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Leo Price
Leo Price

Rifkin's Festival PORTABLE

Mort Rifkin, a snobby elderly film critic from New York, is telling his therapist about the recent developments in his life. In the recount, he's accompanying his much younger wife Sue to a film festival in San Sebastián. She works as a press agent for Philippe, a French director whose banal and derivative anti-war film is being universally celebrated as a masterpiece, to Mort's chagrin. Mort quickly becomes jealous of Sue and Philippe's relationship, which increasingly moves into open flirtation. Mort's inner thoughts and fears causes him to have nightmares inspired by well-known black and white cinematic classics like Citizen Kane, Breathless, Jules and Jim, A Man and a Woman, Persona, Wild Strawberries, The Exterminating Angel, and 8.

Rifkin's Festival

While at the festival, Mort reminisces about his life and the pretentious novel that he's been writing for decades, trying to achieve a literary relevance that eludes him. He reflects upon his younger years when he used to teach cinema at the university and felt happy and stimulated. Meanwhile, he's helpless to keep Sue and Philippe from spending time with each other. Eventually, he seeks medical advice about some chest pains and meets Joanna "Jo" Rojas, a Spanish doctor who spent some time in New York and is now unhappily married with an unfaithful, temperamental artist. Joanna leaves a lasting impression on Mort and he repeatedly tries to engage her attention by faking health issues. Eventually, the two go on a sight-seeing drive through the surrounding country, both having a good time in the process.

Finally, Mort imagines himself playing chess with Death in a parody of Ingmar Bergman's 1957 film The Seventh Seal. Death tells him that human life is ultimately meaningless, but doesn't need to be empty. In a parting word of advice, Death tells Mort that he will see him again in the future, but Mort might win some extra time by making sure to exercise and to avoid processed foods. As the festival reaches its closing day, Mort reflects upon his changed circumstances, pondering going back to being a teacher, this time with a less rigid attitude towards art. Back in New York, he asks his therapist what he should do now.

With actor Wallace Shawn standing in for Allen, the film begins with a session between failed novelist and formerly happy film professor Mort Rifkin (Shawn) and his therapist, a typical Allen trope. The action unfolds in flashback, and we are taken along with Mort and his attractive, younger wife Sue (Gina Gershon), a film publicist, as they arrive in San Sebastian, Spain, to attend the festival there and where Sue has an important client, a young and handsome Frenchman and acclaimed film director named Philippe (Louis Garrel). His film about war is in the festival and has many admirers. Mort is not among them. He finds Philippe pretentious and middle-brow (two frequent slams against Allen). Mort is also jealous of the obvious attraction between Sue and Philippe.

We talk a lot about movies as mental escape \u2014 a way to visit characters and locales that don\u2019t show up in every day life, or sometimes even on the most extraordinary days. But for somebody who grew up as Allen did, in overpacked households of far Brooklyn, movie theatres were physical escapes. As we\u2019ve brought better entertainment equipment into less densely packed homes, that escape has become less important to society, but remains vital to the filmmaker. For Allen, a movie house symbolizes a kind of luxury \u2014 maybe one that can only be duplicated in the 2020s by the prospect of a whole film festival, hosted in an exotic, European city.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

The screening on the 18th of September at the opening gala of the Donostia-San Sebastian competition will be its world premiere. This is the second time that the author of Annie Hall opens the Festival, after doing so in 2004 with Melinda and Melinda, which he presented to the international press at the Kursaal Centre in the year in which he also received the Donostia Award and the festival dedicated a retrospective to him. 041b061a72


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