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Love and Death Movie Review

allen boris sonia film

1975 – Woody Allen –

Taking on the melodrama of Russian literature and with sly little send-ups of classic Russian film, Love and Death is the last of the joke-first comedies of Woody Allen, a change of interest lamented by some of his fans, appreciated by others. Following its release, Allen acted in Martin Ritt's movie The Front, about show-business blacklisting during the Red Scare of the 1950s and then with Annie Hall, he began a greater focus on character in his own films, which also grew more personal. (Writer Nancy Pogel speculates that Allen's work in The Front may have in part led to this greater artistic seriousness.) Love and Death is made up of the recollections of Boris (Allen) on the eve of his execution for trying to assassinate Napoleon (James Tolkan). Boris' memories usually dwell on the themes in the title of the film, and the plot concerns his accidental heroism in battle and his love for Sonia (Diane Keaton).

This plot is mainly an excuse to indulge in jokes of all types. Allen satirizes the philosophy and portentousness of Russian literature, the futility of war, the hunger for meaning in life, the need for love, and even the epic as a film genre. The comedy is so wide-ranging that few will probably be equally taken with all of the humor, but then fewer still will find none of it funny. The silliness of some of the jokes turns up in the closeups of Boris' eccentric family—his uncle who seems unable to stop coughing, his grandparents who simply glare at each other, his father who proudly owns a piece of Russia (a hunk of sod he carries under his coat)—as well as in moments when Sonia and Anna divide up their beloved's letters (and Sonia keeps the vowels).

At the opposite, less silly extreme are the mock philosophic debates between Boris and Sonia, a conversation in Boris' cell that somehow works into the dialogue most of the titles of Dostoevsky's writings, and the references to epic films. On Boris and Sonya's wedding night, Allen alludes playfully in a three-shot sequence to the three stone lions in Sergei Eisenstein's Potemkin. One lion slumbers, a second is fully awake, but a third shot of a tired lion replaces that of one roused to ferocity in Eisenstein's film. As the soldiers rush into battle to be slaughtered by the French, Allen intercuts a shot of sheep rushing across a field, an analogy like those in Eisenstein's Strike. Both the esoteric and the mainstream humor have their share of hits and misses. Principally filmed in Budapest and Paris, Love and Death takes a scattershot, but often effective, approach to its comedy.

Cast: Woody Allen (Boris Petrovich Dimitrovich Greshenko), Diane Keaton (Sonia), Henry Czarniak (Ivan), James Tolkan (Napoleon), Jessica Harper (Natasha), Olga Georges-Picot (Countess Alexandrovna), Georges Adet (Old Nehamkin), Harold Gould (Count Anton), Tony Jay (Vladimir Maximovitch), Alfred Lutter III (young Boris), Edward Ardisson (priest), Feodor Atkine (Mikhail), Yves Barsacq (Rimskey), Lloyd Battista (Don Francisco), Jack Berard (General Lecoq), Eva Bertrand (woman in hygiene lesson), George Birt (doctor), Yves Brainville (Andre), Gerard Buhr (servant), Brian Coburn (Dimitri), Henri Coutet (Minskov), Screenwriter: Woody Allen Cinematographer: Ghislain Cloquet Composer: Sergei Prokofiev Producer: Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe for United Artists MPAA Rating: PG Running Time: 85 minutes Format: VHS, LV.

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