Love and Death

Movie Review #753

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Directed by Woody Allen. Written by Woody Allen. Starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. Produced by Charles H. Joffe – A Jack Rollins & Charles H. Joffe Production. Credited cameo: James Tolkan as Napoleon. Uncredited voice cameo: Norman Rose as Death. Distributed by United Artists in New York City, New York on June 10, 1975; and in Los Angeles, California on June 11, 1975. Also released in France on September 10, 1975. Rated PG. Rated 85 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews three stars

Woody Allen began his film career in slapstick mode, and it wasn’t long at all before his slapstick started to fade and his comedy became overtaken by wry, dark dialogue.  Perhaps his sixth film, “Love and Death”, is the breaking point.  We see lots of sight gags going on here, and while the dialogue often contributes to the goofy plot, it also offers a wry investigation of the joy of sex–I mean, love, and the conversely sorrowful state of death.

The title fits like a shoe, if not a sock.  Let’s say it fits like a tourniquet, just to set the mood, since I’m about to describe the plot. Sonja (Diane Keaton) is a woman who sleeps around. A lot. She is in love with her cousin, Ivan, though he dies in a Russian battle against Napoleon. She marries a few times, and everyone she weds seems to kick the bucket spontaneously. Kind of odd, you know? Anyway, her cousin Boris (Woody Allen) is Ivan’s brother, and Boris is in love with Sonja. He wants to have a chance to marry her, so he’s afraid to enter the war. That, and he’s afraid of Death, because Death visited him, dressed in white (not black?) and sporting a scythe, when Boris was about eight years old. Death took interest in him, because Boris wanted to know if there were girls in the afterlife and if there was a god, a heaven, and/or a hell.

I’ll stop myself there, because I could give you scattered bits about the plot for hours. In truth, there is no plot. There must be a goal with each of the characters for there to be a plot, but the characters have already met these goals by the midway mark of the movie. Why is the film going on longer with aimless characters? Are they aimless? Is there some underlying goal that I missed in these people? Do nihilists even have goals? Woody Allen plays a nihilist, and yeah that’s somewhat arguable for all his characters, but this is the closest to Nietzsche we’ve seen him.

Speaking of Nietzsche. Friedrich Nietzsche was a genius. Woody Allen is a genius. Allen never resurrects Nietzschean concepts in any of his work (from what I’ve seen), but he most definitely ranks at the same level of Nietzsche. Every time he argues “There is no god,” it’s as hilarious as when Nietzsche argued that God is dead. And I gladly admit that “Love and Death” starts off fantastically and ends thrice as great. The climax and finale especially deserves their kudos, for two phenomenal monologues, an absurdly in-depth debate on the concept of morality between Keaton and Allen, and Allen’s final rendezvous with Death. The bread, in other words, tastes great in this sandwich.

But all the meat in between the exposition and the denouement (or, depending how you look at it, the catastrophe) plays out unevenly, with few laughs and beaucoup de nonsense. It’d be pretty accurate to say that this is for Woody Allen what “The Twelve Chairs” was for Mel Brooks. They’re comedies about Russia, and furthermore, they’re farces. But looking at the film in an any less superficial manner, “Love and Death” actually feels like a moderately entertaining ménage à trois between Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, and Monty Python. Not to dishonor those three comedy greats, because after all, the key words are “moderately entertaining.”

– Alexander Diminiano

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