By Popular Demand... Rifkin's Festival!

Rifkin's Festival
is Woody Allen's latest film, and his first after his deal with Amazon fell apart.  Filmed in Spain, and not (yet?) released in the United States, it was released as a Spanish DVD back in March.  There was quite a run on them; I watched them rapidly sell out on and go for inflated prices on EBay.  But I figured if I held out long enough, a blu-ray would have to be issued somewhere on this globe.  And now it has been, by Cecchi Gori in Italy.  And its listing promised English audio.  So I rolled the dice, and here we are with all of the answers fans will be seeking... And yeah, you might want to read this post before ordering a copy for yourself.

Update 10/6/21 - 11/9/22: Alright you sick, filthy degenerates.  You want more Rifkin's Festival?  I'll give it to ya.  Yeah, I'll let you have all the Rifkin's Festival you can handle.  Just because it's Update Week.  Somebody (MPI Home Video) finally released it on blu in the United States, and I picked it up so we can cover it here.  I just hope you can take it.
We Wallace Shawn devotees have been asking for decades, when will he finally get a leading role fan in a Woody Allen film?  He's had bit parts in at least four by now, and they've always seemed like parallel New Yorker writer/ characters ideally suited for each other's work.  The fact that we only get it now that Allen's become persona non grata is somewhat bittersweet.  He stars as the titular Rifkin, a curmudgeonly film professor whose wife, Gina Gershon (yeah sure, but at least she's not 20) is a Hollywood producer.  He accompanies her to the San Sebastian Film Festival, an event he loathes because he resents the superficiality of modern cinema, because he's worry she might be having an affair.  This device gives Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor) an endless tapestry of background locations to shoot (though the colors seem excessively artificially boosted) and the story a pleasing gimmick: Rifkin projects his relationship into a number of classic films, where they reenact and transform scenes from classic films like Wild Strawberries, The Exterminating Angel and Jules & Jim.  Good times.
Still, this is far from Allen's best work.  The film references are mostly clunky and superficial.  I've read critics lambast him for being out of touch with the modern generation, which is certainly true, but I'm not sure is such a flaw.  I mean, for one thing, I think that's an issue being purposefully addressed in this film.  Also, would we mock Kurosawa because Madadayo's characters weren't hip to the latest 90's fashions of its day?  Old men have old men concerns, and Shawn's the right age to depict them (as opposed to A Rainy Day In New York, where it was harder to believe those kids were saying their dialogue).  It just seems like a misplaced cheap shot for people looking to dunk on Allen for their other grievances with him.  On the other hand, it does render his parody of a modern filmmaker at the festival rather toothless - who on Earth is "Philippe" supposed to be lampooning?  If Allen actually attended modern festivals to watch the latest, trendy filmmakers, his character would probably have more bite.
So yeah, this is weaker Woody Allen.  The film parodies are pretty obvious, a couple of his jokes are blatantly recycled from his past films and no one's going to get emotionally invested in Rifkin's relationship problems.  But it does explore some interesting themes about our twilight years, and if you can watch a Woody Allen film without being blinded by rage (fair enough if you can't) it's engaging fair, with a professionally crafted plot, some good humor, an entertaining conceit and a strong cast.  This would've done more for Gershon's career ten years ago, plus we've got Richard Kind, Bobby Slayton, Christoph Waltz and look out for a refreshing appearance by Steve Guttenberg.
2021 Cecchi Gori BD top; 2022 MPI BD bottom.

So what about the damn BDs already?  Framed in 1:2.0 (except when the AR changes to match the classical films they're mirroring), both discs are properly 1080p and look quite nice.  The framing, color-timing, etc are exactly the same on both discs, with only slight encoding differences visible in extreme close-ups.  If you press me, I'll admit I do prefer the CG's encoding to MPI's; but it's a distinction you'll never see in motion, so it's a pretty arbitrary call.  I did think the colors looked over-saturated, but as I understand it, that's how the film always looks; it's not an issue with the blu-ray transfers.  This was shot on digital, so film grain isn't a factor.  It was shot in 4k (or possibly 8k?), so a UHD would be even better, but I wouldn't hold my breath for that.  These blus look as good as you could hope for.

The burning issue, of course, is how English-friendly is this Cecchi Gori disc?  First of all, yes, it has the original English audio, in stereo and 5.1, both in DTS-HD.  For the record, there are also Italian 2.0 and 5.1 dubs in DTS-HD, plus Italian subtitles.  And are the Italian subs forced?  Happily, no.  But there also aren't any English subtitles, and there is, in fact, one brief scene that calls for them.  In a reverie dream sequence modeled after Ingmar Bergman's Persona, Gershon starts talking about an affair she almost had, and then slips into Swedish.  With no English subtitle options, we have no idea what she's saying, but I've taken the liberty of GoogleTranslating it for you now:
"I was obsessed with the silence of God, until one day I heard his voice. And God said to me, 'I saw Mort and. If I were you, I would betray him with no problem'."  Then the doctor says, "I am very perplexed and confused about life. I believe that God makes us suffer for our sins, but Sue and I have committed no sins, and Mort's only sin is that he only watches subtitled movies." After that we're out of the dream and back to English.  So there you go.  Write it out on an index card so you can pull it out of your pocket when you watch the movie and this scene comes up.  Or just get the MPI disc, because it's properly subtitled into English there.  For Italians, CG does get it right, offering both complete Italian subs, and a track that just subtitles the Swedish exchange.

MPI does the same.  We get the English audio in both 2.0 and 5.1, both as DTS-HD.  The above scene is of course now subtitled into English, making this the clear preferable option for us native speakers, with optional English subtitles for the entirety of the film as well.
As for extras, of course there's nothing there's actually something now!  I'd hoped CG might've at least had an Italian dubbed trailer, but no.  MPI, however, actually made the effort.  I mean, first of all, yes, they gave us the trailer, in English, plus a couple bonus trailers, including, naturally, A Rainy Day In New York.  But more than that, they gave us a half-hour special feature dedicated to the film.  It's a film festival press conference discussion (at the SSFF, of course) with Wallace Shawn, Gina Gershon, Elena Anaya, producer Jaume Roures and the Wood man himself!  This basically puts this blu in the running for the most loaded special edition of a Woody Allen film ever.  It certainly is in the US.  So cheers to MPI!
I held out through the Spanish DVD, and I suppose I should've waited another year for the MPI.  But come on, that's a long time to ask a Woody Allen fan to wait for the latest film!  And while it's no Crimes & Misdemeanors, Rifkin's Festival isn't a bad little movie.  If you've seen the trailer or other marketing and think this would be up your alley, it probably is.  And it helps that MPI's disc is not only an improvement, but decidedly easier to get your hands on.


  1. Thanks for this info! What region is your copy? Wondering if it will play here in the U.S..

    1. It's region B locked, so you'll need to be region free here in the states.

  2. i love your woodman posts! they've been deeply helpful with picking which blu-rays of his rarer work to import, so please: don't resist!!!

  3. Unfortunately, Woody hasn't put out that many good films - much less great ones - over the last 30 years. From what he himself says, he now just writes one draft of his scripts, gives it a once over and then shoots. Pretty lazy. I forgot when I stopped going to see his films, which used to be an annual event. Maybe "Whatever Works", or "Cassandra", that era. I did go see "Midnight In Paris", which was ok at best, nowhere near his best work.