Thursday, 16 March 2017

Café Society review

A film most at home described as a ‘visual novel’, Woody Allen’s most recent drama, Café Society, set in 1930’s Hollywood/New York, has a clean, rolling style that plays on the strengths of the writer/directors love for whimsically authentic, lavishly flowing dialogue.

The story of young, Jewish, New Yorker, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), who decides to leave the shackles of his fathers New York jewellery business with the hopes of pursuing some form of a career in Tinsel Town, the film follows the smirk-inducing domino of events that are instigated as a result of this decision. A meeting with his uncle, Phill Stern (Steve Carrell) - who happens to be a big shot producer in town - finds Bobby not only a job but an addictive fascination in the form of Stern’s Personal Secretary “Vonnie” (Kristen Stewart), a character with whom ‘deer in the headlights’ Bobby falls deeply infatuated. However the dynamics of this relationship and, in fact, Vonnie’s other ‘relationships’ promise to threaten the electric chemistry between these two while spurring the city-hopping story that unfolds as Bobby tries to understand what makes him truly happy.

As ever, Allen’s greatest strength in this film is his wondrous skill with character and dialogue - something that definitely makes itself heard as one would struggle to find a section of this film not commentated, either by the onscreen characters or by Woody himself. Combined with a redolent
score of intercutting, ever-present Jazz - much of which sports recognisable melodies such as the likes of Lorenz Hart’s ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ - Allen manages to capture a picture postcard cross section of the era that establishes a flowing, exotic, atmosphere that suitably accompanying the whimsy of his plot.

This atmospheric approach to his films sound, combined with Allen’s decision to play down his use of cinematography - often doing little more than introducing a scene with a push in followed by conversational intercuts - makes the film a visual vessel for what is essentially as close as one can get to a physical novel on screen. Instead of taking the classic liberties of cinema - emotion through cinematography, creation of atmosphere through soundscapes, dictation of dialogue tempo - this film instead pushes all of its content through its ever-present blanket of dialogue and simplistically elegant mise en scene (the two elements that film shares directly with writing). With this in mind, the film is heavily stylised and the atmosphere it creates is far more reminiscent of written stories than visual ones.

Working in this way, Allen asks his audience to really listen to the dialogue, much as one reads a book - you have to really engage with the language to understand the emotion because you’re always hearing words, there’s no pause to tell you when things are sad. One's memories of the film and its characters become much more like those of a fond book than of a film. It feels to watch much as Fitzgerald's Gatsby feels to read.

Chris Usher
6th Form Ambassador

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