The latest movie adventure from Woody Allen is Café Society, a film poised by the nostalgia of the 30’s. The movie is a gentle and whimsical romantic comedy-drama. Enhance with the autumnal colors of the great cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, the story has an intricately plotted screenplay and a beguiling jazz soundtrack.
The film is set in the 1930s. Jesse Eisenberg plays Bobby Dorfman, a naive young Jewish kid from the Bronx who heads out to Hollywood, hoping to make his fortune. His uncle Phil (Steve Carrell) is a hotshot agent who knows all the big shots, from Greta Garbo to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In Cannes, during the Film Festival, we had the opportunity to speak with the director about his passion for Spain, his lack of Spanish and his passion for reading and writing.
Question: Why you choose Jesse Eisenberg for Café Society?
Answer: If this was years ago, I would have played this part in the movie that Jesse is playing. I would have played it much more narrow myself, because I’m a comedian, not an actor. I would have given it one dimension. Jesse is a fine actor and gave it much more complexity.
Q; Café Society” is at its heart a love story about the secretary torn between two men.
A: Yes. I have always thought of myself as a romantic. This is not necessarily shared by the women in my life. They think I romanticize New York City, that I romanticize the past, that I romanticize love relationships and I probably do. It probably is foolish.
Q: Would you ever tell the story of a young man falling in love with an older woman.
A: I wouldn’t hesitate to do that if I had a good idea for a story, not a commonly seen thing. I don’t have a lot of experience to draw on for material. But when I was 30 years old, I had a big crush on a 50-year-old woman who was great looking and powerful, but she was married and wouldn’t go near me with a 10-foot-pole.
Q: Are you planning on keep working as intense as you do
A: I’m 80. I can’t believe it. I’m so youthful, agile, nimble, spry, mentally alert, that it’s astonishing. I eat well. I exercise. I don’t feel old. I feel youthful. I’m sure one day I’ll wake up in the morning and I’ll have a stroke and be one of those people you see in the wheelchair.
Q: You have been in Spain many times; you even shoot a movie in Barcelona. Which city is your favorite
A: I love the north of Spain. Oviedo is my favorite, is a delicious, exotic, beautiful, clean, pleasant, tranquil and pedestrianized city. It is as if it did not belong to this world, as if it did not exist. Oviedo is like a fairy-tale.
Q: Any favorite author from Spain?
A: I would lie if I didn’t mention Garcia Lorca.
Q: Did you learn Spanish when you were working there?
A: No. I let Javier and Penelope to translate for me. I do speak some French, not Spanish.
Q: How open are you to actors giving you suggestions?
A: I’m very open to it because the actors have instincts that are-- you know, when you write the script, you’re home in the room by yourself and you’re writing and there’s no connection with the real performing world. So you get a lot of things wrong and make a lot of mistakes and make a lot of bad choices and when the actors get the material and they actually got to get out and say the lines and act it out and do it, their instincts come into play and they’re all gifted people and they say, “I don’t want to be called this and I don’t want to say this and I would rather say this,” and 99% of the time, they’re right because they feel it more than I felt it when I was home alone writing it. So I’m very dependent on actors contributing.
Q: What qualities link the female characters across your filmography to the characters in your new film?
A: A lot of the women I’ve written about over the years have been sufferers and the women in this picture are sufferers.
Q: Did you write any of these characters with any of these great talents in mind?
A: I didn’t. Halfway through the writing, I did speak to my casting director, Juliet Taylor, and I said, “I’m writing something and I think that Jesse Einsenberg would be absolutely perfect for this.” And it turned out he was available and I happened to be lucky. Then when it was over, the people that I wanted were available
Q: How has your writing style changed from when you first started? Also, what was the hardest movie you ever wrote and the easiest and where does this movie fall on that scale?
A: You mean the actual writing style? I always write the same way; I always write with a yellow pad and a ballpoint pen on my bed and then I go and type it up afterward. So I’ve always done that. Those things become habitual.
Q: Is there a certain time of day that you feel less comfortable writing?
A: No, no, I write all the time. When I started out, I was a television writer and we wrote a television show that was on live every week and you didn’t have the luxury of coming in and waiting to be inspired. You came in and you had to write and you wrote because it was going to be live on the air. So I can do that. I can come in and write. It doesn’t always come out good, but I can actually produce something pretty frequently. I go into my room and I think by myself. I take a walk. I take a shower and I write and some things come out and some things don’t come out, but I always have something. The movies, they’re all hard to do. They’re all racked with anxiety. You always start off thinking that you’re going to make “Citizen Kane,” or “The Bicycle Thief,” and that this is going to be the greatest movie anyone has ever seen and then when you are cutting the movie and putting it together, you’re just praying that people will sit through it and no one will be embarrassed and suddenly all your lofty ideas about “Citizen Kane” and “Grand Illusion” and the film you were going to make, you compromise and you take the end scene and put it in the front and this scene and cut out this character and put in a narration and do all kinds of things. You’re fighting a battle for survival. Every film is a very, very tough film. The only film I didn’t have a problem with in my life was “Match Point” and that was freakishly lucky, very atypical. Everything fell into place magically, but that never really happens. That’s a freakish thing. They’re all extremely difficult.
Q: Do you like to teach lessons about relationships through your films that you’ve learned through life experience? Is there anything you’ve learned recently about relationships?
A: I didn’t discover anything that I didn’t always know, or when I say always, certainly since I was in my early twenties; that it’s luck. We think we can control it and we think we know what we’re doing but it’s largely dependent – it’s not of our control and largely dependent on luck. If you’re lucky, you stand a real chance of having a really happy relationship with someone and if you’re unlucky, all the logical reasons in the world, why you should, don’t mean anything. If you meet somebody or are attracted to someone and the exquisite neurons in your brain and her brain intermesh properly, then things can be wonderful and it’s not like homework. You don’t have to work at the relationship. It’s not like the treadmill. It’s pleasurable. But if you’re unlucky, then it’s hard to hit that jackpot and get lucky. You think you can control it and you think there’s a lot of things you can do to make your own luck, but it’s not really so. That’s a vain conceit.
Q: Since “Match Point,” you’re choosing no longer to shoot all your films exclusively in New York. Did you like Spain?
A: I went originally because of the money! I couldn’t afford to make the picture there and I could afford to make it in Europe. I loved working in Spain. Right now it’s easier for me, financially, to work in London or Paris or Barcelona.
Q: Woody, you’ve always been afraid of your mortality, and as time goes on, are you distracted from the work by the inevitable horror of death? I have a feeling you’re not a big believer in the great beyond.
A: No, you’re right.
Q: Does death preoccupy you and what keeps you going?
A: For me, it gets worse and worse. I see no advantages in aging whatsoever. You shrivel. You become decrepit. You lose your faculties. Your peer group passes away. You sit in a room gumming your porridge. I don’t see any advantage in this whatsoever, and eventually total annihilation with no hope of resurrection. So it’s a bad situation. You get involved in a meaningless love affair, the outcome of which doesn’t mean anything in the scheme of the universe. You watch Roger Federer. You do all these things that distract you and keep you from thinking about the tall, dark stranger that eventually comes and gets you, despite all your efforts to eat health foods and do exercises. I didn’t mean to be a downer.