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Buoyant “Cafe Society” opens Cannes Festival

The Cannes Festival opened today with the best possible film it could open with: the buoyant and lighthearted “Cafe Society,” directed by Woody Allen. I walked out of this morning’s screening with my spirits raised. But, then became quickly hungry for lunch.

In Allen’s perfectly-told, jaunty tale a young man, played by Jesse Eisenberg, moves to L.A. from New York to find work. He meets the boss’s secretary and falls in love with her. Then things get complicated, one marriage nearly ending up in divorce then getting saved, a budding relationship between the young man and the secretary ultimately falling apart, said young man moves from the West Coast back to New York and begins managing a nightclub. Opposing New York to Los Angeles is a leitmotiv in Allen’s filmography, the latter a crude iteration of metropolitan life filled with vacuous characters and opportunists, whereas New York figures highest in the Allen pantheon, because New York is for intellectuals and people who take the time to have existential crises and to reflect on them.

With “Cafe Society” Allen spins a highly-watchable, if irreverent, tale of unrequited love and jealousy out of the simple, but telling adage that is repeated twice by Bobby (Eisenberg) and Vonnie (Stewart): “dreams are just dreams.”

“Cafe Society” marks the second time that Allen works with actress Parker Posey (“Best in show”). When he came to Cannes last year to support “Irrational Man,” he famously said that he cast Posey because he liked her name and the way it sounded when he called her on the set. This is Kristen Stewart’s first collaboration with Allen, who previously directed “Annie Hall,” “Bullets over Broadway” and “Sweet and lowdown.”

Although “Cafe Society” lacks, somewhat, in substance, and for a Cannes Festival in which films like Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle” (this year’s closing film) or those by the Romanian filmmakers Cristi Puiu and Cristian Mungiu (both of whom are presenting films here this year) would seem more at home, it was a pleasure to watch. Steve Carrell, as Phil, a big-time L.A. agent, proves yet again that taking on more substantial roles, after his turn in many a low-brow comedy, is a responsibility which he has assumed with gusto. In the role of Phil Carrell, fascinating to watch, rises to the occasion and delivers an outstanding performance.

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Allen, flanked by Kristen Stewart (L) and Blake Lively

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