| Dir: Woody Allen
“If you lusted after me so, why weren’t you also in love with me? Can the two feelings really be separate?”
Allen continues his European fixation here with inspiration from Bergman’s Smiles On A Summer Night. Wanting to do for the countryside what he did for New York in Manhattan, it’s delectably shot by Gordon Willis and visually evokes every glorious summer night memory of inexplicable pleasure. But the beauty is only skin deep as this is a light and forgettable frolic among unfavorable company.
The dreamlike presence pervading Allen’s previous release, Stardust Memories, isn’t continued for this parodied title from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But there are similarities the the Bard’s finest comedy in a plot of tangling of romancing between couples within the environment of an enchanted woods. Where the mix up in lovers in the play is a case of magical mistaken identity , here it comes from the raw energy of lust. “Pure animal passion”, as Mia Farrow’s Ariel puts it. This amalgamation of lust and love is one of Allen’s biggest irritants for me. For all his romantic notions, and a lot of his work is magnificently romantic, he can disintegrate it all into smut so quickly. All that these people require to fall in love with someone’s partner is 10 minutes alone of talking. They’re madly in love enough to attempt putting a bullet through their head at the thought of not being able to have them, without any comedic context to the action. They believe in love, and sex, but only love at first sight. When sex between them produces no spark or chemistry, then their love dissipates. Their romantic motivations simply feel false.
All this makes it more akin to A Midsummer Night’s Melodrama, rather than a comedy. It’s periodically amusing, but there is a distinctly lower output of clever observational humour and laugh out loud witticisms. The ensemble cast do however make a good job of distinguishing their characters’ idiosyncrasies from one another. It’s also a testament to Farrow’s talent, in her first of 13 Allen films, that she takes on a role written for Diane Keaton (who was busy with Reds and Shoot the Moon) and makes it look like Keaton couldn’t play it better. I’m perplexed that her performance here won a Razzie Award. It’s understated work and a weak character not written for accolades. But she has such a radiating and, appropriately here, ethereal quality.
This is the first film of his career to feel truly inconsequential and trivial. It’s not necessarily lesser Woody Allen, because it’s certainly not a bad film. But it is minor and modest, which is usually what you get when you write the script on a whim in 2 weeks and decide to shoot it because you’re bored when not working on Zelig. Allen defends the film by saying “I wanted it to be a small intermezzo…a bonbon, a little desert or something”. It feels more like the pretty decorative icing on a Woody Allen career cake; excessive and unnecessary. And there’s a lot more of that to come, but not for over a decade.
Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing.