allen loves so much. But this is also a commentary about the golden age of film and cinema, jazz music, glitz, glamour and social behaviours of the rich and famous of the day - and how the menials around them flocked to try for a slice of the pie. The ambitious young people trying to make a name and break into film. Those who just want to hang around with famous people. But it's also a film which depicts the shallow and short-lived nature that fame and fortune brings, along with philosophical views about human beings, the universe and what's important in life.

The music is thoroughly engaging, depicting the era, the direction is perfect, the use of sepia to add atmosphere depicting the age and era is executed beautifully, without being overpowering and the sets, costume and attention to detail leave no stone unturned. It's a delightful comedy/tragedy to engage with but it's also a sad reality snapshot about a time, people, fame and meaning. Highly recommended.

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