Aug. 29, 2005
Love and Death (1975)
Grade: 52/100

Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Jessica Harper

What it's about. A lighthearted satire of Russia during the Napoleonic invasion (1812). Boris (Woody Allen) loves Sonja (Diane Keaton), but their romance is threatened by wars, affairs, and murder plots.

How others will see it. Love and Death followed Sleeper, and although the settings are widely different, both films share the same absurd spirit. Our heroes get into and out of trouble, but even death is not to be feared, since after all it is just a movie, and it's all for laughs.

Since it is simply a farce, the plot is ankle-deep instead of waist-deep, and the characters, even those of the leads, are ambivalent at best, and caricatures at worst. Of course, Napoleon is depicted as a conceited womanizer, because that suits his big scene (or that of his double). Boris professes to be a coward, but he faces death again and again without fear, because a straight face generates more laughs.

Will audiences enjoy it? Certainly, Diane Keaton is pretty, and she has many close-ups. A couple of other pretty women also appear, and get close-ups too. Not that this makes the movie any better, but for a large portion of the audience, lovely faces make the time pass more agreeably.

Is it funny? For the most part, yes. Boris is seen going off to war with a butterfly net and his mounted butterfly display. A preposterous sight gag, but funny for that very reason.

How I felt about it. There are many better Woody Allen films than Love and Death. There are fewer funnier movies, but this is not really our concern. Most comedies are hit and miss, and Love and Death is not an exception.

What doesn't work? The fourth, or fifth, send-up of philosophical discussion between Boris and Sonja? Boris visited by an angel providing a faulty vision? The characters with pointless bits, such as the cookie eating village idiot, Berdykov?

Well, I suppose, Berdykov is a satire of something or other that I haven't read or seen. If I had caught the cultural reference, whatever it may be, would that make the character funny? Probably not.

One reference I did catch was Woody Allen as the late Boris, dancing with death, a satire of the famous final shot from Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal. It's not funny either, nor are the recitations of "Wheat!", probably another 'reference' that I would be aware of if I was truly wordly. Sigh.

But it is fully when Woody Allen flirts with a jealous man's wife, hiding and revealing his smirking face with a fan, as if he was a teenaged coquette. It's not so funny when he gets shot out of a cannon. Hasn't that been done before?

Hit or miss, hot or cold. If the gags and jokes sometimes work and sometimes don't, the silly spirit remains the same. The point may be pointless, but the ride is entertaining enough, often enough, to get by.

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