Saturday, April 30, 2011

#267. Love and Death (1975)

Directed By: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Harold Gould

Tag line: "The Comedy Sensation Of The Year!"

Trivia:  Woody Allen claims that, of all the movies he's done, this is his favorite and most personal.

Love and Death acts as a gateway between the two “careers” of Woody Allen, combining his early, madcap comedies (Bananas, Sleeper) with the analytical films (Annie Hall, Manhattan) that would soon follow. As such, Love and Death works on two levels; inviting us to ponder life’s loftier meaning while, at the same time, giving us plenty to laugh about.

Boris (Woody Allen), a 19th century Russian peasant, is in love with his beautiful cousin Sonja (Diane Keaton). But before Boris gets a chance to confess these feelings, he’s drafted into the army to fight for Mother Russia, which has been invaded by Napoleon. 

A coward at heart, Boris nonetheless (and quite accidentally) proves himself a hero in battle and returns home a new man, intent on winning Sonja's heart. Unfortunately, cousin Sonja is a bit preoccupied at the moment, what with her boring husband (), her many lovers, and her recently-hatched plan to assassinate Napoleon. Before Boris knows what's hit him, he's been recruited to assist her!

Any fan of Allen’s zany humor will find plenty of it in Love and Death. While telling us about his family, Boris (who also acts as the film's narrator) relates the story of a piece of property his father owned, which made the old man very proud. “True, it was a small piece”, Boris says over an image of his father holding a lump of sod, “but he carried it with him wherever he went”. 

In addition to the guffaws, Allen also manages to examine the more serious aspects of life, yet does so with his tongue planted firmly in cheek. Along with love, romance and death, the writer/director sets his sights on the atrocities of war, taking direct aim at both the insanity of battle and the rigid codes inherent in a military system. During basic training, Boris often finds himself at odds with his drill sergeant (Frank Adu, who plays the part as is he were training troops on Parris Island). When the sergeant asks the unwilling Boris if he’s trying to get himself a dishonorable discharge, Boris replies, “Yes sir, either that or a furlough”. As you might expect from a film set in the Russia of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, there are serious topics at play in Love and Death, yet every probing discussion is as funny as it is intriguing.

In Love and Death, comedy and philosophy work in unison to create one of the most unique movies in Woody Allen’s filmography. Who else but he could deliver both a debate on the subjectivity of morality and a scene with a vendor selling hot dogs in the middle of a battlefield? With Love and Death, Allen has given us the best of both his worlds.

No comments: