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BY PHILIP MARTIN

ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
In Woody Allens Stardust Memories (1980), two movie fans approach cult director Sandy Bates (Allen) to say, We love
your work ... especially the early funny ones. It is a funny moment, and in the context of Allens ongoing career, not an
insignificant one. Allen has never been comfortable resting on his considerable comic achievements witness his latest,
the Janus-faced Melinda and Melinda, which opens in Arkansas this week. And his serious films have left him
vulnerable to charges of overreaching.
I happen to like Woodys non-comedies quite a lot; Ive even come around on the subject of Interiors, which I dismissed
as pretentious in my youth. (Pretentious is one of those words we use a lot when were young and dont understand
what were looking at.) In fact, Allens best film may be his least funny, the black and pungent Crimes and
Misdemeanors.
While C & M avoids the self-conscious cerebralness that permeates some of Allens work, it is hardly a simple film; on
the contrary it teems with dark intelligence. It resemebles the underrated novels of Morris Philipson, both in structure and
texture the book-lined apartments and townhouses of Allens Manhattan seem less claustrophobic and more generous
than before and though a chilling nihilism lies at the films core like a chocolate-dipped stone, New York itself has
never seemed so sun-burnished, limned in warm gold light. At times the city seem more like Philipsons gentell New
Haven than demanding, clinical metropolis.
It is delightful to discover that this film which is as much about seeing as anything else is Allens most splendidly
visual work. He lets his camera linger, allowing the viewer to glimpse the life (or the deadness) behind a given characters
eyes. This is a patient Allen, for once willing to let the audience arrive at its own judgments.
The story is straightforward. Judah (Martin Landau) is a successful and philantrophic opthalmologist with a problem
mistress. Delores (Angelica Huston) is threatening to go to Judahs wife (Claire Bloom) about her two-year affair with
Judah. Delores believes she has been badly used, that promises were made and broken.
She also intimates that she just might be willing to go to the authorities about Judahs financial improprieties. Anguished,
the fiercely agnostic Judah turns to his underworldly brother (a fanatastic Jerry Orbach) to deal with the problem.
Jack takes care of the problem and phones his brother to let him know all is well. Judah slips into shock, excuses himself
from the dinner party hes hosting, and drives to Delores apartment to stare into her inert eyes and remove all
incriminating love letters and photographs.
This main arc is interrupted by a secondary plot involving failing documentarian Cliff Stern (Allen) and his infatuation
with a breezy public television producer Halley (Mia Farrow). unable to finance his real work, Cliff takes a hack job
shooting a documentary on his brother-in-law Lester, a self-aggrandizing television sit-com producer (Alan Alda). The
project, arranged by Cliffs bloodless wife (Joanna Gleason), amounts to little more than a vanity film. Naturally Cliff
despises Lester, who also is romantically interested in Halley.
Meanwhile, Cliffs other brother-in-law, Ben (Sam Waterson), is a rabbi facing imminent blindness with beatific calm.
Ben is the link between the parallel stories hes Judahs patient and confessor. In the latter role, he advises Judah to tell
his wife about his indiscretions with Delores, to ask for forgiveness. Though Judah and Ben are fond of each otherm,
there is a fiundamental philosophical schism between the two: The rabbi believes in a structured universe that allows for
hope and mercy; Judah see only a swirl of chaos.
Though the film is chocked with obvious symbolism and familiar Allenisms all the talk of eyes, the glorious old films,
the crushing verbal ripostes, Judaism, love and death and sex and God nothing seems trite. This is an unsettling and
disturbing film, flawed only so far as it is potentially misunderstood. It is a commonplace to wish for the old, funny
Woody but this dark meditation on justice and the lack of it may be his best film.
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Comedy
Publisher: Orion Pictures
Released: 1989
MPAA Rating: R
Cast: Martin Landau, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow
Woodman's Existentialist Comedy
A Review by John Nesbit
01/21/2003

We are all faced throughout our lives with


agonizing decisions, moral choices. Some are on
a grand scale; most of our choices are on lesser
points, but we define ourselves by the choices we
have made. We are, in fact, the sum total of our
choices.
So says Prof. Louis Levy (Martin S. Bergmann)
Woody Allen
in a voiceover during the final montage of
Buy
This Photo
Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors,
At
where we witness characters literally make life
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and death decisions along with more mundane
ones. In fact, Allen often places us in Judah Rosenthal's (Martin
Landau) shoes, so we know about as much as he does about his
situation and go through the same agonizing process.
A successful, well-respected ophthalmologist, Judah has a middleaged fling with Fatal Attraction-clone Delores (Angelica Huston),
who refuses to be ignored when he attempts to break the affair
off. Seriously in need of therapy, Delores desperately attempts to
cling on to Judahwriting a tell all note to his wife (fortunately
intercepted), calling his home and office persistently, and
threatening blackmail to ruin his family and professional life.
Judah is a man who has it all with a supportive wife, stable family,
solid reputation, and upper class lifestyle, but Delores is driving
him bonkers.
There is an easy solution. Judah's brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) is
well connected with a network of hit men who will, given the
word and a few thousand dollars, take care of the hysterical
troublemaker. But how can a man like Judah commit such a crime,
even to keep his entire life from hitting the junk heap? He is no
Raskolnikov, thinking that he's superhuman and beyond ordinary
moralityhe existentially views the world as harsh, pointless, and
empty of values, but finds himself having pangs of conscience just
as Dostoyevsky's protagonist does. Could those childhood
teachings about the "eyes of God" seeing all things be plaguing
him?
Running parallel to Judah's story is a secondary, more lighthearted
one centering on indie documentary filmmaker Cliff Stern (Woody
Allen). Trapped in a sterile marriage, his wife arranges for Cliff to
make a breakthrough documentary about her tremendously
successful filmmaking brother, Lester (Alan Alda). Cliff can't
stand Lester's smugness and his commercial success, but meets a
kindred soul on the rebound during the shootHalley Reed (Mia
Farrow), who shares his enthusiasm for Professor Levy's positive
philosophical takes on Life. They'd both rather make a film about
the old professor, but must continue the far more commercially
viable biography about Lester, who practically makes Cliff gag
with his philosophy on comedyIf it bends, it works. If it
breaks, it doesn't work.
Allen bends enough to find the proper balance between comedy
and seriousness in Crimes and Misdemeanors. Light as the film
appears at times, there's some heady philosophical dilemmas going
on here, lending more credence to the idea that Allen supplies
Ingmar Bergman to the American audience with heavy doses of

humor. This time he even uses one of Bergman's


cinematographers, Sven Nykvist, to capture the inner nuances of
character, most notably with Judah. Throughout Allen's seriocomedy, philosophies are contrasted. Both Cliff and Judah view
the world as basically indifferent and meaningless, yet greatly
admire people who see moral structure to the Universe and real
meaning in life. Ironically, one of these positive role models who
has consistently said yes to life wakes up one morning and says
no.
So, does it really matter what your philosophic bent is, in the end?
The characters go through a myriad of improbable, illogical
scenarios that still never sink into farce. Events are often
unpredictable, and Allen's film demonstrates this. Martin Landau
gives his finest performance this side of Ed Wood, truly letting us
inside his moral quandary throughout. He's never played straight
comedy, and Allen uses his skills wisely, as he does with the entire
ensemble cast. Alda uses his natural affability well to play the
clueless, but likeably self-absorbed director, and Mia Farrow
comes across sincerely as the well-intentioned, sensitive
filmmaker who can still be charmed by champagne and caviar.
Woody Allen has created at least one feature film each year since
Crimes and Misdemeanors, but this is his last truly great film
one that explores existential questions in a comic way. Common
Allen themes of seeking love in this crazy world through simple
things like family and work are found, yet nagging Bergmanesque
questions about larger issues remain. Is there truly a moral order to
the Universe? Allen supplies no easy crime doesn't pay answers,
nor does he supply blatant redemptive baptismal scenes or bestow
beacons of light upon his characters. In the end both Allen and
Landau reflect on events as they have occurred without resolution.
Which is as it should be. Life is like that, and we shouldn't expect
a filmmaker to wrap it up for us in an hour and forty-seven
minutes.
Crimes and Misdemeanors Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors" is a thriller about the dark nights of the soul. It
shockingly answers the question most of us have asked ourselves from time to time: Could I live with the knowledge that
I had murdered someone? Could I still get through the day and be close to my family and warm to my friends, knowing
that because of my own cruel selfishness, someone who had loved me was lying dead in the grave? This is one of the
central questions of human existence, and society is based on the fact that most of us are not willing to see ourselves as
murderers. But in the world of this film, conventional piety is overturned and we see into the soul of a human monster.
Actually, he seems like a pretty nice guy.
He's an eye doctor with a thriving practice, he lives in a modern home on three acres in Connecticut, he has a loving wife
and nice kids and lots of friends, and then he has a mistress who is going crazy and threatening to start making phone
calls and destroy everything. This will not do. He has built up a comfortable and well-regulated life over the years and is
respected in the community. He can't let some crazy woman bring a scandal crashing around his head.
"Crimes and Misdemeanors" tells his story with what Allen calls realism, and what others might call bleak irony. He also
tells it with a great deal of humor. Who else but Woody Allen could make a movie in which virtue is punished, evildoing
is rewarded and there is a lot of laughter - even subversive laughter at the most shocking times? Martin Landau stars in
the film as the ophthalmologist who has been faithful to his wife (Claire Bloom) for years - all except for a passionate
recent affair with a flight attendant (Anjelica Huston). For a few blessed months he felt free and young again, and they
walked on the beach, and he said things that sounded to her like plans for marriage. But he is incapable of leaving his
wife, and when she finally realizes that she becomes enraged.

What can the doctor do? It's a "Fatal Attraction" situation, and she's sending letters to his wife (which he barely
intercepts) and calling up from the gas station down the road threatening to come to his door and reveal everything. In
desperation, the doctor turns to his brother (Jerry Orbach), who has Mafia connections. And the brother says that there's
really no problem, because he can make one telephone call and the problem will go away.
Are we talking . . . murder? The doctor can barely bring himself to say the word. But his brother is more realistic and
certainly more honest, and soon the doctor is forced to ask, and answer, basic questions about his own values. Allen uses
flashbacks to establish the childhood of both brothers, who grew up in a religious Jewish family with a father who
solemnly promised them that God saw everything and that, even if he didn't, a good man could not live happily with an
evil deed on his conscience.
The story of the doctor's dilemma takes place at the center of a large cast of characters. The movie resembles Allen's
"Hannah and Her Sisters" in the way all of the lives become tangled. Among the other important characters is Allen as a
serious documentary filmmaker whose wife's brother (Alan Alda) is a shallow TV sitcom producer of great wealth and
appalling vanity. Through his wife's intervention, Allen gets a job making a documentary about the Alda character, and
then both men make a pass at the bright, attractive production assistant (Mia Farrow). Which will she choose: the
dedicated documentarian or the powerful millionaire? Another important character is a rabbi (Sam Waterston), who is
going blind. The eye doctor treats him and then turns to him for moral guidance, and the rabbi, who is a good man, tells
him what we would expect to hear. But the rabbi's blindness is a symbol for the dark undercurrent of "Crimes and
Misdemeanors," which seems to argue that God has abandoned men, and that we live here below on a darkling plain, lost
in violence, selfishness and moral confusion.
"Crimes and Misdemeanors" is not, properly speaking, a thriller, and yet it plays like one. In fact, it plays a little like
those film noir classics of the 1940s, like "Double Indemnity," in which a man thinks of himself as moral, but finds out
otherwise. The movie generates the best kind of suspense, because it's not about what will happen to people - it's about
what decisions they will reach. We have the same information they have. What would we do? How far would we go to
protect our happiness and reputation? How selfish would we be? Is our comfort worth more than another person's life?
Allen does not evade this question, and his answer seems to be, yes, for some people, it would be. Anyone who reads the
crime reports in the daily papers would be hard put to disagree with him.
Crimes and Misdemeanors
By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 13, 1989

Murder goes unpunished and true love unrewarded in Woody Allen's


relentless "Crimes and Misdemeanors," a disparaging word or two on the
sorry state of the world today. A relative of
"Hannah and Her Sisters" in its duplex structure
and of "The Purple Rose of Cairo" in its bitter theme, "Crimes" is two
movies in one, a blend of Allen's satiric and pretentious dramatic styles.
Herein he is disappointed in both Dostoevski and love.
The plot lines -- a herniated melodrama with Martin Landau and an
amusing love couplet with Allen -- intersect in a tenuous kinship. There is
also a cinematic glue -- old movie scenes that presage developments in
"Crimes" -- that binds the monstrous sins of a crumbling community pillar
with the follies of a fool in love. Landau plays eye doctor Judah Rosenthal,
a weak man caught in an affair with the unstable Dolores (Anjelica
Huston), who threatens to tell his wife (Claire Bloom) when he tries to
dump her. A rabbi patient (Sam Waterston), slowly going blind, urges him
to come clean; Judah's shifty brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) suggests hiring a

hit man.
While Landau wrestles with his dilemma, Allen continues his search for
fulfillment. But as the artist ages, it's no longer sex that obsesses him but
romantic love. Mia Farrow costars as the stammering Halley Reed, a PBS
producer who must choose between an intellectual soul mate, Cliff (Allen),
and a shallow Hollywood mogul, Lester (Alan Alda).
Whiny, quirky and urbane, it's the easier half of the movie, more natural,
directed without self-righteousness and strain. And as Cliff, Allen is the
romantic misfit we like best, perplexed by women's propensity for going
off with better-looking men with more money and more sense. Rejection
lurks like a Lacoste alligator in every scene.
Cliff, who is directing a TV documentary on Lester, is bent on exposing
him as a braying ass, even splicing footage of Francis the Talking Mule into
the final product. Halley, an ambiguous love interest, comes to Lester's
defense: "He's an American phenomenon," she says. "So is acid rain,"
counters Cliff, a neurotic, birdy shadow of the desperate Dolores of Story
No. 1.
Dolores, meanwhile, has upped the stakes, threatening to expose Judah for
juggling his own and his hospital's monies if he dares leave her. Already a
cheat and an adulterer, Judah throws another log on the devil's campfire.
Then, haunted by memories of Hebrew school, he sifts through long-held
ethics to find the loopholes. His immediate friends and family cluster
around Judah, unaware that he has betrayed them.
Cliff imagines he is betrayed by Halley. Lester gets the girl and traitors
sleep tight while good men wrestle with their pillows or make smart
movies. As "The Purple Rose of Cairo" decried Hollywood's depiction of
the Depression era, so "Crimes" debates the decline of the empire,
questions the efficacy of all philosophies, from the Torah to Hollywood
bromides.
"Crimes" feels like a tug of war between Landau's potent depiction of a
blandly evil man, a man trusted with vision, and Allen's eternally comic
hand-wringer. This way Allen has his own great clanking Russian tractor of
a drama, and pleases his critics too, the ones who want "Annie Hall II."
Actually, Cliff is Alvy Singer's first cousin, condemning Lester's highblown non sequiturs, like "Comedy is tragedy plus time." Artistic nuspeak,
the emperor's new paintbrush.
Copyright 1999 The
Washington Post
Company
Crticas
CELEBRITY
Demoliendo hoteles
A esta altura de su carrera como director, con ms de treinta pelculas a cuestas, no
es fcil decir algo novedoso sobre el cine de Woody Allen. Cualquier nuevo film del
realizador, desde los ms atractivos e inteligentes hasta sus rutinarias propuestas
donde se repite a s mismo, siempre ser bienvenido por sus incondicionales seguidores. La cuota anual de Allen con el

cine, como ms de una vez se dijo en El Amante, implica encontrarse con un amigo confiable, que nos invita una y otra
vez a conocer los traumas, obsesiones y preocupaciones que lo hicieron famoso. Allen ya es un clsico del cine de los
ltimos treinta aos y eso nos hace felices, porque vimos sus pelculas, queremos a unas ms que a otras y recordamos
situaciones graciosas y patticas de varios de sus personajes.
Sus films, por lo tanto, establecen con el espectador una recproca actitud de confianza y conforman un slido cuerpo
autoral (acaso el cine de Woody Allen es el ltimo que aun puede fundamentar la teora de autor?) frente a la agresin y
el cinismo de otros directores y otras pelculas. En definitiva, despus de cada reencuentro con el personaje, volvemos a
girar un cheque al portador hasta el ao siguiente, en el que Allen retornar con su ego habitual, su visin del mundo y sus
temas de siempre, que ya conocemos en detalle.

Crmenes y pecados fue un punto de inflexin en la carrera de Allen. Aquel film de hace diez aos, oscuro y terminal, hoy
puede verse como la culminacin de una primera etapa que altern la desprolijidad formal de sus primeras comedias con
la bsqueda de una esttica personal, obsesiva y autoindulgente. En mi opinin, Crmenes y pecados es la ltima gran
pelcula del realizador, definicin que no implica omitir, por citar tres films posteriores, el celebratorio homenaje que le
hiciera al musical en Todos dicen te quiero, las divertidas escenas de Un misterioso asesinato en Manhattan y la
autorreferencia exagerada y algo molesta de Los secretos de Harry. Es que, en cada una de sus pelculas, siempre habr un
instante genial, alguna reflexin interesante sobre el arte y la vida, un momento en el que Allen transmita un

gesto que ya nos pertenece. Su obra, adems, manifiesta una gran vitalidad (ms all de su cuota anual), como
si el cine hubiera sido inventado para l.

Celebrity, en cambio, es una pelcula extraa. Como primera cuestin a sealar, hay que decir que Allen no
acta en el film, aspecto que no sera importante en otro caso pero que, de acuerdo con la complicidad que el
director busca establecer aqu con el espectador, la ausencia de su figura enjuta y problemtica es un punto en
contra del film. Su alter ego en Celebrity es Kenneth Branagh, encarnando a Lee Simon, un periodista
farandulero con aspiraciones de escritor. La composicin del actor y director ingls es loable pero impersonal,
ya que cada uno de los tics, la forma en que imposta la voz y la totalidad de su batera gestual pertenecen a
Woody Allen. Se nota, al respecto, el esfuerzo de Branagh por cumplir las rigurosas indicaciones del realizador
pero, por momentos, su actuacin no pasa de ser un calco de Allen como intrprete. En este sentido, Celebrity
es una pelcula rara y tambin contradictoria: da la impresin de que el director se preocup ms por invadir la
fuerte personalidad de Branagh (desde ya, una proeza) que por contar una historia original.

Hay pocos universos tan reconocibles como el que se muestra en Celebrity. Sin embargo, Allen parece no poder
ir ms all de aquello que sabemos de antemano sobre un mundo artificial, que disfruta de sus quince minutos
de gloria. La estrella de cine sin ninguna virtud en la interpretacin, la modelo come-hombres, el astro que
destruye la habitacin del hotel, la joven actriz de teatro under y las fiestas y gapes del negocio literario, son
presentados desde el guin de manera superficial, anecdtica, episdica y bastante desganada.
A la ausencia de sorpresa que transmiten varias escenas de la pelcula, se debe agregar la atolondrada
acumulacin de voces (242 personajes tienen dilogos), que dispersan el inters del relato. Por supuesto que
Celebrity, como cualquier otra pelcula menor del director, tambin tiene sus momentos felices y sus personajes
brillantes (el cirujano plstico, la prostituta), pero la sensacin general es que, por primera vez en su carrera,
Allen elabor un guin perezoso, que toca una sola cuerda desde el principio hasta el final.

En una escena de Celebrity, Robin Simon (Judy Davis) y su amante Tony Gardella (Joe Mantegna), concurren a
la exhibicin privada de una pelcula. A medida que llegan los invitados, el italiano le describe cidamente a
Robin las caractersticas de un crtico de cine, un actor y un productor. Por su parte, Lee Simon, quien intenta
encontrar a un editor competente para la publicacin de su libro, sobrevive entrevistando y conociendo a
distintas celebridades efmeras. Al principio de la pelcula, se reencuentra con una ex-novia (Melanie Griffith),
ahora devenida actriz, que le hace una fellatio. Tambin descubre el mundo de la moda -a travs de una
"supermodelo" sin nombre (Charlize Theron)- y hasta conoce a una chica que trabaja en un restaurante (Winona
Ryder), de la que rpidamente se enamora. Al mismo tiempo, decide convivir con una editora (Famke Janssen),
el nico personaje de la pelcula que se preocupa por las indecisiones profesionales y personales del periodista.
El mejor Woody Allen, el que nos provoca mayor simpata, es aquel que se refiere a s mismo, a su status social
y al mundillo del que forma parte. Es decir, el Allen que habla de sus propias miserias, de sus amores, de su
soledad, de sus gustos personales, del paso del tiempo. En los ltimos aos, sin embargo, el director ampli su
mirada con el propsito de dar su opinin sobre otros mundos y personajes.
Cada director -como ocurre con Allen en Celebrity- tiene el derecho de expresar sus comentarios sobre
determinados mbitos, que son investigados con curiosidad y extraamiento. Sin embargo, la mirada del
realizador sobre el mundo del espectculo, expresado por sus aspectos ms groseros y superficiales es, en mi
opinin, bastante molesta y gratuita. Son tan desagradables, arribistas y estpidos los personajes que rodean al
periodista? No hay nada que pueda rescatarse de ese universo paranoico que busca la fama a cualquier precio?
Esa particular fauna merece una condena tan feroz de parte de Allen? Acaso el director no es una figura
pblica como algunas de las que aparecen en la pelcula? En este sentido, da la impresin de que Allen se
regodeara criticando de manera malsana a personajes con los que no puede sentirse identificado.
Pero Celebrity no es la primera pelcula en la que Allen difama sin contemplaciones a quienes no tienen su
coeficiente intelectual. En Maridos y esposas, el personaje interpretado por Sidney Pollack, recin separado de
su mujer, se relaciona con una chica "diferente": ella practica aerobics, hace un culto de la comida vegetariana,
trata de entender el mundo por medio de la astrologa y no comprende que Ran de Kurosawa es una versin
libre de King Lear de Shakespeare. La mirada de Allen sobre este personaje no deja dudas, ya que nadie del
crculo intelectual que rodea a Pollack (especialmente su amigo, interpretado por el realizador) acepta las
caractersticas vulgares de la chica. La gimnasta de buen corazn, efectivamente, ser ridiculizada en una fiesta
organizada por los amigos de su pareja. Lo mismo ocurre en Poderosa Afrodita, donde se establece una
particular relacin entre el histrico personaje que encarna Allen y la prostituta interpretada por Mira Sorvino.
Por qu el director abomina de un mundo que le es ajeno pero al que recurre para mostrarlo de manera tan
poco afectuosa?
El problema, como siempre, es el gesto. A Woody Allen, sobre este tema puntual, le sigue faltando una mirada
irnica como la que tena Federico Fellini con sus criaturas. En Ginger y Fred, los viejos artistas que interpretan
Mastroianni y Giulietta Massina, observan extraados el caos que se produce tras las bambalinas de un estudio
de televisin. La visin de Fellini sobre un mundo al que despreciaba (la publicidad, la televisin) tambin era
crtica y feroz. Sin embargo, el realizador italiano siempre apel a la sutileza de la irona para disimular su
incomprensin frente a un universo que le era ajeno. En Celebrity tambin se muestra un estudio de televisin,
pero la mirada de Allen es diferente: tampoco l comprende la situacin, pero su visin es extremadamente
cnica, digna de un mandaparte intelectual que se cree superior al resto.

El ltimo Woody Allen no figurar entre sus pelculas ms recordables, especialmente porque resulta difcil
encontrar en l el infatigable ingenio del director. Sin embargo, Celebrity confirma un punto que excede
cualquier comentario crtico: Allen aprendi a filmar mujeres. Si no me creen, nada mejor que detenerse en los
rostros y los cuerpos de Charlize Theron, Winona Ryder y Famke Janssen para comprobar -gracias a Soon-Yique Allen est hecho un autntico "viejito verde".

Por Gustavo J.Castagna