Monday, September 11, 2006

Husbands and Wives


Dir: Woody Allen (Annie Hall; Crimes and Misdemeanors; Manhattan; Deconstructing Harry; Hannah and Her Sisters)

Yet another masterpiece of drama from one of cinema's true greats. The deep introspection of the man is on full display here, the final film he would make with by that his ex-wife Mia Farrow. When that couple works through its on-screen relationship (permit me the obvious and constant allusion), it is just like Bergman working through his affair with Liv Ullmann. The tragic flaws of Allen's persona in Deconstructing Harry are here in a milder form, but still showing Allen's increasing frankness with himself.

Six characters predominate. Allen and Farrow are a couple who are forced to examine their marriage after the sudden divorce of their friends, played by Judy Davis and Sydney Pollack. Now that man has some talent; he is great as the stifled and lecherous Jack. Davis as well plays her role with gusto, anrgy and vulnerable and neurotic and yet defiant and strong at the same time. Liam Neeson is OK but not particularly noteworthy, unlike Juliette Lewis in what must easily be her best work as a nymphette who stands as the ultimate temptation for the self destructive Allen.

Lewis has one scene in particular that is among the best of Allen's oeuvre. She has read Allen's manuscript, and is getting up the courage to critique his sexual politics. During a cab ride, the conversation is presented in snippets, the camera continually in close up on her face (ahem, Bergman again). The editing shows us the arc of the conversation in fits and starts, drawing our attention to the changes over time. That cab ride could have taken 5 minutes or 1 hour, we do not know, but we do know that Lewis travelled miles as a woman. The scene's courage, technique, writing and acting are exemplary, the sort of thing I would show in a class about film.

In another jarring scene, Pollack feels compelled to leave a party after his young girlfriend embarasses him among his intellectual friends. A fight ensues, and the thing is real and thrilling that it is almost painful to watch. Masters at the top of their craft across the board.

Allen uses a pseudo-documentary device, having a camera crew interview his actors in character about each other and the development of the story. He almost goes overboard with these things at times, but once again his talent is so strong that they still seem natural. Like Bergman before him (hat trick!), the man is inventive but always in the interests of developing story, not gimmicky or for the sake of cleverness alone.

Husbands and Wives often slips through the cracks of the Allen cult. It shouldn't; I loved the film and give it my highest recommendation.