THE 100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 40: LOVE AND DEATH

by Laurent Kelly


Love and Death (1975)  –    Directed and written by: Woody Allen   Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton,  Georges Adet,  OSCAR COUNT (0)

Although I admire Woody Allen’s imaginative vision as both a writer and filmmaker I tend to find that the majority of his films are tinkered with great moments as opposed to being outright great films. In Annie Hall for example the ingenious use of voiceover and manipulation of time is simply sublime as is the opening to Manhattan which might be my favourite ever start to a film.   Both these films however I find to be plagued by an annoyingly  indulgent tone from a writer who seems convinced that we care as much about his carefully developed character neurosis he does.  Obviously the success of the aforementioned films among others proves that he hit a winning formula but I for one just can’t buy or root for Allen as a hero.

Its probably no coincidence then that my favourite Woody Allen pictures are the ones in which he either takes a backseat role or stays in the lead but invites us to laugh at himself and his characters instead of having to emotionally engage with them. Love and Death is the perfect example of this, a parody of Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace which both  mocks and pays homage to the book’s long passages of action followed by even longer passages of philosophical rambling. The film pretty much turns the philosophy up to eleven making it rather hillarious in its absurd, excrucuiating detail:

“To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you’re getting this down. “

Love and Death is a great comedy because it deals with serious issues such as war, love, morality, suffering and death but never takes itself too seriously in the process. Every moment is always leading to a punchline which gives the viewer the almost carthartic pleasure of becoming reflective about the issues before releasing a relief of laughter through the ensuing comedy.

Although Keaton is dynamite in her role, the most fun to be had in Love and Death is in the moments when Allen plays against type as a tough, wannabe romantic lead which is the result of him becoming an accidental war hero. Indeed there is an excellent comment on the fickle nature of character as  Boris maintains that he is a pacifist whilst being dragged to the battleground only to brag about his medals when he luckily forces the opposition to surrender. Watching a tiny, funny looking man try and seduce unfathomably attractive women and stand up to tough men is a sight to be seen and again it is with great relief that we are supposed to laugh at Allen in these moments instead of trying to form a bond with his character.

Love and Death will be too whacky for some to cope with but for me it is a laugh a minute film which becomes more enjoyable with each viewing,

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