Woody Allen's 'To Rome With Love' Draws Mixed Response in Italy at World Premiere

Sony Pictures

Critics cite "superficial" depiction of the Italian capital, but Roberto Benigni steals the show at jovial press event for the auteur's follow-up to "Midnight in Paris."


ROME -- Woody Allen’s To Rome With Lovepremiered Friday in the city where it was filmed, with the main members of the cast on hand and the 76-year-old Allen giving a few hints about what he’ll do next.

Although the feature, shown in Italy in a version dubbed into Italian, received some mixed reviews after a press screening earlier in the day, Allen and the cast appeared to enjoy the event.

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The film is Allen’s seventh in seven years set in a major European city, following productions in London, Barcelona and Paris. Its cast includes Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg and Roberto Benigni -- all of whom were in Rome for the events surrounding the world premiere.

Ellen Page and Greta Gerwig, the film’s other stars, did not make the trip to Rome.

The day’s events -- which included a press screening of the film, a news conference with Allen and the other stars and an evening gala premiere to raise money for charity -- were carefully scripted, which helped compensate for mixed reviews of the film from the Italian press. Much of the critical comments, however, were about what one questioner called Allen’s "superficial" portrayal of Rome, something the filmmaker said missed the point.

"I give you my own interpretation of Rome in the film, and I don’t pretend to have any insights about the culture or the politics,” he said. “We set out to make a film set in Rome that's entertaining to watch, and that’s what we did."

The film’s stars showered Allen with praise during the press briefing, with Benigni and Cruz the most enthusiastic.

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"He’s wonderful, unique, a genius, and he always leaves me wanting more, since unfortunately I was on the set for To Rome With Love and Vicky Cristina Barcelona only for three or three and a half weeks each," said Cruz, a native Spanish speaker who answered questions in a mix of Italian and English.

"I could spend hours on the set just watching him work," she added. "I could go on and on. …"

"Please do go on," Allen deadpanned.

Allen took the opportunity to clear up some misconceptions about him. For example, after acting in his 2006 film Scoop, he did not appear in another film until To Rome With Love, but he said he never swore off acting. "If there’s a role for me, I’ll act," he said. "And as I get older, those roles are less frequent."

More significant, Allen quashed rumors that in keeping with his recent European theme, his next film would be set in Copenhagen.

"I don’t know where that came from, but I assure you: I have not spoken to anyone in Copenhagen, I don’t know anyone in Copenhagen, and I have no plans to make a film in Copenhagen," he noted. Instead, he said his next project will be set in San Francisco, with sections shot in his traditional New York stomping grounds. He did not rule out returning to Europe after that.

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Asked why he elected to start making Europe-based films after a 30-year career making films that mostly were set in New York, Allen said that large European cities were not that different from the Big Apple.

"The spirit of London or Barcelona or Paris or Rome is very similar to that of New York," Allen said. "There are cosmetic differences, of course, but the spirit is similar, so it’s not so hard to find stories. I would have a hard time finding stories if I was asked to make a film in a rural setting or in the desert. But not in big cities."

Allen said he grew up watching Italian cinema, but he said that any tribute to directors such as Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini or Federico Fellini was unintentional. "It’s an unconscious influence but a very substantial one," he said.

Billionaire media tycoon and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi came up in the news conference twice, both times in an unflattering way: once when a reporter asked Allen if his view of Rome as shown in the film was adversely colored by the years when Berlusconi was prime minister and again amid speculation that Benigni’s character in the film -- who wakes up to discover he has become famous and who eventually becomes drawn to parties and prostitutes -- might have been inspired by the colorful Berlusconi. Both points were sidestepped, but they caused visible discomfort to Berlusconi associate Giampaolo Letta, from Berlusconi-controlled Medusa, one of the film’s producers.

Despite all that, the overall mood at the standing-room-only event was light and playful, with Benigni, the lone Italian actor at the briefing, stealing the show.

"Aside from Penelope Cruz and Ellen Page, I am sure Mr. Allen chose me because of my great beauty," Benigni said with Allen next to him, shaking his head and smiling. "I am without a doubt the most handsome man in the film, with apologies to Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Eisenberg, who are also quite handsome but obviously not as much as me."

Later, he offered journalists at the briefing a faux scoop: "I will tell you something Mr. Allen confided in me," Benigni joked, lowering his voice. “He said he wants his next film to star me, and he said it will be set partially in Copenhagen and partially in the desert.”

To Rome With Love will open April 20 in Italy, Letta said, with about 600 copies distributed nationwide. It is scheduled to open in the U.S. on June 22, and across Europe later in the summer.