Sunday, December 2, 2012

Love and Death (1975) Review

Woody Allen's Love and Death posterDirector: Woody Allen
Stars: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Jessica Harper
Genre: Comedy, Parody, Satire

Love and Death is the film where Woody Allen really started to show his true genius. Prior to this he had many good films (see my review for Sleeper) but from here on out he put out his best and most memorable work.

This is the third film to feature the Keaton-Allen collaboration, and though their chemistry together may still not be as good as it was in 1977's Annie Hall, it is much better and more natural than in the previous two. So yeah, it's still pretty damn good.

I need not explain with every Woody Allen review how well he portrays relationships on the screen. I will only say this: No one is better than Woody Allen when it comes to accurately portraying relationships in films in a convincing and believable, natural manner. 

Though Love and Death may not be the best example of Woody's talent of portraying relationships, it's more of a slapstick adventure comedy rather than romance, but the genius is still present.

Love and Death follows a cowardly Russian man named Boris (Allen) during the early 1800s who falls in love with his cousin Sonja (Keaton) whom does not share the same feeling for him. Boris ends up being forced to enlist to fight in the war against the French and Napoleon. Some crazy stuff happens and there's assassination attempts and Woody Allen being launched through a cannon and other real swell stuff like that. It really is a wild ride. 

The film not only parodies war, with Woody Allen goofing about in boot camp in in battle at every chance he gets, but it is also a satire of early Russian literature with over-dramatic and romanticizing dialogue. Both these factors lead to some great laughs. I'm sure if I was more familiar with classic European literature I would have even enjoyed it more. However I did catch a few well-crafted contemporary Euro-cinema references.

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Love and Death

The 19th century setting is surprisingly believable and I must compliment the great set and costume design. It really creates a believable world with a very Russian atmosphere. A pleasant surprise for a comedy film. Even the soundtrack has compositions by Sergei Prokofiev, a Russian composer.

The humor here I found to be hilarious. I can truly say this is one of the funniest films I've ever seen and definitely one of my favorite Woody Allen films, maybe even surpassing Annie Hall, for me. Woody Allen's caricature is at his best here, giving him a variety of situations to make us laugh in. From fighting in the war, to flirting with a woman, to attempting an assassination, to pistol dueling, it's all hilarious. The jokes are varied too; there's slapstick, punchline jokes, clever references, anachronisms, fourth wall jokes, funny facial expressions, even philosophical debate is turned into a laugh.

Woody Allen's hilariously funny face in Love and Death
This face will never seize to make me laugh.

A few times throughout the film Woody Allen and Diane Keaton burst out into philosophical debate, whether it be about death, God, or whatever. It intentionally disrupts the pacing of the film with an obviously recited debate, and it just manages to be funny as hell, not to mention very interesting and engaging.
"To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you're getting this down."
Woody Allen is openly inspired by the likes of The Marx Brothers or Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, but in Love and Death, perhaps more than any of his other films, it really feels like I'm watching a Marx Brothers film, and that is a compliment of the highest regard.

Jessica Harper (Suspiria) looked absolutely beautiful in here and James Tolkan gave an outstanding performance as Napoleon.

Woody Allen and the Grim Reaper in Love and Death

I really can't say enough about this film, it is an underrated comedy classic and some of Woody Allen's best work. It comes very close to a 5/5 and I suspect that when I watch it again I may even change the rating to make it so. Oh, and Diane Keaton looks like Princess Leia in one scene.

4.5/5 stars

Purchase Love and Death on Amazon: DVD - VHS - Woody Allen Essentials Collection

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