The red-carpet glamor, the frenzied fans, the media: Cannes is Woody Allen’s worst nightmare, the US filmmaker confides in an up-close documentary screened at the French film festival on Wednesday.
Allen, whose latest film, “To Rome With Love,” was tipped for a Cannes slot, will be staying away from the event, which runs until May 27, but the American director has long been a fixture at the Riviera festival.
Of Allen’s 40-plus films, 11 have been shown in Cannes and five have opened the film festival, and the 76-year-old’s prolific career is in focus in a movie by Robert Weide previewed a day before its out-of-competition screening.
“The whole thing is a psychological nightmare — but my wife and kids like Cannes,” the director says. “It has no reality to it. You have to learn not to take it seriously.”
Allen opened last year’s festival with “Midnight in Paris,” which became his best-performing film, grossing over $100 million.
“It’s a happy accident,” he says of its success.
Plunging viewers back in time, the documentary, titled “Woody Allen,” introduces the young man, born Allan Konigsberg, growing up in 1940s Brooklyn where “school was a curse” but “kids were safe to roam all day.”
“I was the world’s worst student,” he quips. But a job writing newspaper jokes set him on a precocious road to success, and by the age of 17 he was earning more than his parents.
Before long he had found a pseudonym, Woody Allen, acquired the Olympia typewriter on which he still pounds out every word he writes and settled on a pair of thick black-rimmed spectacles as his fashion look for life.
His first steps on the stage were a stomach-churning ordeal for the uncharismatic Allen — but little by little he found his voice, and an audience, opening up the world of filmmaking.
From his first comedy, “What’s New Pussycat?” — the “mangled” script of which ensured he demanded full control over all subsequent films — the documentary spans his movie career, including “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and the “Purple Rose of Cairo.”
Diane Keaton, his first muse, is interviewed at length, and the film touches on the scandal over Allen’s affair with the adoptive daughter of his second great love, Mia Farrow, putting an end to their relationship. He married Farrow’s daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, in 1997.
Allen is typically candid on the subject of sex, recalling being slapped down as a schoolboy for making advances on a fellow pupil, and confessing to a healthy sexual appetite, even now in his 70s.
On death, he is deadpan: “My relationship with death remains the same: I am strongly against it,” he tells a delighted press conference, filmed in Cannes.
Looking back at his filmography, he is characteristically self-deprecating. “So few of them have really been worth anything,” he says. But “if I keep making films, every once in a while I’ll get lucky and one will stand out.”