On May 11, Woody Allen will make history when his latest work, Café Society, has its World Premiere as the Opening Night film of the 69th Cannes Film Festival. It will be the third feature from the revered director to debut in the prestigious slot – the first time that a filmmaker has earned that honour. For the 80 year-old New Yorker, it is the latest declaration of respect and admiration from the event that has feted his work for over three decades…
MANHATTAN debuts in 1979
Like the rest of the cinema-going world, French cinephiles warmed to Allen as a true auteur in the wake of his blockbuster hit, Annie Hall. His early comedies Sleeper and Love and Death had played well to Euro audiences, but it was the 1977 Best Picture Oscar winner that put him on the map; a huge French hit, it would be nominated for the Foreign Film Cesar. When it was announced his follow-up would be a cinematic love letter to The Big Apple, interest from the Cannes Film Festival organisers was piqued. Manhattan opened in the US on April 25 to positive reviews and audience favour; a fortnight later, it had its international premiere Out of Competition at the 32nd Cannes Film Festival. Despite the reclusive Allen’s decision not to attend the screening (actress Mariel Hemingway represented), it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Cannes and Woody. The Cesar voting body said thank you by honouring Manhattan with the Best Foreign Film trophy. (Pictured, right; Mariel Hemingway in Cannes, 1979)
(Above: Woody Allen and Mia Farrow in Broadway Danny Rose)
Allen’s 80’s Americana – BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, RADIO DAYS and NEW YORK STORIES.
Allen’s cinematic fortune ebbed and flowed in the following years. Stardust Memories (1980) divided critics; A Midsummer’s Night Sex Comedy (1982) was considered a trifle; Zelig (1983) restored his critical lustre but only posted arthouse numbers. The resurgent career impetus that Allen would enjoy for the remainder of the 1980’s began when the 1984 Cannes Film Festival programmed out-of-competition the Oscar-nominated Broadway Danny Rose (the slot resonated with Allen, as it put him in the company of his film idol, Ingmar Bergman, who was presenting After the Rehearsal). Featuring a brilliant comic turn by then-wife Mia Farrow, Broadway Danny Rose was the first on Allen’s ‘Americana’ films, works that embraced the melancholy of show business’ early days, and the Cannes crowd loved them. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) would win the coveted FIPRESCI Prize at the 1985 event; Radio Days (1987) screened Out of Competition in 1987. Allen’s first taste of Opening Night prestige was 1989’s New York Stories, an omnibus film that featured Allen’s ‘Oedipus Wrecks’ short alongside contributions by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola; the film garnered a mixed reaction and would be the last of Woody Allen’s film on the Croisette for over a decade.
HOLLYWOOD ENDING opens the 2002 Cannes Films Festival.
Cannes gave Woody some breathing space throughout the 1990’s, a decade that featured some of his most revered works (Husbands and Wives, 1992; Bullets Over Broadway, 1994; Mighty Aphrodite, 1995; Sweet and Lowdown, 1999). It would not be until 2002 that Cannes rekindled the love affair when they afforded his contemporary LA-set comedy, Hollywood Ending, his first solo Opening Night red-carpet rollout. In hindsight, the film seems an odd choice; it is not regarded as one of Allen’s best and represents, alongside 2003’s Anything Else, what many consider a low point in the filmmaker’s output. But the coverage provided in the world’s press, trumpeting the appearance of Allen in Cannes for the first time in his long career, was pure showbiz and entirely in line with the A-list event glamour one expects from the Cannes Film Festival. (Pictured, right; Co-stars Tiffani Thiessen and Debra Messing accompany Allen and wife Soon-Yi at the Cannes 2002 premiere of Hollywood Ending).
The European Films of the 00’s – MATCH POINT, VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA, YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER.
The director sensed that true creative freedom and an enriched appreciation of his work were best explored in Europe (much of his funding had been sourced from continental backers in recent years). Despite the occasional sojourn to his homeland (the underappreciated Melinda and Melinda, 2004; Whatever Works, 2009), the 2000s brought a re-energised Allen back to the critical and commercial forefront with three European-lensed films that played to adoring Cannes audiences. In 2005, his potent London-set thriller Match Point played Out of Competition, the ecstatic response paving the way for his best box-office performer in 20 years; in 2008, the erotically-charged Vicky Christina Barcelona set the Croisette ablaze, premiering at Cannes ahead of a US$100million worldwide gross and a Supporting Actress Oscar for Penelope Cruz; and, in 2010, Allen returned to London, this time with Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin, for the whimsical drama, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, premiering Out of Competition. It was a prolific period of production that saw the director at the height of his craft, offering a run of films that culminated in Allen’s second Opening Night honour…
(Above: Allen at the You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger press conference, Cannes 2010)
The Triumph of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.
Cannes organisers knew Allen’s 41st film was something special when they secured it for the 64th edition’s May 11 Opening Night slot in 2011. The Festival broke with tradition and opened the event to both industry types and the general public. It was a coup for Allen’s French distributor, who put the film into day-and-date national release, ensuring massive media coverage. The director jumped on board the promotional juggernaut, bringing to the Croisette his stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Adrien Brody and local starlet Lea Seydoux. And critics were unanimous; Midnight in Paris was Woody Allen’s best work in years, the time-hopping romantic fantasy ultimately earning Allen the Best Original Screenplay Oscar (from the pic’s four nomination). Robert Weide’s Woody Allen: A Documentary would follow in 2012, and the director himself would return in 2015 with his Emma Stone/Joaquin Phoenix starrer, Irrational Man, but the rapturous Midnight in Paris soiree remains the night to remember from the Cannes Film Festival’s long and affectionate romance with Woody Allen. (Pictured, right; Allen with his Midnight in Paris cast, Cannes 2011).
The 69th Festival International du Film de Cannes will launch with a screening of Woody Allen’s new film, Café Society, on Wednesday 11 May in the Palais des Festivals’s Grand Théâtre Lumière as an Official Selection Out of Competition title.