| Dir: Woody Allen
“I wonder if a memory is something you have or something you’ve lost.”
Before Allen took a modern swing at Tennessee Williams and deception in his last Oscar winner, 2013’s Blue Jasmine, he explored a less melodramatic kind of mid-life crisis in Another Woman. It came at a time when his relationship with Mia Farrow – who features here as Hope, pregnant with who would become
Satchel Ronan Farrow and giving up the lead role because of that – was beginning to show private signs of breakdown and abandonment through accusations of deception. The other woman in their private life at this time was actually another girl, Mia’s (and then Woody’s legally) adopted daughter Dylan, who Mia felt Woody was showing a disproportionate amount of attention and affection to – effectively stealing his love from her. In fact, Hope’s first speech to her psychiatrist about being deceived could almost be taken from Mia’s own words in court (or in her own psychiatry sessions) just a few years later, surrounding her other adopted daughter Soon-Yi’s affair with Woody. How prescient of Allen, whose final roles he gave to Farrow (Hannah and Her Sisters onwards) were that strongly reflecting their private life and her family background that some have accused it of being a pseud-cathartic vehicle for her own psychoanalysis. The pinnacle of this life-imitating-art would aptly be in Farrow’s final film with Allen, Husbands and Wives, filmed partially during their break up and so reminiscent of the circumstances surrounding them.
The characters in the world of Woody Allen seem unable to live (satisfied, unhappily or just plain exist) without psychiatry. Exploring the psychology of human beings has fascinated Allen for much of his career, ironic since his own 40+ years of it has supposedly done no good to him. Hope’s sessions are overheard by Marion (a magnificent Gena Rowlands), who’s renting an apartment next door to complete a new book. This physical manifestation of upper class isolation matches Marion, an empty and lonely writer who notices much of herself in Hope’s confessions. Her eavesdropping prompts her to confront some well hidden and unresolved memories; Hope’s words become a passageway into Marion’s psyche, with her speak of self deception and self-destruction and regret being third party expressions of Marion’s subconscious turmoil.
Like the line from the Rilke poem she reads, Marion must change her life. Allen describes Marion as ‘strong intellectually but blocked out in her feelings’, which would be an accurate to many of his creations. But there is a cerebral and introspective nature to Marion common only to the characters of his previous dramas, Interiors and September. Her brother loathes her, her husband no longer feels for her and her best friend rues her (much to her own bemusement). A lifetime of safe and conservative choices has left her frozen, numb and cold – too cold according to Allen, admitting the lack of warmth to the character as the film’s key fault.
This is all a clever concept, one originally conceived in a comic fashion by Allen and eventually realised as that in Everybody Says I Love You. While here is not the comic incarnation of the idea, it’s purposely also not realistic in its dramatic context. Marion can block the sound out entirely from two couch cushions against the grill, so she has the choice to listen completely or not at all. The choice to continue blocking or to confront. It’s a classic cinematic convention that we buy into and here plays to the mental state of its protagonist. The narrative flows between present day reality and Marion’s troubled mind; transporting into her memories, hallucinations and dreams with a free fluidity.
After his experience on Hannah and Her Sisters, it’s well known that Michael Caine’s one piece of advice for Gena Rowlands was not to save your best performance for the close up, because Woody does no close ups. But with Bergman’s longtime collaborative cinematographer Sven Nykvist’s at the helm (the first of four with Allen), Rowlands and her complexity of thoughts are shot through multiple close ups of pulsating stillness. This uncommon use of the close up was a conscious attempt by Allen to match Bergman’s skill at ‘developing a language that can convey inner psychological states to audiences’. He achieves that on this instance. There’s much feeling in Nykvist’s work which, with its immaculate compositions, is impeccable here. He not only captures but traverses the players and their environments so gracefully. A particular visual motif is cutting people off or in half by playing with light exposure, walls separating individuals in the shot and hands covering half of a face. It’s a very Bergman film at its core, inspired heavily by Wild Strawberries and furthering the identity of Allen’s dramatic work as Berman-lite. Yet it’s as much a (loving and flattering) Bergman imitation as something like the well-regarded When Harry Met Sally is an Allen imitation.
September was Allen’s most theatrically structured film and there’s a carryover here, with dialogue and conversations textured well for the stage. This is no better emphasised than during Rowland’s surreal and superb dream where her real life exchanges are put on the stage and acted out by her peers. It’s good writing as always from Allen (although the dialogue is sometimes robbed of its subtext) and in comparison to September, this is no less well made or performed. It’s actually a more creative, engaging and controlled drama. The dream sequence for instance – with its eloquent use of Erik Statie’s Gymnopédie No 3, the contrast between dark backgrounds and exposed faces, and the playful amalgamation of fantasy and reality – is accomplished and skillful work.
But for all its conflict and embedded repression, the storytelling feels as unresolved as its central character. It’s not exhaustive of its material, at only 77 minutes and with a forced conclusion to this chapter of her life. She’s seemingly ‘at peace’ knowing that her affair was fictionalised in the novel of her ex-lover (an underutilized Gene Hackman) while the woman that she has obsessed over has now detached herself from society (similarly to Marion) and likely gone off to commit suicide? Like Hannah and Her Sisters, it’s an artificially pleasing but ultimately unsatisfying ending from a man who knows how to end a film with poise and poignancy. Sorry Woody, but I hope you accept my (minor) condemnation…
Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing.