Zelig 1983 | Movie Watchlist

Reviewed by Michael Scheinfeld

ZELIG employs technical wizardry to create a memorable fable of cultural assimilation. Leonard Zelig (Woody Allen) is a minor celebrity of the Depression era whose abilities as a "human chameleon" astound the world. Desperate to be accepted by others, he goes to extraordinary lengths to

become one of the crowd. This desire is realized, formally speaking, through a number of astonishing lab effects by which Allen's character is seamlessly blended with archival footage from the 1930s: he appears waiting in the on-deck circle as Babe Ruth is batting, among a crowd of Nazis cheering

Hitler, and growing a beard to become a Hassidic rabbi. His case captures the imagination of America, as well as the attentions of a psychiatrist (Mia Farrow) who falls in love with him.

ZELIG's loving recreation of Depression-era pop culture is accomplished with amazing verisimilitude; the faux-documentary sequences are among the best since CITIZEN KANE. Allen's ongoing struggles with psychoanalysis and his Jewish identity--stridently literal preoccupations in most of his

work--are for once rendered allegorically. The result is deeply satisfying.