Love and Death (1975)

(On TV, September 2017) The good thing about rediscovering Woody Allen’s movies by going back in time is that they get funnier along the way. So it is that Love and Death is classic comic Allen, taking his usual nebbish character and placing him in the middle of an epic Russian war story. Much of the pleasures of the film are about seeing Allen’s character try to rebel against the conventions of the form, and cheerfully throwing contemporary anachronisms in a story that could (and has) been executed with such a straight face in other movies. The period detail is often very credible, and the jokes are funny enough to earn real laughs. Literate philosophical dialogue is a treat (especially as it forms the basis or further jokes), even though I suspect that I’m not catching even half the references to Russian literature or classic cinema. For a film that quite predictably ends with the death of its main character, Love and Death is remarkably upbeat even in its tragedies. Allen is near the top of his classic comic persona, while Diane Keaton is very good as his sparring partner and Olga Georges-Picot unlocks the hidden sultriness of the subgenre that the film parodies. I’m not sure what I expected from Love and Death (again; going back in time on Allen’s filmography sets very strange expectations) but I feel as if I got considerably more than I even hoped for.

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