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Last Updated: Friday, 13 June, 2003, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Woody Allen: French kissing in the USA
By Chris Jones
BBC News profiles unit

Woody Allen wants a fair wind for France
Archetypal New Yorker Woody Allen is more popular in France than in his home country of America. Now he is assuming the role of marriage counsellor in the very public split between the two countries.

Film-maker Woody Allen has said it's time France and the US sought a new Entente Cordiale after the animosity over the war in Iraq. His plea, in a French tourist board video, underlines a relationship of deep mutual affection between the actor and France.

Robert De Niro, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and the writer, George Plimpton, have also recorded their contribution to the video appeal for a rapprochement, but no one said "yes" quicker than Woody Allen.

He's had enough of "freedom" fries and talk of "cheese-eating surrender monkeys".

On a more serious note, with French trade and tourism still suffering from the backlash of the anti-war stand by the government in Paris, Allen reminds both sides that their friendship goes back "to the birth of these two great democracies".

Robert de Niro
Fellow pro-French ally, Robert de Niro
In recent years, Woody Allen's love affair with France has become even more intense.

In his last film, Hollywood Ending, he played a neurotic American film director whose movie has been panned in his homeland but hailed as a masterpiece by the French.

Humiliated hero

"Woody Allen is probably more popular in France than America," Jerome Herve of the French cultural institute in London, Institut Francais, told BBC News Online.

"They appreciate him perhaps as a caricature - an intellectual New Yorker - to contrast with that of the red-neck. But above all, the French love someone humiliating himself."

Other great heroes of the French include Charlie Chaplin, an undisputed genius blacklisted as a Communist by the United States, and Jerry Lewis.

After eight years, I got up from the couch one day and offered my analyst a draw. We shook hands
Woody Allen
While Lewis's clowning leaves most people in America and Britain stony-faced, the French have made Le Roi du Crazy, as they've dubbed him, a member of the Legion D'Honneur.

The New Yorker columnist, Adam Gopnick, suggests that systematic analysis of the conditions of everyday life seems to be a distinctively French pursuit.

Sole creator

"If you found The Geisha Boy funny, or The Nutty Professor," he says, "then there must be something there, and the French would think you have to take the whole thing seriously.

"These days, though, it's Woody Allen who's the real god in France. He's worshipped."

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France's spilt with the US has harmed its tourism industry
Allen, like Chaplin and Lewis, has won the admiration of an erudite French audience as the "sole creator" of a film and Allen, too, suspects the adoration may stem from the French concept of auteurism, which recognises a film's director as its one true author.

"I suppose you can call me a writer-director, but honestly, I feel like I'm writing with film," he says.

But he accepts that the French idea can be pretentious, smacking of intellectual superiority whereby the refined filmgoer affirms his superiority through his empathy with the great auteurs.

"I don't think my films have been influential in any way whatsoever," he says.

"As for the film-makers that influence me, they were European. The film-makers I loved the most were Bergman, Renoir, Truffaut, Bunuel, Antonioni, Fellini, DeSica."


Speaking at the Cannes film festival last year - one of his rare public appearances - Woody Allen said he always found it amusing and endearing that the French discovered American artists first.

auteur, a film director whose personal influence and artistic control over his or her films are so great that he or she may be regarded as their author, and whose films may be regarded collectively as a body of work sharing common themes or techniques and expressing an individual style or vision
Source: OED
"When you think of Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner, any number of film directors, any number of important jazz musicians, they were all appreciated in France first."

Not that Hollywood has ignored his contribution, giving him an Academy Award for Hannah and Her Sisters and three for Annie Hall.

Allen was apparently unimpressed with the compliment. Oscar night is on a Monday and Monday nights always find him playing clarinet at Michael's Pub on New York's East Side.

His motives for not appearing, though, were subjected to the kind of analysis experienced by the archetypal Allen on screen: the neurotic, fast-talking, therapy-seeking, New York-centric, Jewish male who has problems with women.

Couched conversation

It is common knowledge that Woody Allen spent years in psychoanalysis, although, he says: "After eight years, I got up from the couch one day and offered my analyst a draw. We shook hands."

Woody Allen and Soon Yi
Woody Allen with his wife, Soon Yi
Since Allen is popularly considered to be one of the most explicitly autobiographical film-makers of his generation, the scrutiny of his films for insights to their creator has intensified since the scandal of his split from long term lover Mia Farrow and his marriage to her stepdaughter, Soon Yi.

But for film critic David Thomson, Allen has "always insisted on making movies about his own angst as a cunning diversion from true self-examination".

"No director works so hard to appear at a loss," says Thomson. "He is so near to Bergman, yet so timid about the Swede's strength of commitment."

Allen confirms: "I've always had a greater admiration for Bergman and Chekhov than for the comic people that I'm supposed to like."

But then the French auteurists realised that long ago.

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