Love and Death (1975)

Review #1,263

Director:  Woody Allen
Cast:  Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Georges Adet
Plot:  In czarist Russia, a neurotic soldier and his distant cousin formulate a plot to assassinate Napoleon.

Genre:  Comedy / War / Romance
Awards:  Won UNICRIT Award (Berlin).  
Runtime:  85min
Rating:  PG for some mature themes.
Distributor:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

“If they kill more Russians, they win.  If we kill more Frenchmen, we win.”

Before he reached his career's first zenith with the Best Picture and Best Director Oscar winner Annie Hall (1977), Woody Allen made what was till that point in time his most mature work – Love and Death, its title a play on such great Russian literature as War and Peace, and Crime and Punishment, many of which served as inspiration for the film. 

In a change of artistic direction from a more banal, slapstick comedy that characterized such early films as Bananas (1971) and Sleeper (1973), Love and Death remains to be the writer-director's first stab at creating a substantial piece of work that is both dramatic and comedic at the same time, a precursor to the likes of Annie Hall and Manhattan (1979).

The setting is the Soviet Union (though shot in Hungary and France) during the time of Napoleon.  Allen plays a meek if neurotic man who has a long-standing crush on a distant cousin (played by Diane Keaton), who doesn't show the slightest interest in him.  He is then forced to join the army to fight the French at the frontlines. 

From one comical situation to another, Love and Death then becomes a plot to assassinate Napoleon.  Allen continues his love affair with intellectual verbose, matched by moments of sheer hilarity (or absurdity) that comes out of talking about such sober issues as marriage, war, murder and death with a straight face amid life-and-death circumstances. 

The climax where Allen’s character tries to assassinate Napoleon is one of the most farcical final acts that the filmmaker has conceived in his filmography – full of mishaps, lack of self-confidence, and mistimed reasoning over the ethics of murder. 

Love and Death is not just a homage to the historic works of Russian literature, but also that of Ingmar Bergman, a filmmaker whose films have greatly inspired Allen.  Here, he recreates moments from Persona (1966) and The Seventh Seal (1957) to interesting effect.  As we look back at the career of one of America's greatest living directors, Love and Death doesn't quite stick out prominently, but it is an utterly enjoyable romp.  

Verdict:  Woody Allen’s most mature film at that point is also a very funny look at sober issues through a distinctively comical lens.  


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