| Dir: Woody Allen
“I just long so to hear certain things said to me again. I want so much to respond, but I can only run.”
Allen pulls double duty for 1987, after releasing Radio Days at the beginning of the year. But it should really be recognised as triple duty. The film eventually released as September was in fact rewritten and re-shot with half the cast changed. The original was fully edited, but Woody felt unsatisfied with it and wanted to do re-shoots, so he just filmed the entire thing again. The original cast included Christopher Walken (too macho sexy), Sam Shepard (not interested in acting enough to do a re-shoot), Charles Durning (miscast) and Farrow’s own mother, ’30s movie star Maureen O’Sullivan, as her mother – much the same as her smaller role in Hannah and Her Sisters.
This is an atmospheric Bergman and Chekhov inspired chamber piece of repressed emotions and regret. In standard fashion for the worlds of Woody Allen, this universe is viewed as “haphazard, morally neutral and unimaginatively violent”. The lives of the people here are as vulnerable as the flickering flames from the candles keeping the country house barely illuminated that evening. They’re all escaping New York for individual reasons and seeking refuge in the countryside, but in the process of their procrastination are going through the motions in life. Allen calls this “unfulfilled passions”, a theme present in many of his films but with strongest resemblance to that of Joey in Interiors (with a clear parallel of selfish mother figures causing eternal pain in their children’s lives) and Cristina in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. As Allen sensitively states:
“To me the most tragic, the most sad quality is if a person has a profound feelings about life, about existence and religion and love and the more deep aspects of life, and that person is not gifted enough to be able to express it.”
These are people infused with loneliness, despondent about their existing circumstances and with a vision for how to change it – but the person to fulfill that has someone else in mind to fulfill theirs. Unrequited love and everyone longing for the wrong person is an unashamedly borrowed trope from Chekhov but this is understated, subtle and unobtrusive work from Allen, Carlo Di Palma (who views this as his best work out of 12 films with Allen) and the cast. These are ironic traits considering that Allen wanted a theatrical feel to the piece. It’s formed by long takes, a clear scene structure, defined character entrances/exits, beautiful mise-en-scene with some great monologues and duologues. Renowned Broadway performer Elaine Stritch is absolutely fabulous, Mia Farrow’s emotional outburst in the third act is affecting, and Dianne Wiest and Sam Waterston have a nice lustful tension between their mere close bodily proximity.
But for all its theatrical conventions and conflict present, it’s dry and lacks the energy that Woody’s films have never suffered from. Stagnation creeps in to the pace and the issues behind the drama are only thinly explored on a surface level, leading to muddied and superficial exposition regarding character relationships. It doesn’t help that most of the main characters are irritably self-pitying and indecisive. After his superlative run since Zelig in 1983 – and arguably since Annie Hall 10 films ago – this feels like a comedown. It’s an appreciatively well made film, but suffers from its chronological context within Allen’s canon.
Like his previous introspective drama, Interiors, there isn’t much comedy to appease the casual fan. The most amusing thing here is that someone actually shows remorse at committing adultery in a Woody Allen film. It’s also interesting that the story of a mother forcing her daughter to lie in court would resurface (slander and unproven) in real life for Woody and Mia. But there are a couple of little lines here and there: “You’re young, you’re lovely. Although you dress like a Polish refugee”. Unfortunately there’s also another throwaway reference to rape. But while it may be lesser Woody Allen (and his lowest grossing film to date) even within only his dramatic work, he still manages to showcase his way with words:
“It’s hell getting older, especially when you feel 21 inside. All the strengths that sustain you all through your life just vanish one by one. And you study your face in the mirror, and you notice something’s missing. And then you realise it’s your future. “
However, it’s not quite as good as another other film named September.
Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing.