Woody Allen's Love and Death is purportedly a satire of all things Russian, from Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky novels to Sergei Eisenstein films, but it plays more like a spin on Bob Hope's Monsieur Beaucaire. Allen plays Boris, a 19th century Russian who falls in love with his distant (and married) cousin Sonja (Diane Keaton). Pressed into ...Read MoreWoody Allen's Love and Death is purportedly a satire of all things Russian, from Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky novels to Sergei Eisenstein films, but it plays more like a spin on Bob Hope's Monsieur Beaucaire. Allen plays Boris, a 19th century Russian who falls in love with his distant (and married) cousin Sonja (Diane Keaton). Pressed into service with the Russian army during the war against Napoleon, Boris accidentally becomes a hero, then goes on to win a duel against a cuckolded husband (Harold Gould). He returns to Sonja, hoping to settle down on the Steppes somewhere, but Sonja has become fired up with patriotic fervor, insisting that Boris join a plot to kill Napoleon. Intellectual in-jokes abound in Love and Death, and other gags are basic Allen one-liners; for instance, after being congratulated for his lovemaking skills, Boris replies nonchalantly, "I practice a lot when I'm alone." The pseudo-Russian ambience of Love and Death is comically enhanced by the Sergey Prokofiev compositions on the musical track. Hal Erickson, RoviRead Less
Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Harold Gould, Sol Frieder, Olga Georges-Picot. Fine in fine packaging. Language: English. Run time: 85 mins. Originally released: 1975. 1990 release. 82 minutes. Practically perfect! The bridge between Woody Allen's early slapstick satires and his later romantic comedies and dramas, LOVE AND DEATH is also a broad parody of his numerous influences. The film tells the tale of Boris Grushenko (the filmmaker himself), a cowardly Russian who miraculously survives the Napoleonic Wars, only to discover that his heroism does nothing to advance his romantic prospects with his philosophical cousin Sonia (Diane Keaton). Her convoluted reasoning dictates that the pair of them must attempt to assassinate the French dictator, a proposal Boris agrees to in the hopes that he will finally win Sonia's love through the act. The contrast between Sonia's analytical mind and Boris's lustful one provides Allen with numerous opportunities to joke about gender differences, but it is the multiple parodies of both literature and film that drive LOVE AND DEATH's comedic narrative. The most obvious target in the film is Russian literature: many jokes are built around the blend of fatalistic philosophy, historical narratives, and complex familial and character relationships that characterize novels by such authors as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy (the most obvious source for the film being his WAR AND PEACE). However, the filmmakers that have influenced Allen are also parodied; themes and even shots are taken directly from the work of Ingmar Bergman and Sergei Eisenstein. The musical score is assembled from compositions by Prokofiev, who wrote the scores for Eisenstein's later sound films, which were also heavily affected by Russian literature and history. Finally, the quick-witted, under-the-radar verbal hijinks in the film (like in other Allen films) bear the mark of the Marx Brothers, perhaps the most famous Jewish comedians aside from Allen himself. Although LOVE AND DEATH is not among the most well-known of Allen's comedies, there are few films that lay bare the influences of a master filmmaker as readily as this.