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Love and Death Reviews

LOVE AND DEATH, Woody Allen's hilarious satire of classic Russian literature, might properly be described as Tolstoy meets the Marx Bros., as he and Diane Keaton get caught up in an uproariously funny plot to assassinate Napoleon in 1812. In 19th-century Russia, Boris Grushenko (Woody Allen) falls in love with his beautiful cousin Sonja (Diane Keaton), but she's in love with his brother Ivan (Henry Czarniak). When Ivan announces his engagement to another woman, Sonja marries an elderly herring merchant, and Boris reluctantly joins the Russian army to fight Napoleon. Boris becomes an accidental hero after hiding in a cannon which destroys the enemy camp. Meanwhile, Sonja's husband dies and Boris proposes to her. Sonja accepts, believing Boris will surely be killed in an upcoming duel, but he survives and the two are married. Sonja eventually comes to love Boris, but when Napoleon again invades Russia, Sonja talks Boris into assassinating him. Disguised as the Spanish ambassador and his sister, Sonja and Boris manage to arrange an audience with Napoleon (James Tolkan), but are unaware that he is actually a double who has been substituted to protect the real Emperor. LOVE AND DEATH was the first film which truly marked Woody Allen's growth from a stand-up comic and talented, but amateur, filmmaker, to a mature and original comedic director. It was a transitional film, coming between earlier shtick-filled movies such as BANANAS (1971) and his later, adult-oriented ones like ANNIE HALL (1977) and MANHATTAN (1979). LOVE AND DEATH successfully synthesizes Allen's penchant for inspired lunatic gags with his desire to broaden the scope of his films, by parodying the entire school of gloomy and portentous Russian novels with sophisticated wit and style. He also mixes in some priceless Groucho-esque wisecracks, along with other artistic and cultural references, including homages to Sergei Eisenstein (utilizing Prokofiev's score from ALEXANDER NEVSKY; quoting an image from THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN), and the Bob Hope costume-drama parodies which Allen has acknowledged as inspiration (particularly MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE). Technically, the film is one of Allen's most accomplished, handsomely filmed in Hungary and France by Ghislain Cloquet (who had shot a number of Robert Bresson's films), which helps make the hysterical anachronistic sight gags stand out even more.