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Home away from home: Europe welcomes Woody Allen
CANNES, France — Europeans get jazz and they get Woody Allen — more so than they do in America, the native land of both the filmmaker and the music form he loves.
Allen may prefer to stay home in Manhattan but his movies travel well, earning coveted spots at film festivals in Europe and packing in audiences there that have helped keep his career afloat when crowds were thin in the United States.
With his latest of many trips to the Cannes Film Festival, where his new romance "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" premiered, Allen pondered his European esteem.
"I could never understand why my films right from the start, from 'Bananas' on, always were met with great affection by European audiences," said Allen, 72.
Allen has two possible explanations. First, his films may gain something in translation to other languages, so that flaws native English speakers might catch are not as apparent.
"When we see an Ingmar Bergman film and we're watching it and they're speaking Swedish, we read the subtitles. If he's doing anything really wrong, we don't know it," Allen said.
"The other possibility, and this is the only other thing I can think of, is when I was younger, a young man, the films that I idolized were all the foreign films. I used to see them over and over and over," Allen said. "So when I started making films, without thinking about it — like, you hear a jazz musician play, you start to play like him at first — that I started to make films that were influenced by European films without really trying.
"Just automatically influenced, and that they meant something to European audiences. Films of mine that have done poorly in the United States have done well here. Films that have done well in the United States have done tremendously well here."
The adoration for Allen in Europe gave him a bright gag for "Hollywood Ending," the opening-night film at Cannes in 2002. Allen played a filmmaker shooting a movie while temporarily blind. The resulting mess made him unemployable in Hollywood, but French critics loved it, giving the filmmaker a new career overseas.
Allen also has remade himself as a European director, leaving his usual Manhattan haunts to shoot three-straight movies in London — "Match Point," "Scoop" and "Cassandra's Dream" — and now "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" in Spain.
Scarlett Johansson, who appeared in "Match Point" and "Scoop," and Rebecca Hall star in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" as American women spending a summer of confusing romance in Spain, where both become involved with a passionate painter (Javier Bardem).
A racy film for Allen, though the love scenes are mild by Hollywood standards, the movie also lands Johansson and Bardem in a three-way romance with Penelope Cruz, who plays the painter's volcanic ex-wife.
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" debuts in U.S. theaters Aug. 29.
Allen had intended to continue shooting films each summer in Europe for a while, but the possibility of an actor's strike prompted him to start early this year. Allen decided to shoot his next film in New York, a comedy starring Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson. Production wraps up next week.
While happy to be back at work in New York, Allen said the costs of shooting there have soared since he last filmed there, straining his modest $15 million budget.
"It's been very financially difficult to work in New York, but from a pleasure point of view, it's a great city to film in, because it's got everything going for it that you could want," Allen said. "I love being able to walk to work, so to speak."
Allen has reluctantly agreed to direct "Gianni Schicchi," the comic portion of a trio of one-act Puccini operas for the Los Angeles Opera. It debuts in September.
"I have no idea how to direct an opera," Allen said. "I like opera, but I'm not a fanatic. I was cajoled and badgered into it."
After that, Allen said he probably would return to Europe to make more films, finding the settings stimulating and the production costs more affordable.
Allen said he has been approached by financial backers to make movies in a number of European locations. An uneasy traveler who prefers familiar places, Allen said he's happy to film in cities he knows well, such as London, Paris, Rome or Madrid.
"I think the budget will force me to come to Europe. I won't have any choice in the matter. If I make another film in New York after this, the one I'm doing now, it would have to be a very, very small film," Allen said. "Whereas if I make it in Europe, it turns out funny, that there's a couple of million dollars finally that finds its way to the screen, and that's a lot on my budget."