Love and Death
|Love and Death|
original film poster
|Directed by||Woody Allen|
|Produced by||Charles H. Joffe|
|Written by||Woody Allen|
|Editing by||Ron Kalish
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Running time||85 minutes|
Love and Death is a 1975 comedy film by Woody Allen. It is a satire on Russian literature starring Allen and Diane Keaton as Boris and Sonja, respectively, Russians living during the Napoleonic Era who engage in mock-serious philosophical debates.
When Napoleon Bonaparte (James Tolkan) invades Austria during the Napoleonic Wars, Boris Grushenko (Woody Allen), a coward and pacifist scholar, is forced to enlist in the Russian Army. Desperate and disappointed after hearing the news that Sonja (Diane Keaton), his cousin twice removed, is to wed a herring merchant, he inadvertently becomes a war hero. He returns and marries the recently-widowed Sonja, who does not want to marry Boris, but promises him that she will when she thinks that he is about to be killed in a duel. Their marriage is filled with philosophical debates, and no money. Their life together is interrupted when Napoleon invades the Russian Empire. Boris wants to flee but his narcissistic wife, angered that the invasion will interfere with their plans to start a family that year, conceives a plot to assassinate Napoleon at his headquarters in Moscow. Boris and Sonja debate the matter with some degree of philosophical double-talk, and Boris reluctantly goes along with it. They fail to kill Napoleon and Sonja escapes arrest while Boris is executed, despite being told by a vision that he will be pardoned.
Allen shot the film outside of the United States, in France and Hungary, and the problems he encountered – bad weather, multi-lingual crews and extras who had difficulty communicating with each other and Allen, spoiled negatives, food poisoning and physical injuries – made him swear never to do so again, although he did in fact for Everyone Says I Love You in 1996.
The dialogue and scenarios parody Russian novels, particularly those by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, such as The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, The Gambler, The Idiot, and War and Peace. This includes a dialogue between Boris and his father with each line alluding to or being composed entirely of Dostoevsky titles.
The use of Prokofiev for the soundtrack adds to the Russian flavor of the film. Prokofiev's "Troika" from the Lieutenant Kijé Suite is featured prominently, for the film's opening and closing credits, and in selected scenes in the film when a "bouncy" theme is required. The battle scene is accompanied with the music from Sergei Eisenstein’s film Alexander Nevsky, Prokofiev's cantata for Alexander Nevsky.
Some of the humor is straightforward; other jokes rely on the viewer's awareness of classic literature or contemporary European cinema. For example, the final shot of Keaton is a reference to Ingmar Bergman's Persona, the sequence with the stone lions is a parody of Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin. Bergman's The Seventh Seal is quoted throughout, and the Totentanz at the end is comparable to that film's final scene.
The film has grossed over $20 million in North America, making it the 18th highest grossing picture of 1975; based on the reviews of 16 critics, it currently holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and an average score of 8/10. In September 2008, in a poll held by Empire magazine, the film was voted as the 301st greatest film out of a list of 500. At the 25th Berlin International Film Festival in 1975, the film won the Silver Bear for an outstanding artistic contribution.
Roger Ebert gave it three and a half stars:
Miss Keaton (Diane Keaton) is very good in Love and Death, perhaps because here she gets to establish and develop a character, instead of just providing a foil, as she's often done in other Allen films ... There are dozens of little moments when their looks have to be exactly right, and they almost always are. There are shadings of comic meaning that could have gotten lost if all we had were the words, and there are whole scenes that play off facial expressions. It's a good movie to watch just for that reason, because it's been done with such care, love and lunacy.
The film is full of deliberate humorous anachronisms:
- In a brief interlude, Boris works as a struggling poet, reading from a poem he eventually wads up and throws out he says, "I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas," a quote lifted from T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. ("Too sentimental," Boris decides as he throws out the poem.)
- Boris (Allen) retains his trademark glasses despite their anachronistic absurdity; at one point Boris says to Sonja after a diatribe, "Do you think God wears glasses?" and she replies, "Not with those frames!"
- In the war front against the French there are cheerleader girls wearing "Russia" t-shirts.
- A vendor, complete with New York accent and attired as if he were at a ballpark, is selling "red hots" to soldiers during a battle. Allen's character apparently offers him a large-denomination currency, and he remarks, "Hey, you got anything smaller? I just started!"
- Boris speaks to the audience: "There are some things worse than death. If you've ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman, I'm sure you know what I mean."
- "Love and Death, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
- Stafford, Jeff. "Love and Death (1975)" on TCM.com
- "Love and Death" on Box Office Mojo
- http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/love_and_death/ Rotten Tomatoes page
- "Berlinale 1975: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2010-07-11.
- "Love and Death". rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved May 19, 2010.