American director Woody Allen is often in a dark mood. So what if the skies over Cannes were a bright blue. "We're all going to end up in a very bad position one day. The same position but a bad one," he said, speaking to the media soon after his movie, Irrational Man, screened at the 68th edition of the Cannes Film Festival on Friday.
"The only thing you can do as an artist is to come up with a way to explain to people why life has some meaning. And you can't do that without conning them. Because, in the end, it has no meaning. Everything you create will vanish and the earth will vanish and the sun is vanishing... it will all be gone one day no matter how much we cherish it." Allen is always suffering from an overwhelming sense of doom.
I still remember that scene in To Rome with Love, where he himself acts. In one of the first scenes, he tells his screen wife as their plane is about to land that he has a bad feeling. The aircraft may crash! It did not.
Irrational Man -- has similarly -- a lot of irrationality about it. It was written that way by Allen himself. The movie, a black comedy, centres on a philosophy professor, Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix), who is marvellous in despairing. Call it existentialism. Despite his melancholic nature, women still find him attractive.
Early on Lucas meets an attractive student, Jill (Emma Stone), who is willing to let go her boyfriend to be with her professor. She cajoles him one night to take her to bed. Emotionally blackmails him: It is my birthday, come one, give me this gift. He gives her.
But even her affections are not enough to get Lucas out of the blue mood. He has to commit a crime to pep himself up. A premeditated murder, which he justifies, a murder that pushes him towards another gruesome one.Irrational Man appeared to be heading towards match point, where the hero commits a murder -- kills his girlfriend when she begins to pester him to get married -- and goes scot-free. I was amazed. Allen was being so amoral. But that is Allen. Perhaps, he thinks some crimes are absolutely necessary.
At 79, Allen still averages one film a year, and even his most serious work is laced with humour: "I just had to be a comic moviemaker because that's where my gifts were and no one would give me any money to make a serious film."
Does Irrational Man have that spirit of comedy in it? It is there all right, but one has to look hard for it. The movie is more about irrationality. Jill and Lucas overhear a woman wishing a judge dead, and the professor takes upon himself to fulfill that! But then a crime is no joke, and Lucas soon finds himself pressured by Jill to come clean. He does not want to, and plans a second murder.
Irrational Man is wonderfully crafted like always, but my favourite among Allen's recent works remains, Vicky Christy Barcelona -- where three women chase an artist, and boy, that was hilarious to the hilt.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Cannes Film Festival for the 26th time.)