Meeting Woody and Romanian film Sieranevada

So, yes, I met Woody Allen for a lovely interview yesterday. He was on good form and signed my book about him, just for me. “It’s a very pretty book,” he said. “I have this at home.” My work is done, I thought.

I told him I couldn’t have done it without him, which I’m glad he laughed at. “Take me out of it and you’d just have page numbers,” he joked.

It was fascinating talking to him about the year I’d had writing the book and touring with it and it was good to put a few questions to him that people have been asking me over the months, such as why he doesn’t make films about old people? “Don’t old people smell?” he recoiled, only slight mockingly, I felt.

As you know from my review, I loved Cafe Society, his new film. Of course many people here at Cannes were sniffy about it, but I like that the film doesn’t really care if you like it or not. At 80 years old, Woody’s hardly trying to win new audiences and this latest really is a culmination of his many themes over the years.

It does have a lovely note of melancholy about it that earlier works such as Bullets over Broadway do not. I suppose Radio Days does have that, but for a faded childhood – this was more as if Woody was summing life up, with his own weary voice-over sounding wistful, but I doubt it’s the last we’ve heard from him.

“I’ve done most things I dreamt of accomplishing,” he said. “So if I drop dead this next second, I’d have no worries,” he told me. “Apart from leaving you with an interview to fill.”

“I’d have a decent story, so don’t hold back on my part,” I said.

The evening was filled by the Romanian film Sieranevada, from Cristi Puiu, a film I thought was rather brilliant. Unusually, I hadn’t clocked the runtime before going in and, although it felt pretty long, I have to admit I was surprised at the end that it had been just short of three hours.

It was masterfully done, a family-gathering-for-a-meal movie, in a cramped Bucharest flat, for a deceased father’s memorial. As the table is laid and the food prepared, all the stresses and tensions in the various family characters reveal themselves as they bustle in and out of rooms, the camera often staying plonked in the hallway, watching them enter and exit. (Woody’s own Husbands and Wives did this, too).

It reminded me so much of a Jewish shiva, even down to the fish borscht that was “gedempting” away in the kitchen. They were waiting for the priest to show up and when he comes, there’s a little service of incantations and blessings in each little room, a quietly satirical touch, but one that meant much to the Mother, while the bookish (or internettish) son-in-law mutters stuff about 9/11 conspiracy theories.

So much was going on, the film was stuffed with emotions and characters. Not much happened, really, but you felt all life was there. And I loved that the meal never got started, like in Bunuel – although when it finally came, cabbage rolls and runny polenta, it looked like one of the least-appetising dinner in a food film ever.

Anyway, a great Cannes movie, just what you want. if you’ve got a spare three hours.

There was a party on the Majestic Beach after, but it was hellish, full of cheap wine and I’m sure I ate something pate-like that even a French cat would turn down. Mind you, French cats are fussy. I left early, after a quick walk to the end of the pier and a nice view of the festival town illuminated.

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