Europeans are famously tolerant of even the weakest works of a heralded "auteur" filmmaker, which explains why Woody Allen has, in recent Deconstructing Harry-to-Melinda and Melinda years, accompanied some of his movies to Venice and Cannes to get a little respect. But even among Italian and French admirers, the publicity-phobic Allen just briefly addressed journalists in controlled settings. It was only with his comeback film, Match Point, which premiered at Cannes last May, that Allen felt confident enough to brave an old-fashioned, open press conference. "The film came out pretty well, I thought," he told a packed room at Cannes of international reporters, "and I'm usually a harsh critic of my own films. It's a film about luck, and the film was permeated by good luck.
"I made it in London, where everything was wonderful for me. It was cool, the skies were grey, which was perfect. I had Scarlett [Johansson] and this gifted group of Engish actors, even down to each messenger in the picture. To an American, every English voice seems great. I edited in the US, and we were stunned by how every little part, even people who had two words, sounded wonderful."
Allen contrasted English financiers, respectfuly hands-off, with the increasing interferences of funders in the US. "In America, more and more they don't want to be thought of as 'just a bank.' They want to have something to say about the casting, they'd like to read the script, occasionally come to dailies. But I want the money in a brown paper bag, and give them a film a few months later. That's it!"
Why did Allen make a movie so deeply cynical, in which the worst people in Match Point end up on top? "My point-of-view isn't cynical, it's an accurate perspective. I feel it's clear to every thinking person that there are gigantic emotional crimes, physical crimes, international crimes that don't go punished, they're rewarded. The tragedy of life is that so many innocent victims are slaughtered for some supposedly benevolent reason for mankind."
So Match Point is a kind of cousin to Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), in which dreadful criminal acts also went unpunished? "I would see no similarity between the two," Allen said. "This film has crime in it and that one had crime in it, but Small-Time Crooks also had crime in it. Crimes and Misdemeanors was more religious, a different story."
But what about the 1950s film classic, A Place in the Sun, based on Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy? I asked Allen about the obvious connection, in which an ambitious young man after the boss's daughter is faced with whether to kill his clingy, demanding girlfriend.
"I've never read An American Tragedy," Allen answered me. "I've seen the movie and liked it, but to me it had no relationship whatsoever." Hmmmm. OK. And the on-screen showing of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment?' "When I wrote the story, it occurred to me that it echoed 19 th century Russian literature. I wanted to make a link, however tenuous, with this novel and my little movie."
Why does Allen at 70 continue to make movies?
"If I don't make them, I have nothing to distract me. It's like mental patients kept busy with fingerpainting, they're more relaxed afterward. So I immerse myself, keep out of the real world for a year. That's more of an answer than you wanted for your little question!"