Woody Allen directs a scene from "To Rome With Love." (Philippe Antonello (c) Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)
Woody Allen directs a scene from "To Rome With Love." (Philippe Antonello (c) Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

HOLLYWOOD, California - Most Woody Allen films are set in New York but, in the past few years, the writer-director has branched out to London, Barcelona, Paris and now Rome.

Allen's latest comedy, "To Rome With Love," is a collection of separate stories.

The film begins with the camera moving past ancient ruins, classic fountains and modern skyscrapers while the 1950's hit, "Volare," plays in the background. A Roman policeman directing the notorious traffic turns to greet the audience.

Then, Allen presents tourists and locals falling in love, a business executive who becomes a celebrity, and an opera-singing undertaker, each in separate vignettes.

Eternal City Shines in Woody Allen's 'To Rome With Love'

"A terrible title, incidentally," Allen says. "My original title was "The Bop Decameron" and nobody knew what "The Decameron" was, not even in Rome. Even the Italians didn't know."

"The Decameron" is a 14th century Italian novel which consists of 100 tales.

The script for Allen's 43rd film partly grew out of random ideas he'd squirreled away on his desk.

"There will be a little note written on a matchbook or on a piece of paper that says, for example, 'A man who can only sing in the shower,'" Allen says. "It will occur to me at the time that this could make a funny story."

Italian tenor Fabio Armiliato plays the man who sings in the shower but loses his voice on stage in front of an audience.

Another vignette features newlywed Antonio, whose honeymoon is interrupted by Anna, a voluptuous prostitute who mistakes him for a client she was paid to entertain.

"She is a character that has no filter in her brain and says everything the way that she feels," says actress Penelope Cruz, who portrays the prostitute. "It is so liberating and refreshing to be able to play somebody like that."

(From left) Alessandro Tiberi, Roberto Della Casa
(From left) Alessandro Tiberi, Roberto Della Casa and Penélope Cruz in Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love." (Philippe Antonello ©Gravier Productions/Sony Pictures Classics)

"To Rome With Love" features Allen's return to the big screen in an acting role, something he hasn't done in his past six films.

"Only because there was a part for me," he says. "When I write a script, if there's a part for me, then I play it."

Allen says he chose Rome for practical reasons because backers put up the money for a film to be shot there.

Co-star Alec Baldwin believes the locale created a light, breezy atmosphere.

"I think Italy and Rome have more of a sense of humor than a lot of other places I've been," he says. "I mean every cliche I'd heard about it was true. It was so pleasant and relaxed to shoot there."

"To Rome With Love" also features Italian comic star Roberto Benigni, Australian actress Judy Davis and rising young Americans Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig.