Movie Review: Another Woman by Woody Allen–claiming a masterpiece

Poster for Woody Allen's 1988 film Another Woman

Poster for Woody Allen’s 1988 film Another Woman

In Woody Allen’s film Stardust Memories, a Martian invader gives Woody Allen’s character, Sandy Bates, the following advice: “You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes.”  At the time, one didn’t have to talk to aliens  to hear some people saying the same thing about Allen’s movies. They wanted funny, funnier, funniest.  Raised on Take the Money and a Run, Bananas, and Sleeper,  his fans wanted more of the sameantic, bumbling, wise-cracking Woody Allen.

And instead he created some dramatic masterpieces, which will long be remembered after Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.. has faded into irrelevance.

Another Woman appeared in 1988. In the eleven years between Annie Hall (1977) and Another Woman, Allen had written and directed eleven films (and starred in eight of them) Two years earlier in 1986, he had had great success–both critically and with the public–with Hannah and Sisters. 

However, there seemed to be a pattern with the public’s acceptance of these films at the time. Generally, fewer people went to his movies in which he did not act. (They needed their clown.) And the films in which he did not appear were usually his more serious work. Or at least, his “heavier” work. And thus, Another Woman failed to attract the audiences that most of his previous work had been garnering.

All of which is a shame, because Another Woman is a masterpiece.

Gena Rowlands in Another Woman

Gena Rowlands in Another Woman

Geena Rowlands plays Marion, chairman of the philosophy department, successful author, and a woman who believes she is better off not examining her own life and choices. (An odd choice in itself for a philosopher.) She is married to an eminent cardiologist and has a close relationship with his sixteen-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. He relationship with her brother, her father, and even with herself is not as close nor honest.

In order to write undisturbed, Marion rents an apartment. (New York cardiologists must do very well because Marion and his apartment is gorgeous, as is her “get-away” apartment where she writes. Apartment prices in NYC must have been quite cheaper in 1988 than they are today!)

The building has a quirk in the ventilation and unless she puts sofa cushions up against the ventilators, she can hear everything in the psychiatrist’s office next door.  Which she soon begins to do purposefully. Removing the cushions, sends Marion down a rabbit-hole, a path which she is not sure she wants to pursue.

She becomes obsessed with one of the psychiatrist’s patients, a frail, pregnant, unhappy woman named Hope (Mia Farrow). From what she says, Hope is certainly unhappy, quite insecure and perhaps, even, suicidal. After a while, Hope’s overheard questioning of the choices she has made in life, leads Marion on a journey of her own self-discovery. And it is revelatory.

That Woody Allen reveres and has been influenced by the great European film-makers, especially of Ingmar Bergman is well known. (Ten years earlier in 1978 Allen made Interiors, a particular homage to the films of Bergman.) Another Woman is again inspired by Bergman, particularly his film Wild Strawberries. There are similarities in plot–the main characters must examine the coldness with which they have lived their lives–and technique–there are similar surreal dream sequences and scenes where the main characters are able to enter the scenes of their childhood.

And yet what makes Another Woman a masterpiece is not the bows to Bergman that Allen deftly offered, but the extraordinary performance he had engendered in Gena Rowlands. In several very long takes, the camera focuses on Rowlands’ face at different times as she listens to the patients next door. There is more emotional revelation in those moments than most actors can depict in an entire movie.

In fact, this quiet intensity seems startling compared to the Oscar-nominated performances she gave for her director husband, John Cassavetes. In films such as A Woman Under the Influence and Gloria, Rowlands exploded her emotions onto the screen. For Woody Allen, there is a intense quietness to her acting, an interiority that she allows us to see. And which draws us in to her pain and her self-examination.

The title Another Woman can be though of as referencing various things: Marion is the “other woman” for whom her husband left his wife; there is “another woman” with whom her husband is now involved; Hope is “another woman” whose analysis seems to be applicable to Marion; she has spurned passion in the past for comfort and security, and now “another woman” is enjoying the spark of that zest for life; and Marion herself is, at the end of the film, “another woman” than what she had earlier believed.

The Martians in Stardust Memories might have wanted funnier jokes, but with Another Woman they couldn’t have wanted a better film.

Movie Review: Jules et Jim by Francois Truffaut

Poster for Jules et Jim

Poster for Jules et Jim

In many Woody Allen films, there is a scene where Allen’s characters enter a New York movie house to see an old film. In Annie Hall, it was Bergman’s Face to Face; in Manhattan Murder Mystery, it was Wilder’s Double Indemnity.

I have always envied that: going to a theater and watching a classic on the big screen. It doesn’t happen much where I am from.

Until recently, that is. One of the city’s major theaters began showing the newly mastered version of Carol Reed’s 1939 thriller The Third Man, and another theater was screening Truffaut’s Jules et Jim.  I saw The Third Man earlier in the summer (which, by the way, is the first film I ever recorded on VHS, a long time ago when the local PBS was airing classic films at midnight.)

This past weekend, I saw Jules et Jim for the first time.

Jeanne Moreau as

Jeanne Moreau as “Catherine” in Jules et Jim

Truffaut’s Jules et Jim is a primer for anyone wanting to understand the French Nouvelle Vague that blossomed in the 50s and 60s. The loose and fluid camera work, the montages, the freeze frames, the newsreels, the voice overs, the simple location sets (allowing for the breezy filming), these are the defining attributes of the New Wave, and they are used masterfully in this 1962 film.

And, as much as technical innovations defined the moment, so did the narratives. The films focused on youth, on iconoclastic characters outside the mainstream, and on ambiguity. One is never sure what to think at the end–and that is intentional.

Jules et Jim is basically the story of a love triangle. The film opens with a frenetic piece showing the carefree life of two friends, the French Jim and the Austrian, Jim. Jules is overly shy. Jim is a comfortable and adept womanizer.

The Love Triangle Jim, Catherine, and Jules (Serre, Moreau, and Werner)

Jim, Catherine, and Jules
(Serre, Moreau, and Werner)

Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) and Jim (Henri Serre) in Jules et Jim

Catherine and Jim
(Jeanne Moreau and Henri Serre)
in Jules et Jim

Their friendship is intense and true.

One day, another friend Albert introduces them to Catherine, a woman with a captivating smile and quirky personality.

When the normally shy Jules sees Catherine, he famously says to his playboy friend “Pas celle-là, Jim” (“Not this one, Jim”), asking that Jim does not use his charm to sweep this one away.

Jules (Oscar Werner) and Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) in ,i>Jules et Jim,/i.

Jules and Catherine
(Oscar Werner and Jeanne Moreau)
in Jules et Jim.

For this is the woman for him. And Jim, who is equally as attracted to her, acquiesces. The three have rollicking adventures together in the countryside, around Paris, and at the beach and they thoroughly enjoy each other’s company.

Soon after, Jules and Catherine marry, but then World War I breaks out. Jules and Jim find themselves in opposing armies and pray that they don’t kill each other.

But Truffaut focuses on more personal conflicts than the global cataclysm of World War I. After the war, Catherine is quite unhappy in her marriage and in her motherhood. She has several affairs, one of which is with Albert who originally introduced her to Jules and Jim and who now is recuperating in the village below. (There is a hint that her child is actually his and not Jules’)

When Jim comes to visit them, she seduces him (he is an easy seduction since he too is in love with her) and ultimately they plan to marry and have children. Jules is okay with this–he loves both Jim and Catherine– and the three live together in an odd but comfortable arrangement.

That the arrangement and the plans fail is the descending path of Truffaut’s narrative arc. How they fail–spectacularly–is the thrill of the movie (and which I won’t reveal here.) Nevertheless, I can say that Jeanne Moreau as Catherine is wonderful and is the anchor of the film. Oddly, a young Oscar Werner resembles a young William F. Buckley, though his shyness and awkwardness is painful to watch. And Henri Serre makes a charming partner–both for Jules and for Catherine.

*     *     *     *     *

Francois Truffaut

Francois Truffaut

In the first paragraph of this post, I mentioned Woody Allen’s films, Bergman’s films, Wilder’s films. It is largely because of Truffaut that we identify films in this way. Before he directed films, Truffaut was a writer–and then editor–for the famous Cahiers du cinema (“Notebooks on Cinema”), a seminal journal that helped bring film into the realm of serious study.  In the journal, Truffaut often argued his point that a director is the true author of the film, as much as a Picasso or a Hemingway is the creator of his work.

It is only fitting then that when discussing the classics of twentieth century cinema, the phrase “a Truffaut film” is a necessary component of the conversation.