Russian Dressing

Love and Death: written and directed by Woody Allen; starring Woody Allen (Boris) and Diane Keaton (Sonja) (1975): Allen’s last pure satire/comedy before Annie Hall moved him into more dramatic film-making, Love and Death sees Allen broadly parody Russian literature and philosophy and movies, along with a healthy dose of Ingmar Bergman references.

The war sequences recall Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator in their attention to battlefield slapstick. The peace-time sequences satirize village life, court life, Napoleon, and the philosophical tendencies of 19th-century Russian literature. One doesn’t have to be a film buff to find all this funny — the sequences work on their own level of ridiculousness first. Knowing that a sequence of stills of different stone lions is a nod to Sergei Eisenstein’s seminal Battleship Potemkin, or that another sequence plays with Bergman’s Persona, only adds to the humour — it isn’t required.

The Allen character’s frequent encounters with a robed Death recall both Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. How’s that for a mash-up? Unlike the many victims of the plague who engage in the Danse Macabre at the end of The Seventh Seal, though, Allen goes dancing off alone with Death.

Keaton is also very funny as Allen’s mostly unrequited love. Allen’s only film to be shot at least partially outside the U.S. for 20 years, until 1996’s Everybody Says I Love You. Recommended.

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