Friday, December 08, 2006

Another Woman


Dir: Woody Allen (The Purple Rose of Cairo; Love and Death; Husbands and Wives; Annie Hall; Crimes and Misdemeanors; Manhattan; Deconstructing Harry; Hannah and Her Sisters)

Shame on me for never having seen this film before. It's so smart and penetrating, a focused piece of psychology that is exactly what quality films should aspire to be. And yet, I had never heard of it before, and only queued it up in the interests of completing Allen's ouevre. A tucked away work of brilliance.

Gena Rowlands plays a philosophy professor who sublets an apartment where she intends to write a book. Next door, and audible through the duct work, a therapist examines Mia Farrow. The patient is pregnant and in the midst of a crushing midlife crisis that flirts with suicide. By eavsdropping on the sessions, Rowlands reexamines her own life, the choices she has made and the coldness of her relations with those around her. It is straight up Bergman (probably why I liked it so), even with the naked narration setting plot points and motivations.

Most of the film consists in frank conversations between Rowland and her husband, former suitor, step daughter or brother. The writing is highly theatrical, dense and intellectual. Indeed, the stage itself becomes an important metaphor in a dream sequence that allows Allen to be even more penetrating in his examination of this woman's psyche without the censoring blanket of convention hanging over the characters.

Ian Holm and Gene Hackman play the men in Rowlands, both as brilliant as you would expect from the amount of talent assembled on the set of this movie. A decrepit John Houseman, in his final performance, plays her bitter and regretful father, with one confessional scene in particular burning right to the core of the audience. No veneer of humor or whismy here, just raw honesty and subtle psychology.

My viewing companion made the important observation that Another Woman may triumph most in its choice to examine the life of a middle aged woman, a subjet matter so rare in film. Bergman does it, and Allen's reverence for the man translates into a highly worthy contribution to the themes that the great Swede explores in his work.

Another Woman is a real gem, a difficult and rewarding viewing experience that (I find myself writing this a lot lately) rates among the best of Allen's incomprable catalogue.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Purple Rose of Cairo


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

My favorite Fellini film (so far) is Nights of Cabiria. It is hard to find a better juxtaposition of crushing life experience with transcendent human spirit and hope. Comedic and tragic, real and magical, it is a brilliant movie.

The Purple Rose of Cairo is not quite that good, but in its exploration of similar themes it puts in a monumental showing itself. Mia Farrow is a woman in a loveless and abusive marriage during the Depression. She escapes through the cinema and the sweeping lives of playboys and adventurers on the screen. One day, one of the actors in a movie she has seen several times walks off the screen. He himself seeks escape into reality, and the rest of the film explores themes of romance and reality, and the elusiveness of happiness. Allen takes a story that could easily have been one-note and augments it in suprising ways that I will not divulge here. But these twists open up new aspects of his theme, keeping the film from becoming a gimmick and nothing else.

Farrow is never my favorite actress, but she gives one of her best performances here. The standouts are Daniels and Danny Aiello as the abusive husband. The latter provides some moments of true menace among the whirlygig of the films and the romance, a reminder (along with the bread lines) of the harsh reality that films help us escape. The former plays a duel role with sufficient contrast to make it work.

The most overt Fellini reference comes at the end, where Allen lifts the ending to Cabiria. It was, for me, in both instances, one of the best film moments I have ever seen. It melts the heart of even this gruff cynic. Simple, subtle, honest, beuatiful, both endings are the perfect embodiement of "bittersweet." All of the events in both films lead up to that last moment, a testament to the patience of both directors and the focus of their vision.

Purple Rose is without a doubt among Allen's best, less complex or intellectual than some of his others but no less technically sound or well thought out. Romantic comedy at its highest form. A totally satisfying film experience, which is pretty much the point of the film.


Scary Mary

It's final's week. You can't expect too much. In the meantime:
Dude, weak.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Young Girls of Rochefort


Dir: Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; Donkey Skin)

Demy's flirtation with the American musical continues, and this time he's got the king of the genre involved. Gene Kelly lip syncs some French, everyone lip syncs some songs, and the return on our investement is a flat, forced film that seems artificial. What should be all charm and lightness ends up being a movie going through the motions.

Catherine Deneuve and Danielle Darriuex are sisters in a small town looking for romance and art through a move to Paris. Their mother owns a cafe, and everyone has either a long-lost love or some mind's eye vision of the perfect mate, and the film slowly brings everyone closer to fulfillment. Musical and dance numbers guide us along, and the choreography stands out here for its mediocrity. At this point in the evolution of musicals, we are well beyond the tired and repetitive ensemble dancing presented here. The songs are better, but not great.

Legrand was much better writing for Umbrellas. In fact, everything was better about Umbrellas. There, genuine emotion and quality acting undergirded a sweet and simple love story. Here, derivative cliche dominates. In Umbrellas, the music furthered characterization and story. Here, the songs are throw away reflections on puppy love and youth. Of course, in both, Demy's unforgiveable penchant for dubbed singing and dialogue detracts. But in Rochefort, the starting position was already poor.

There is some nice spectacle here, some good color and set design. And Gene Kelly, even in a role like this, deserves attention in everything he does. But this film belongs well near the bottom of your New Wave viewing list.