Woody Allen's film premiere rekindles 'Dolce Vita' Rome

US director Woody Allen on Friday premiered his latest film "To Rome With Love" in which he stars alongside Penelope Cruz, rekindling some "Dolce Vita" glamour from the movie heyday of the Eternal City.

"It's like no other city. It's extremely exotic!" Allen told reporters at a press conference in a luxury hotel in the Italian capital alongside fellow stars Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg and Oscar-winning comedian Roberto Benigni.

"I grew up on Italian cinema," said the famously neurotic New Yorker.

"It would have been impossible in the years that I grew up not to be influenced by the Italian movies that were coming out in New York," he said.

Asked why some of his most recent films like "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Midnight in Paris" always seem to be set in European cities he quipped: "I could not make films in some rural place or in the desert.

"These cities are very similar to New York in terms of energy and culture. It's easy to live in them and to find stories there."

A question about his breathless film-a-year record also elicited a half-joking response from the 76-year-old comedy legend.

"It's a great distraction... If I wasn't making a movie, I'd be sitting at home obsessing over how terrible life is," he said.

"To Rome With Love" is made up of four vignettes and producers characterised it as "a carefree comedy, a kaleidoscopic film."

Benigni, who shot to international fame with his bittersweet Holocaust comedy "Life is Beautiful", plays an ordinary man mistaken for a celebrity and chased by paparazzi as he goes about his daily life.

"It's so rare to have a film in Italy! It's like a lunar eclipse!" said the famously hyperbolic actor, who won three Oscars in 1999 and made an impression at the award ceremony by climbing over the seats to the stage.

"We have someone for which our century will be remembered," he said, defining Allen as "a unique cross between Ingmar Bergman and Groucho Marx."

Benigni hinted that the film, shot last year and distributed by flamboyant former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset company, reflected some of the atmosphere of scandal of the billionaire's last months in power.

"The film is set in the Italy of that time. We had our prime minister, we had the escorts, we had parties... Now we have penniless pensioners, rain and (Prime Minister Mario) Monti. The situation has really changed!"

In the film, Baldwin is a famous architect who bumps into a young man played by Jesse Eisenberg of "Social Network" fame and re-lives his youth.

Penelope Cruz plays a prostitute who spends the day with a young man with puritanical parents who is separated from his wife-to-be for a day.

At the press conference, Baldwin joked that he had mistakenly read the script and understood that he would be a character who gets to make love to Cruz in his hotel room. "I immediately said yes," he said.

Cruz said Allen had given her "a jewel of a character" and said the director was "peculiar" and "mesmerising". "I always drive him crazy with a thousand questions. There is absolutely no bullshit in his personality."

Fans of Allen's films have seen signs of a creative revival for the master after his 1970s classics such as "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan" with "Match Point" in 2006 -- a dark thriller that marked an unusual departure from comedy.

Last year's "Midnight in Paris" -- a homage to the Golden Age of the French capital -- also won acclaim and box office success, as well as bagging the cult director his fourth Academy Award for best original screenplay.

Born Allen Konigsberg on December 1, 1935, to a family of second generation Jewish immigrants in New York, Allen said he spent much of his Brooklyn childhood alone in his room, practising magic tricks or playing the clarinet.

He was reportedly hired while only a teenager to write one-liners for well-known comedians of the day. He studied film at New York University but was kicked out for failing a course before going on to work as a stand-up comedian.

He wrote for television in the late 1950s and early 1960s before making his film debut in 1966 with "What's Up, Tiger Lily?". He has written and directed more than 40 films in a career spanning nearly half a century.

His homage to Rome also marks a return to the spotlight for the Italian capital, whose mix of ancient Roman ruins and Baroque facades provided the setting to film classics "Roman Holiday" (1953) and "La Dolce Vita" (1960).

Wearing a fisherman's hat and his trademark thick-framed glasses, Allen was seen filming last summer, including at the Spanish Steps -- the backdrop to a famous scene of "Roman Holiday" with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

Among other shooting locations were the Colosseum, Via del Corso and Via Veneto -- the hub of Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" which famously coined the word "paparazzo" to describe celebrity-hunting photographers.

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