A Denouement For Woody Allen
Woody Allen has been making movies for over fifty years, now. When younger, I loved his films, and fancied them as stellar intellectual explorations of life's great questions. Over time, I noticed that he never drifted far from the script of older man falls in love with much younger woman in order to fill the vacuum in his soul. Now, some May-December romances do work out, but not where the man is as immature, insecure, and self-centered as the Allen characters usually are: where the older man is less mature than the young lady half his age; and that was the problem of Allen's movies.
Over time, Woody's movies ran thin with me. His obsession with sex and death never resolved itself. He characters kept on asking the same questions, but in dozens of movies never came close to an answer: So typical of much that is wrong with the Western intelligentsia, which confuses questions with profundity.
His new film, Irrational Man, which I have not seen is about a professor (read stand-in intellectual, since Allen is too old for the part now) who has a reputation for dating his students.
[The professer is] an alcoholic who likes to have affairs with his students, says one rumor; his wife recently left him for his best friend, says another; - Variety
Wow! A plot concerning a philandering intellectual whose wife has left him. Why am I not surprised? What is amazing is how many times Allen can revisit variations of this theme and still win plaudits.
So I have two suggestions for Woody Allen: Buenos Aires or Tel Aviv. He can choose whichever one he pleases. Both cities are absolutely smitten with Woody Allen, and have been vying in vain for him to shoot in their locale.
Woody Allen to Film in Buenos Aires? An incurable obsession. - Espectadores
Is $18 million enough to bring Woody Allen to Israel? - Times of Israel
Buenos Aires has the distinction of being the most neurotic city on the planet.
Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital known for its tango bars, has another claim to fame: it may well be the world's capital of psychoanalysis.
For every 120 inhabitants in this bustling metropolis, a psychologist is on hand to help struggling individuals make it through tough times -- or simply lend an attentive ear to accounts of life's daily travails. - NY Daily News
Two centuries of national cycling between poorly run democracy, alternating with brutal dictatorship, where corruption is the only "virtue" that straddles between them, has taken its toll on Argentines. The country is nuts, and not only admits it, but glories in the diagnosis.
The porteños [lit: resident of the port: nickname for Buenos Aireans] see psychologists for every trifle. Allen would fit right in. Allen has shot in France, Britain, Italy, New York, California. Why not the crumbling facade of Buenos Aires?
Argentina has 180,000 Jews -- one of the centers of world Jewry -- so that could be the hook for a plot line. A grandnephew named Rodolfo Schwartz surfaces -- think of an actor like Diego Boneta. Rodolfo is the grandson of survivors who fled to Argentina in 1938, one step ahead of the Holocaust, and one week before Argentina closed its doors to Jews. In an unanticipated email to Allen, Schwartz, who was searching his family tree on the Internet, invites the elderly Allen to Buenos Aires.
The grandnephew is a budding filmmaker, and wants to make contact with his granduncle for advice on women, love, and life. The Allen character is a world-renowned auteur in letters, and cinema, and worth millions, but he is aging, and lonely, spending his latter years in a rent-stabilized apartment in New York City. He takes the matter to his friends at the local deli that he frequents.
"You want to go to Argentina?! Didn't Hitler retire there after the war?" says one friend. "Yes, they dropped him off in a U-boat, but he had to remain incognito," say another. "I heard Hitler was a consultant to their junta," says a third. "He was, but the Perons didn't listen to Hitler, which is why their country is in such bad shape, today," says the first. Finally, one of the friend's tells him, "What have you got to lose?"
"The rent-control on my apartment if I stay too long," says Allen.
"You're worth millions," say the first friend. "Take a chance."
Finally, a fifth friend opens up with the only wise statement in the codgerly discussion, "Moses led the Jews out of Egypt when he was 80. Have some faith, go to Buenos Aires, you might do something important."
The next scene has Allen being met at Pistarini International Airport, by a grandnephew, in his early 20s, who speaks English with an accent, sporting a five o'clock shadow and beguiling smile. He soon finds out that the nephew has a girlfriend who is half-Jewish, half-German Lutheran in ancestry, and they live in an illegal micro-apartment in a lower middle class barrio a few blocks from the Presidential palace. The girlfriend is an aspiring fashion designer -- always good for a few laughs as she takes Allen to a fashion show with a tango motiff. Together, Rodolfo and the girlfriend have a newborn daughter named Ariella, and they have to share babysitting duties.
The rest of the film has Allen trying to impart wisdom to Rudolfo, only to realize that Rudolfo is imparting wisdom to him. The grandnephew is not a womanizer like Allen was, but genuinely loves his girlfriend. He tells Allen that his daughter is his life, and he wants to get married, as soon as he can get enough money to give his girlfriend a real wedding.
Allen then has a psychological crisis where he goes to a local shrink only to find that in Buenos Aires, he has to wait in line. In group therapy -- where he has to hire a translator -- Allen starts to complain about a domineering mother, only to draw stares from the translator, and another older patient who was tortured by the government, along with a woman in her 30s whose mother was killed by the junta right after giving birth to her. The patients, the psychiatrist, and the translator unanimously pronounce Allen to be an idiot, and throw him out of the therapy group.
This causes Allen to reexamine his long held priorities.
He arrives back at his grandnephew's cramped apartment to find the couple contemplating marriage. They ask Allen's advice, "We are mixed. Should we raise Ariella Christian or Jewish?"
"A child should have a religion," says the girlfriend.
The Allen character, a New York atheist, has another existential crisis.
Of course, there would be a chance for comic relief when Allen has to ride the quirky Buenos Aires Subway, or when he is taken to a restaurant, and given no choice but to eat a steak the size of his arm. "Vegetarianism is illegal in Argenina," says Rodolfo, with a smile.
Allen's character might even do something profound, like saving Ariella's life from an accident, which again causes some reflection on his friend's prophecy, "you might do something important."
How the movie ends up would be Allen's choice; but the running joke would be the happy, ebullient maturity of the twenty-something Rodolfo versus the sad, morose Allen; the supposedly Argentine naïf versus the worldly Allen, hero of Western letters, art, and cinema. If Allen had any guts, his character would tell Rodolfo that he is wiser than himself, and needs no advice.
The movie could end with a baptism in a church or b'rit bat in a synagogue.
Finally, Allen would confront some real questions, and come to a real answer. It would be a fitting denouement for Allen's doubt-riddled career, if he had the guts to confront some truths that he has avoided for fifty years.
Buenos Aires would love it.
The other option is Tel Aviv, but many Israeli Jews seems to have lost patience for Allen's stereotypical characterization of a mother-controlled nebbish in the diaspora. The fundamental questions posed by Israel would be more profound than Allen's neuroses, and would not tolerate evasion, as he regularly does in the USA or Europe.
Buenos Aires would probably the better of the two locations for a start, if Allen wants to get serious, and stop whistling in the dark concerning the meaning of life. Who knows, maybe Rodolfo could meet Allen in Israel in a sequel?
I doubt Allen will take such a bold move; but hope springs eternal. If he is interested, he could email me for assistance with a script. I speak a little Spanish.
Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who is not Jewish, Latin, nor Arab. He runs a website, http://latinarabia.com, where he discusses the subculture of Arabs in Latin America. He wishes his Spanish were better.