Cannes Review: Cafe Society

Containing all the characteristics of a lovable Woody Allen film, Cafe Society gives us his perspective of his less touched city Los Angeles.

While his previous works have included scenes in Los Angeles, this depiction seems less stereotypical of Hollywood. As the picture progresses the location becomes simply a backdrop for the story. Opposed to Allen simply using Hollywood for its punchlines like in Annie Hall and Hollywood Ending, before usually returning swiftly his stomping ground of New York City.

Another deviation for Allen also arises as he begins to play with camera depth making us feel more intimate with the characters than usual. He uses it as a way to express characters growing closer and further apart from each other throughout the picture most notably as Vonnie shows Bobby around the city — portrayed by Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg.

While the performances of Isenburg and Blake Lively playing Veronica are notable, Kirsten Stewart undeniably provides the feature with its standout performance. However, the leading roles they bring to life are only a few of the many that populate this collage of characters Allen has created. All that collide together in ways that create the most classic of Woody Allen situations.

In the post-production set of storytelling tools, Woody uses color to represent ideals. The warmth of optimism, the desaturated life of crime and the cold temped blues of the so-so normal life. This style is used sometimes within the same shot splitting the screen with set design and also by the saturation being heightened for a single moment. There is also a hard and dark red used to display moments of passion and death yet it’s only used a few times. The palate of colors used to tell the story in this way are most likely derived from the sunsets that are sometimes used as transitions between scenes.

Allen also narrates us through the film in a surprisingly charming way and far unlike how it’s becoming misused in modern cinema as a one-time use to cover for bad exposition. Allen returns us to narrations graces as it is spread throughout the film, paced well, and never intrudes but interludes the films major scene sets.

In this picture, juxtaposing the worlds of Hollywood motion pictures and New York gangsters, Woody ventures back into the mid-1930s and the life of Bobby Dorfman and those surrounding him. We begin as Bobby moves to Hollywood where he becomes entangled in a love affair. Although, as the reels of Hollywood’s business, romantic entanglements, and negations slowly descend into those of a Hollywood gangster picture the consciously driven characters collide with the morally loose ones and drive Bobby’s life in an unforeseen direction — creating a cavalcade of comedy along the way.

It may be hard to see this picture for what it is rather than what its assumed to be. While it comes to a swift ending that drifts through a song leaving us without a surprise, a world collapsing or a story gathering to a point for the most part; what we’re left with is simply drifting off a character, us leaving the world as it continues on without us. A filmmakers way of saying you’re just visiting here. This isn’t something used that often in film, being mostly reserved for television as an ending for an individual season of a show. As such it can now make us feel like a film wasn’t a feature at all. However, when used in features it usually signifies that there was no ending nor beginning and that we’re simply following a set of characters through their lives with no overall arc to be found. Therefore the arc seekers, trying to see how it all fits together, mostly get lost along the way. In that sense, this is something Woody Allen hasn’t really stepped in before but it’s almost the perfect structure for him being the closest to life itself.

Looking forward to the awards season the film is most likely to be well received in the production and costume design categories. Possibly also in the acting categories with Kirsten Stewart, yet it’s unlikely to capture other awards.

This annual dose of Woody Allen explores some topics unusual to the director alongside his usual entanglements. At the end of the day, this is one for all admirers his filmography from Crimes and Misterminers to Midnight in Paris. You should see it on the big screen where the visual subtleties can capture you. However, even if you’re one to see it on the small screen Allen has a field day with his well of morality here and you’ll enjoy being a spectator of it time and time again.


About the Author


Editor-in-Chief of Tastic Film Magazine James Rush.