"There are times when even a historian shouldn't look at the past."—Marion's Father (John Houseman)
Following the weak September, Woody Allen teams with Bergman's great cinematographer Sven Nyqvist to create an intense and introspective drama about memory and desire.
Facts of the Case
Marion (Gena Rowlands) is a philosophy professor who wants to shut herself off from the world to complete her latest book. But she has already shut herself off emotionally long ago. Her marriage to Ken (Ian Holm) is sterile. In her wake, she has left shattered relationships with her best friend Claire (Sandy Dennis) and her brother Paul (Harris Yulin). She has spurned potential lovers and judged those close to her harshly.
But her mind is distracted by voices: memories of the past and the sounds of a desperate and depressed psychiatric patient (Mia Farrow) echoing through her walls. As she evaluates her life, Marion discovers that she not only fails to understand those around her, she also fails to understand herself.
On the surface, Another Woman appears visually stark, almost coldly clinical, as Woody Allen eschews the warm transitions and soft humor of many of his other films. But small details hint at the hidden depths of passion within: glimpses of impressionist painting (Klimt, Degas), meditative music (Satie, Bach). Throughout the film, Marion narrates her story—but to whom? First person narration implies a detachment, an objectification of one's life. This is consistent with what we know of Marion, that she has always detached herself from emotional entanglements. Ironically, all these entanglements have created trauma for others. Her first marriage, to an elder professor (Philip Bosco) who seduced her, collapsed when she aborted the child he always desired. Years after their divorce, he committed suicide. Her own marriage to Ken began as an adulterous affair, and even days before their marriage, she was drawing in and rejecting yet another potential suitor, the eager and passionate Larry (Gene Hackman).
But Marion, entering middle age, has intellectually stepped back, preferring to live "the life of the mind." But the thin, pained voice of Hope (Mia Farrow), floating up through an air vent from the psychiatrist's office next door, reminds Marion of what might have been. She remembers the damage her calculating father (played by David Ogden Stiers in flashback, John Houseman in the present) did to her and her brother: elevating her as an intellectual superior and Paul as a perennial failure. She replays scenes from her life in dreams, trying to sort out her own self-identity.
In a sense, Marion is always that "other woman" who leaves a trail of broken souls in her wake. But she is also an "other woman" to herself, an alien self wandering through the world with an agenda she is only now coming to understand. Although Woody Allen denies in a quote on the DVD packaging that the film is autobiographical—"I've never re-evaluated my life!"—longtime fans of his work will easily recognize that Allen's films have long explored the emotional crises brought on by introspection. Another Woman is one of Allen's more successful forays into this territory.
Much of the success of the film can be credited to a carefully measured performance by Gena Rowlands. Although the part was originally written for Mia Farrow (whose pregnancy required that the part be recast), it is hard to imagine the nervous and whispery Farrow convincingly pulling off the stern, cold stares that Rowlands displays. As always, Allen's ensemble cast handles their emotionally complex roles adeptly, and it is always a joy to see John Houseman on screen in any capacity.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Characteristic of MGM's treatment of all of Woody Allen's films, Another Woman is presented in an anamorphically enhanced print, a little faded over time and with minor scratches, but generally in pretty good shape. Sound is monaural, but the film is dialogue-driven as always, so this should matter little. And, as always, MGM provides no extra content beyond a theatrical trailer and a few production notes in the insert. And no English subtitles, dammit.
Much more than the sum of its parts, Another Woman is well worth watching for its convincing performances, tight script, and engaging look at the life of an emotionally damaged woman coming to terms with her own self-deception.
Since the success of this film makes up for the disappointment of Allen's previous effort in September, the court considers the scales balanced for the filmmaker. MGM however is once again fined for the lack of supplemental materials and admonished to provide English subtitling for all its films.
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• Theatrical Trailer
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