Woody Allen - Cassandra's Dream

Woody Allen

Old master

Iconic filmmaker Woody Allen is enjoying something of a professional renaissance with his recent crop of films set in England. But, as he tells James Mottram, life just gets more depressing the older he gets

With those thick-rimmed glasses, that wisp of brown hair and the deeply cut grooves in his forehead, Woody Allen owns one of the most iconic faces in American cinema. These days, at 72, it’s a little more wizened and walnut-like – presumably from all that worrying. Indeed, true to the angst-ridden persona he’s been portraying ever since the days of such early gems as Play It Again, Sam, Allen is as deliciously neurotic as ever. ‘Life is a very tragic, meaningless, brutal thing,’ he says at one point, in that familiar Brooklyn drawl. ‘The universe is a chaotic, violent place, and we’re just specks and then it’s over.’

Allen is in particularly morose mood when we meet to discuss Cassandra’s Dream, the 37th film of a 41-year career, maintaining that his influence is negligible over contemporary cinema. ‘When you go to the movies in the United States, the first thing you see among young American filmmakers is [Martin] Scorsese’s influence. You see it all over the place. You see Steven Spielberg’s influence all over the place. I can see Robert Altman on certain people and I can also see Francis Ford Coppola’s. I don’t think you would get one out of 100 who would say, “Woody Allen has been a real influence on me.”’

Yet, while it’s true that Allen’s form has been erratic over the past decade, 2005’s Match Point was the exception. Nominated for Best Original Screenplay – the 21st Oscar nod of his career – Allen crafted a Dostoyevsky-influenced story of crime and punishment. It felt like a fresh start for Allen, not least because he had finally flown from his New York nest to make a film in London. Since then, he’s returned to the English capital for vaudeville comedy Scoop and now Cassandra’s Dream, a tale of greed and ambition.

The story of two working class brothers, Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell), the nub of Cassandra’s Dream comes when their successful uncle, Howard (Tom Wilkinson) returns from the US to ask them a deadly favour: to kill his former business partner who will otherwise send him to jail. ‘They’re very average boys, so when they involve themselves in this tragic morass, you feel it’s a genuine tragedy,’ Allen says. ‘It’s not the kind of tragedy that happens to a king, or a rich person, but to two nice brothers who love each other at the beginning and have modest aspirations.’

While Allen admits he’s proud of Cassandra’s Dream, surprisingly he says there are very few films in his back catalogue he really likes. ‘I was always proud of Purple Rose [of Cairo],’ he says. ‘And Husbands and Wives and Bullets Over Broadway . . . but considering how many films I’ve made, I can’t think of a lot of them that give me pleasure.’

What about the quintessential Allen film from 1977, Annie Hall, which won him two Oscars including Best Director? ‘I don’t dislike it,’ he concedes. ‘I had a wonderful time making it but it’s not one of the films I remember.’

Allen has already completed his next movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, starring Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson and Javier Bardem. As he recently notched up ten years of marriage with Soon-Yi Previn – with whom he caused a scandal, given she was the adopted daughter of his former lover Mia Farrow – as Allen enters his eighth decade in such professional and private harmony, you’d think he’d at least raise a smile.
Not a chance. ‘Things become more and more depressing the older you get,’ he says. Oh, well.

GFT, Thu 14 Feb, 7pm & Cineworld, Fri 15 Feb, 8.45pm.

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