Most of the Cannes Film Festival press conferences feature the same congratulatory pats on the back between filmmaker and star, but when Woody Allen held court with reporters on Friday afternoon, he veered way off the subject of his latest film, “Irrational Man.”
Among the topics Allen breezed through: the meaninglessness of life (a favorite talking point of the 79-year-old filmmaker), world philosophy (“none of us would think the way we think if it wasn’t for Kant”), the escapism of baseball games and Fred Astaire movies, and how Communists fared in concentration camps. At one point, a journalist asked the spaced-out director: “Mr. Allen, are you there?”
The stars of Allen’s new film, Emma Stone and Parker Posey (wearing a hat and sunglasses in the indoor venue), could barely get a word in. Joaquin Phoenix, who plays a disillusioned college professor with a potbelly, skipped out on the event.
But Allen still had more than enough to say without him. Allen explained that he turned to a directing career to temporarily distract himself from the nihilistic viewpoint that we’re all going to die. He wished that he could be afforded the same luxury as Charlie Chaplin: to shoot a movie for practice before he filmed it again for real.
“I make a film, and I never ever look at it again once I put it out,” Allen said. “If you look at it again, you can always see what you did wrong and how you can improve it. And why it’s as terrible as it is. I would shoot them all again.”
Allen said that artists can try to assign meaning to their existence, but they are conning themselves. “Everything you create in your life will vanish,” Allen said. “You’re living in a random universe and you’re living a meaningless life. Everything you create in your life will vanish and the Earth will vanish and the universe will be gone.” He added that not even the works of Michelangelo or Beethoven will survive in the end.
“It’s very hard to sell someone the bill of goods that there’s any good to this,” Allen added. “The only way to beat it a little is through distraction. What distracts me is: Can I get Emma and Parker to do this scene right?”
Allen said that he doesn’t stay in touch with actors once a production wraps. He also tries to get out of their way for the most part. “The people I’ve worked with had careers and were great before they met me, and they are great after they leave me,” Allen said. “Nothing special is happening. If you just hire wonderful people, that’s all you have to do. Don’t mess them up. Don’t ruin them.”
He said he had always wanted to work with Posey, because he liked the sound of her name. He discovered Stone (who also appeared in his last film, “Magic in the Moonlight”) on the treadmill, when he accidentally caught a clip of one of her movies playing on TV. As he started to offer his thoughts on the film’s final scene, Stone jumped in about how she never heard this while they were shooting. “It’s interesting,” Stone told Allen. “Keep going.”
Allen is now working on a TV series for Amazon Studios, a job he regrets ever taking. “It was a catastrophic mistake for me,” Allen said. “I never should have gotten into it. I thought it would be easy to do six half-hours. It’s very, very hard. I hope I don’t disappoint Amazon. I’m not good at it. I don’t know what I’m doing.”