Love and Death
|Love and Death|
original film poster
|Directed by||Woody Allen|
|Produced by||Charles H. Joffe|
|Written by||Woody Allen|
|Edited 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, Russians living during the Napoleonic Era who engage in mock-serious philosophical debates. Allen considered it the funniest film he had made to that time.
When Napoleon (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 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.
- Woody Allen as Boris Grushenko
- Diane Keaton as Sonja
- James Tolkan as Napoleon
- Harold Gould as Anton lvanovich Lebedokov
- Olga Georges-Picot as Countess Alexandrovna
- Zvee Scooler as Father
- Jessica Harper as Natasha
- Féodor Atkine as Mikhail Grushenko
- Yves Barsacq as Rimsky
- Brian Coburn as Dimitri
- Tony Jay as Vladimir Maximovitch
- Howard Vernon as Gen. Leveque
- Aubrey Morris as Soldier 4
- Alfred Lutter as Young Boris
- Georges Adet as Old Nehamkin
- Sol Frieder as Voskovec
- Lloyd Battista as Don Francisco
- Frank Adu as Drill Sergeant
Allen shot the film outside of the United States, in France and Hungary, where he had to deal with bad weather, spoiled negatives, food poisoning and physical injuries, as well as multi-lingual crews and extras who had difficulty communicating with each other and with Allen. This made the director swear never to shoot a movie outside the US again. However, starting twenty-one years later, in 1996 with Everyone Says I Love You, Allen did in fact shoot a number of other movies outside the US.
Coming between Allen's Sleeper and Annie Hall, it is in many respects an artistic transition between the two. Allen pays tribute to the humor of The Marx Brothers, Bob Hope and Charlie Chaplin throughout this film.
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. Boris is marched to his execution to the "March" from Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges.
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, while the Russian battle against Napoleon's army heavily parodies the same film's "Odessa steps" sequence. Bergman's The Seventh Seal is parodied during the climax.
The film grossed over $20 million in North America, making it the 18th highest grossing picture of 1975. At Rotten Tomatoes, 18 critics—including three of the site's "top critics"—consider the film "fresh", with an average 8.1/10 rating. 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.
Miss 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.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (August 2013)|
The film is full of 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.
- Boris speaks to the audience: "There are worse things in life than death. I mean, if you've ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman, you know exactly what I mean."
- When Boris joins the army, in basic training he has a drill sergeant who is a parody of American movie drill sergeants; instead of a film about the dangers of STDs that were common for American troops in the wars they see a "morality play".
- "Love and Death, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
- Stafford, Jeff. "Love and Death (1975)". TCM.com. Retrieved 2013-08-23. "...he was able to pay homage to some of his favorite films: a battlefield hawker who sells blinis to the troops recalls Harpo Marx in Duck Soup (1933), a dueling scene appears modeled on a Bob Hope routine in Monsieur Beaucaire (1946), the climax is a direct nod to Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957) and the Scythian Suite by Stravinsky is used as background music in one scene, just as it was in Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (1938). Famous dialogue from the novels of Tolstoy like ..War and Peace and Anna Karenina is also parodied along with in-jokes about the poetry of T.S. Eliot."
- "Love and Death" on Box Office Mojo
- "Love and Death". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-08-23.
- "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Empire. Retrieved 2013-08-23.
- "Berlinale 1975: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2010-07-11.
- "Love and Death". rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved May 19, 2010.
- United States Government. "National Institutes of Health, US National Library of Medicine". Retrieved 16 February 2014.