Saturday, December 20, 2008

Love and Death (1975) A Film by Woody Allen

Love and Death marks the moment in Woody Allen's early career when he had perfected his craft of strictly comedic filmmaking and was prepared to move on first to comedy/dramas and then eventually to the thematically parallel human dramas that epitomize his later work. As such a description should suggest, it is indeed his most hilarious film. Structurally the film is no different than much of his work in which he plays the protagonist; as a youngster he is curious and ahead of his time and as an adult he is ridiculously witty, neurotic, and feverishly attracted to women (however incompetent he seems wooing them). The film begins a la Allen's characteristic voice-over, slyly introducing his character's early life in montage. He is Boris Grushenko, a fearful Russian ignored by his parents and in love with his beautiful friend Sonja (Diane Keaton). When he comes of age and fails to marry Sonja, he is forced into becoming a soldier, a "militant coward" as he remarks, in the Napoleonic Wars. Allen reworks his uncommonly heroic role in the Latin-American army in Bananas by playing a fearful contributor who sees no harm in losing to the French, given the better food that will result. As usual though, Boris somehow finds his way off the battlefield and back with Sonja, ready to propose. What results is Sonja desiring strongly to assassinate Napoleon and Boris getting caught up in the plot.

Allen draws influence from a wide variety of Russian literature, music, and film, as well as using several visual parodies from the work of his idol Ingmar Bergman (visions of "Death" and a two-shot of women in crisis). He finds the perfect balance between physical and verbal comedy, succeeding most in the latter due to his modesty; much of his one-liners are quick offhand comments. A continuous joke throughout the movie is the entertaining philosophical quarrels between Allen and Keaton's characters: they playfully discuss ethics and morals, saying crazy things like "subjectivity is objectivity", and when Sonja attempts to accuse Boris of being jejune, he replies by pronouncing that he is the most "june" of the both of them. There's little more to say without beginning to list off the gags, so I will just strongly recommend Love and Death because it is non-stop laughter.

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