Monday, October 09, 2006

Love and Death


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

Odd little Allen film, a comedy set in Russia during the Napoleonic wars. While the setting is period, the humor is classic Allen, transporting his brand of philosophical and psychoanalytic verbal humor and physical comedy without too much translation for the setting. While the film is funny, the redundancy of the writing puts Love and Death back among the pack of Allen's early comedies.

Allen is a waifish pacifict who is forced into fighting for Russia after Napoleon invades. He is in love with Diane Keaton, who in turn pines for his older, more brutish brother. Through the standard comedy set of plot points, Allen and Keaton make a bid to assasinate Napoleon. The signature of the film are a series of philosophical discussions about good and evil, the nature of love, ethics, and metaphysics. They are humorous, but I do think Allen goes to the well a few times too often to ensure the premise is kept fresh. There are allusions to Russian literature that lend a satisfying sense of recognition to those who have read their Dostoevsky, and the philosophical jokes are learned enough that it is safe to call the film intellectual.

However, the humor drops off quite a bit in the second half as the novelty wears off. In many ways, the film feels experimental. Allen is playing around with the genre that he did more than anyone else to resurrect, the screwball comedy. While Bananas was less intellectual, and Sleeper broader and more physical, both were also funnier than Love and Death. It is easy to see Allen's decision to leave screwball behind and write more sophisticated, character driven comedies in the 80's. He is looking for something deeper here, but does not really deliver it.

The film is fair. For Allen completists (like myself) only.