This is my first film from this famous director, and it really goes beyond my expectations. This looks like an undiscovered cinematic vein of gold which may gobble much time and attention. It was equally welcome to re-encounter the beautiful Diane Keaton, so far known only as the bewildered and helpless Mrs Godfather the Second. Here she has a stellar role and an opportunity to exercise the complete range of her talent. One looks forward to Annie Hall, Allen's award winner which again features Diane.
This is a movie falling under the blanket of screwball comedy. More specifically, it is a philosophical comedy which fools around with sex, laced with wit, innuendos and abundant titter provoking wisecracks. The script scintillates as it irreverently engages in serious questions while always maintaining a dead pan face. Woody is obviously a person of erudition, aman more of words and thoughts than of feelings, except perhaps the weedy ones, which coming from a guy with his biodata and biometrics, is not too surprising. The Napoleon figure serves as a foil, and perhaps embodies Woody's own fantasies. We seem to be getting psychoanalytic, but he virtually begs for it, in so many words. But everything is fun, even the sickly ones, because they hide gentleness and refinement. As he says, "My disgustingness is the best part of me."
It is a costume drama set in nineteenth century Russia and we enjoy many hilarious situations as Boris (Allen) unwillingly joins the forces fighting the invading French under Napoleon. He gets to marry by a quirk of fate the woman he has unsuccessfully wooed for long; becomes a decorated national hero; plots to assassinate Napoleon in conspiracy with his wife Sonya (Keaton) but is held back by ethical qualms. We also see the Man wit the Scythe dancing away. The comedy is detail perfect, from the inflexions of expression, to the layers and multiplicity of meaning in the dialog.
This is in fact a movie comparable in philosophical depth to Bergman. Woody Allen however has a far lighter touch (there are no answers anyway) as he examines questions of love, sex, death, war and morality. Here is none of the gloom, and even should you need pinches of salt for the ideas part, it's all part of the comedy, which is solid stuff.
More than anything else, Woody Allen reminds me of Voltaire's rapier sharp Candide.
A sample of the script:
"The question is have I learned anything about life. Only that human being are divided into mind and body. The mind embraces all the nobler aspirations, like poetry and philosophy, but the body has all the fun. The important thing, I think, is not to be bitter... if it turns out that there IS a God, I don't think that He's evil. I think that the worst you can say about Him is that basically He's an underachiever. After all, there are worse things in life than death. If you've ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman, you know what I'm talking about. The key is, to not think of death as an end, but as more of a very effective way to cut down on your expenses. Regarding love, heh, what can you say? It's not the quantity of your sexual relations that counts. It's the quality. On the other hand if the quantity drops below once every eight months, I would definitely look into."