Thursday, June 13, 2013
Love and Death
Written, directed, and starring Woody Allen, Love and Death is the story about two people going into various discussions about everything during the Napoleonic era in Russia. Inspired by the Russian literature of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy, the film is a parody of sorts of their work where it plays into big themes about philosophy and such. Also starring Diane Keaton, James Tolkan, Jessica Harper, and Harold Gould. Love and Death is a hilarious and intelligent film from Woody Allen.
The film is set in the 19th Century in Russia where Napoleon Bonaparte (James Tolkan) has invaded the country as war is happening between Russia and France. Yet, it revolves around a man named Boris (Woody Allen) and his distant cousin Sonja (Diane Keaton) as they endure many events during this period where Boris reluctantly becomes a soldier and a war hero while Sonja marries an old man only to have many lovers but no sense of love. When the two are brought together after a duel that Boris had taken part in, questions about love and death emerge while Napoleon has taken Moscow. The two eventually plan an assassination on Napoleon where things don’t go well as the two begin to questions about the moralities of death and such.
Allen’s screenplay explores the relationship between Boris and Sonja where they are both very smart but also flawed as Boris is a coward who is more interested in art than fighting for his country. Sonja is a woman that is in love with one of Boris’ brothers as she resigned her fate to marry old men for money where she takes on many lovers that leaves her unfulfilled. When fate brings them together, they both have aspirations for what they want to do with their lives yet Allen creates a second act where both Boris and Sonja face their own existential crises that would eventually make way for their trek to Moscow to kill Napoleon. Along the way, Allen puts in dialogue that is filled with a lot of discussions on existentialism as well as the idea of love and death which plays into the development of its lead characters.
Allen’s direction is definitely ambitious in the way he presents the film as it’s shot on location in parts of France and Hungary to create a world where things are absurd as well as chaotic. The direction has Allen employing some stylistic gags and comedic moments but also displaying something that is filled with rich imagery including an ode to compositional shots of Ingmar Bergman. Some of the more light-hearted moments in the comedy has Allen utilizing shots that are still filled with some elegance while keeping the comedy subtle. There’s also moments where Allen is taking shots at the period film by employing some anachronistic moments such as him playing cheerleader during a battle or quoting poems and such that came out after the Napoleonic period. Overall, Allen creates a very funny and smart comedy about love and death in all of its absurdities.
Cinematographer Ghislain Choquet does excellent work with the film‘s photography from the use of naturalistic shots in some of the film‘s exterior settings to more stylish looks for its interiors including some of the party scenes that happen. Editors Ralph Rosenblum, Ron Kalish, and George Hively do amazing work with the editing by creating some dazzling rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s battle scenes as well as some of its comedic moments. Art director Willy Holt does wonderful work with the set pieces to play up the look and splendor of early 19th Century houses and rooms.
Costume designer Gladys de Segonzac does fantastic work with the period costumes from the uniforms that Boris wears to the dresses that Sonja wears. Sound mixer Daniel Brisseau does nice work with the sound to capture some of the gags that are played out in some of the funny moments as well as the atmosphere of the battle scenes. The film’s music features pieces by Sergei Prokofiev that is a mix of traditional Russian folk music with orchestral string arrangements to play up some of the film’s humor.
The casting by Miriam Brickman, Juliet Taylor, and Blanche Wiesenfeld is brilliant as it features appearances from Jessica Harper as Sonja’s cousin Natasha, Zvee Scooler as Boris’ idiotic father, Alfred Lutter as the young Boris, Olga Georges-Picot as Countess Alexandrovna whom Boris sleeps with, Harold Gould as the Countess’ fiancée Anton Ivanovich Lebedokov who challenges Boris to a duel, and James Tolkan in a very funny performance as Napoleon Bonaparte and his dim-witted double. Finally, there’s the duo of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in fantastic performances in their respective roles as Boris and Sonja where the two really brings a sense of energy and wit to their roles with Allen as his nebbish persona and Keaton as the more straight person where they are really the highlights of the film.
Love and Death is a phenomenal film from Woody Allen that features great leading performances from Allen and Diane Keaton as well as providing a witty commentary on the Napoleonic period of Russia. It’s also a film that pays tribute to the literature of the time as well as European cinema while balancing it with Allen’s off-kilter approach to humor. In the end, Love and Death is a tremendous film from Woody Allen.
Woody Allen Films: What's Up Tiger Lily? - Take the Money and Run - Bananas - Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) - Sleeper - Annie Hall - Interiors - Manhattan - Stardust Memories - A Midsummer’s Night Sex Comedy - Zelig - Broadway Danny Rose - The Purple Rose of Cairo - Hannah and Her Sisters - Radio Days - September - Another Woman - New York Stories: Oedipus Wrecks - Crimes & Misdemeanors - Alice - Shadows & Fog - Husbands & Wives - Manhattan Murder Mystery - Don’t Drink the Water - Bullets Over Broadway - Mighty Aphrodite - Everyone Says I Love You - Deconstructing Harry - Celebrity - Sweet & Lowdown - Small Time Crooks - The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - Hollywood Ending - Anything Else - Melinda & Melinda - Match Point - Scoop - Cassandra’s Dream - Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Whatever Works - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Midnight in Paris - To Rome with Love - Blue Jasmine - Magic in the Moonlight - Irrational Man - (Cafe Society)
The Auteurs #24: Woody Allen Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4
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