Woody Allen talks life and death in Cannes

'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' screened Saturday

CANNES -- The trick with directing movies is to be "a good hirer." How much do you have to do as a director? "Hardly anything at all," said the typically self-deprecating Woody Allen during his hourlong encounter with the international press Saturday after the world premiere screening of his new movie in Cannes. "Just keep your mouth shut and collect the pay check."

This from the film director that the French at least consider the American auteur par excellence.

Unlike his "Vicki Cristina Barcelona" two years ago, which competed in the official Competition, "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" screened out of contention but, like its predecessor, drew an equally standing-room-only crowd of reporters to the Palais.

Allen was flanked by the stars of the pic, Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin, who play a married couple in this wryly realized concoction, as well as by co-stars Gemma Jones and Lucy Punch.

Asked if he'd like to live to100 like the director Manuel De Oliviera, whose latest film unspooled here Friday, Allen, who is 74, said he would if he could do it like the Portuguese helmer -- not "dribbling, or hooked up."

In short, "his relationship with death is 'I'm strongly against it,' " which, not surprisingly, elicited a lot of laughter from the journalists.

Allen went on to say that his perspective hasn't changed since he was 6: "My view of life is grim and pessimistic. There's no advantage in getting older; it's a bad business. I advise you not to do it." (The title of the film is even ambiguous: The stranger may not be Antonio Bandera and company at all, but Death himself.)

By and large, the actors on the podium politely disagreed with Allen's unflinchingly but amusingly communicated skepticism.

"He's honest about his perspective," Brolin said, before adding, though not really "all that humble."

"Woody creates electricity on the set. He doesn't say much. You'd rather have someone screaming at you. But ..."

More Cannes coverage  
As for when audiences will next see Allen in a movie, the director admitted that having grown older, "it's no fun NOT playing the part of the guy who gets the girl." Even doing the narration himself, he said would be distracting: "If I did it, it would change (the tone) in some way," before riffing on the fact that at his age he couldn't remember the name of "the very good actor" who did do the voiceover in the present film!

His own cinematic tastes these days, he said, veers away from Hollywood studio fare, which doesn't interest him, but rather toward foreign movies that at least manage to get distributed in the States, be they Mexican, Iranian, Chinese or European.

Two actors he'd still like to work with, were the story to call for it: Cate Blanchett and Reese Witherspoon.