By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) - Woody Allen says his new movie "To Rome, With Love," is a tribute to all the old Italian films that influenced him as a young artist but he has one wish: that more Italians could hear his voice in the original rather than the dubbed versions.
The film, which stars Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page, had its world premiere in the Eternal City on Friday.
Made up of four separate stories, it is his first set in Rome, which Allen called "a feast for a filmmaker". It is also his latest set in a European capital, following London, Barcelona and Paris.
"I grew up on Italian cinema. I have always been an enormous admirer of Italian cinema. Anything that appears in the movie that is redolent of Italian cinema is strictly something that I have absorbed through osmosis over the years and it comes out," he said at a news conference.
"It would have been impossible in the years that I grew up to not have been influenced by the Italian movies that came to New York. These are the films that I saw, my fiends saw, they were very impressive," he said.
Allen, 76, grew up in Brooklyn and, after writing for television, started his career as a stand-up comic in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, where he saw many of the great Italian films of the 1950s and 1960s by directors such as Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini.
"Naturally, when you make films you tend to make the kind of films that you have absorbed and have enjoyed as you developed and you grew up. It's an unconscious influence but a very substantial one," he said.
"To Rome, With Love" is made up of four episodes of adventures and misadventures.
In the first a famous architect played by Alec Baldwin is in Rome on vacation and is reminded of his youth in the city when he meets Jack, played by Jesse Eisenberg.
In the second, Allen plays a retired director who visits Rome and tries to promote the career of a man who sings professional quality opera but only when he is under a shower.
The third stars Oscar-winner Roberto Benigni as a man who wakes up one morning to discover that he has suddenly and inexplicably become famous and is stalked by paparazzi.
"Apart from Penelope Cruze and Ellen Page, I am sure Mr Allen chose me because of my beauty," Benigni joked at the news conference. "I am without a doubt the most handsome of the men in the film. My apologies to Mr Baldwin and Mr Eisenberg."
In the last episode, Penelope Cruz plays a high-class call girl who accidentally finds herself in the wrong hotel room, setting off a chain of comic events involving several couples.
DUBBING "A MIXED BLESSING"
While Allen is a comic superstar in Italy, most Italians have never heard his voice. As in many European countries, Italians' ingrained dislike of subtitles has fed a powerful dubbing industry.
"It's a mixed blessing," Allen said in answer to a question at the news conference attended by all of the movie's stars.
"I don't like dubbing at all. Americans are not used to dubbing. We grew up without dubbing and so it's always very, very strange to us and I am very much against it," he said.
"Whenever I send my films out to European countries I always try to get the prints subtitled if I can but I'm met with resistance because the countries are just not used to subtitles," he said.
But Allen said he has often wondered if he would have been as successful without a dubber.
"Now, having said this I would say that the man who dubbed me for years in Italy, now deceased, made me into a hero ... it was his voice and everybody liked me. I don't know for sure if they had heard my own voice they would have been that responsive to me," he said.
Allen was referring to Oreste Lionello, an Italian comic who died in 2009 and was Allen's voice for decades.
In the newest film, he is dubbed by Leo Gullotta, a famous Italian comedian who has also done serious roles, such as playing the simple small town theatre usher in "Cinema Paradiso", which won the Oscar for the best foreign film in 1989.
"I might have been good anyway, but there is no guarantee of it, so, you know, that's how I feel. I consider myself lucky that I was dubbed even though I don't like the process," he said.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella, editing by Paul Casciato)