I interviewed (which is not the same as saying: I met…) Woody Allen in New York, I think I remember that for the promo of Whatever Works (If the thing works), a film released in 2009. By then the director’s personal and family scandal had already quieted down enough (silly by silly, we are talking about events that date back to 1993 …) but it was still missing for the outbreak of the movement #MeToo. Notice that I am not going to speak here of either one or the other. I bring up the calendar just to draw attention to the fact that, when I interviewed him, Woody Allen was making the last films that would allow him to produce and release in the United States. We had not yet reached the point that an exception like Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) will become the norm. That Woody Allen became a kind of comedian from the league. As a traveling filmmaker.
That interview went very well because Woody Allen is a headline-making machine, especially with European journalists. He knows how to carry and treat us. He lacked time to regret for the hundredth time that he did not stay in Paris as a young man and he made us smile, and even hollow out like chickens, when he voiced his complaints about how hard it is to live in New York. Not in the city but in the state, the number 11 of the Union, better known as Empire State (yes, hence the Building…). New York City it is at the southern end of that state and certainly has nothing to do with the rest. Not with the rest of the country.
“I would love for New York City to become independent from the rest of the state, for it to be free”, Woody Allen asserted cheekily. It could look like a joke more but, thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that no, that he said it in good faith and with all his soul. And that conclusion was followed by a suspicion as withering as it was exciting: What if Woody Allen were a villager? A paletillo from Manhattan?
Let me explain before they try to put on a straitjacket: I lived in New York City for six years. They are less than those that, at different times in my life, I have spent in Barcelona and Madrid, supposedly smaller cities in every way. Well, there it goes: when I walk through Barcelona or Madrid, it is very rare, but extremely rare, that I meet someone on the street if I do not want to meet him. If I’m not finding it difficult, let’s go. In New York, I swear I kept bumping into this one and that one and that one, running into acquaintances from all corners. The index of “come on, and how are you around here …” was only comparable to the one I have experienced in my grandmother’s town, the immortal town of Arbúcies, which in its moments of maximum demographic euphoria has been planted in 6,000 inhabitants …
In New York, I swear I kept bumping into this one and that one and that one, running into acquaintances from all corners
Little by little I realized that Woody Allen’s New York, the one that appears in all those films of his that we like so much (more to us than to those who live there, by the way…), The one that we all walk around out of breath as soon as we travel there, is much smaller than it seems. It occupies half the Ensanche. It is more of an urbanization than a metropolis. As adorably neurotic and universally charismatic as you like, but it fits in the palm of your hand and the sole of your foot.
Little by little I realized that Woody Allen had gone from being a small-town boy in Coney Island, the Brooklyn neighborhood where he was born, to being a small-town boy on Park Avenue, to eating, drinking and flirting all the time in the same places. , circling Central Park like a spectacled hamster, totally ignoring the rest of the city. The rest of reality.
That he has every right to live and make movies how and where he wants (or is left), it would be missing more … But little by little a suspicion took shape in my mind: to see if that mysterious disdain of so many Americans for the Woody Allen films that are all the rage in Europe will not have a bit to do with this… With many New Yorkers simply not recognizing themselves in that New York in one piece, always the same, always with and for the same people.
What if it happens to them as it happens to us with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which left most of us here perplexedly indifferent, and even with the fly behind the ear, because it had nothing to do with anything we had hoped Woody Allen would come up with in our city? I wondered. What if Woody Allen works best when he places the action in a place that you don’t know about? What if the quintessential New Yorker is an undercover villager, that Paris was really great for him … and Barcelona too?
What if Woody Allen works best when he places the action in a place that you don’t know about?
All these ideas have returned to my head after viewing Rifkin’s Festival, The Rifkin’s Festival, Woody Allen’s latest feat, shot this time in Donostia, in San Sebastián. In the incomparable setting of the film festival. With wonderful views of La Concha beach, Peine de los Vientos, even with a beautiful popular market that later turns out to be mounted to this For the movie…
Go ahead, I liked this movie. It is not my favorite of Woody Allen, but, having my reservations and my criticisms – which are irrelevant here today – I am quite convinced. And the fact is that I kept asking myself: if I were from San Sebastián, if I were from Donostia, would I like it more or less? Would it seem more or less real or made of papier-mâché? And that Donostia, San Sebastián, is a beautiful city but considerably smaller and less complex than Barcelona. Let’s say it is much more on a “town” scale… At that secret “town” scale in which Woody Allen’s Manhattan operates without us ever noticing…
To which I was going: it is for me a joy and pride that the production company that right now helps to make it possible for Woody Allen films to continue to be released in the world is Catalan. Although these start to look a bit like the adventures of Tintin. His film about Barcelona is one of the weakest he has done, in my opinion. Which perhaps does not stop constituting a paradoxical tribute. A tacit recognition that Barcelona is a lot of Barcelona … especially for those who never leave Manhattan.