„All your life is nihilism, cynicism, sarcasm and orgasm. In France you could lead a political campaign and win with this slogan”, says one of the heroes in Allen’s film Deconstructing Henry. Or, as another author’s hero said: “What else is comedy but tragedy plus time.” This practically sublimates the entire opus of the great Woody Allen. In his first films, such as Take the Money and Run, Bananas and Sleeper, the character of ‘schlemiel’, as the quintessential comical figure in the genesis of Yiddish humor adapted to slapstick esthetics, represents the best product of the director’s opus. After his bitter-sweet comedies such as Manhattan and Annie Hall (this year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of its filming), turned his attention to films that are characterized by a somewhat different creative process (code: Interiors). Nevertheless, Freudian concept of psychoanalysis and his magic formula of lust, repression, anxiousness and sexuality remain the author’s constant theme. Ernest Becker’s article 'The Denial of Death' that Alvy Singer buys to his beloved Annie in the film Annie Hall quotes two strategies for avoiding morality - sexuality, which Allen wholeheartedly embraced, and God, whom he mocked. In parallel with Freud and Bergman, Allen was haunted by Dostoyevsky ever since 1975 when he directed Love and Death. 'The world is a big restaurant'. 'Subjectivity is objective'. 'If Christ was a carpenter, who knows how much he was charging for bookshelves'. The historical setting for the story is Napoleon’s wars and Allen’s character with the psyche of a 'Jewish neurotic' who gets drawn into that mess.
Allen’s obsession with Dostoevsky continued in the film Crimes and Misdemeanors in which a rich doctor Judah (Martin Landau) organizes a murder of his lover (Anjelica Huston) after she threatens to ruin his life. At first he is haunted by guilt but soon afterwards forgets about everything and continues to live his life completely unburdened with the ballast of the terrible crime which he had committed. References to two seminal works by Dostoyevsky – 'Crime and Punishment' and 'Brothers Karamazov' – are more than evident. This continued in one of his more recent films, Match Point, which similarly to Crimes and Misdemeanors features a hero who murders his lover. However, unlike Judah, Match Point’s Chris is not haunted by remorse, even though it is influenced by the immanent style and spirit of Patricia Highsmith. Afterwards, Allen exchanged Manhattan with London, as a starting point for his European tour from Paris to Barcelona and to Rome. 'Since cosmic justice does not exist, there is very little hope for any justice. The universe is not moral but rather indifferent. In reality we either rationalize or deny or we are not able to continue living'. With these words ophthalmologist Judah tries to justify his crime. And the moral choice comes down to the question of what is more important – guilt in the hero’s own eyes or guilt in the eyes of those around him. The author serves us all these issue in a witty cocktail of comedy of character, moralist parabola and crime drama.
The Allen we love the most is the one for whom Manhattan becomes his natural habitat. Those were the days when he was a comedian who made films, and not a 'comic filmmaker' that he became. The latter is mentioned by Allen’s faithful collaborator, editor Ralph Rosenblum in his book 'When the Shooting Stops'. Thus Annie Hall, whose Manhattan-like manners are represented by his muse Diane Keaton, is reduced to a series of frantic anecdotes about existential fears, masturbation, sniffing cocaine, going to the movies, psychoanalysis and the likes. One-liners are sharper than the sharpest razorblade. In this film Keaton is an icon of style while her tweed jackets, khaki pants, white shirt, tie and black vest became for her what the little black dress was for Audrey Hepburn.
Two years later, Allen hired Keaton to star in the humorously sad Manhattan, described on the poster as a 'nervous romance', in which the author portrays a TV screenwriter who is trying to turn a new page in his life and become a 'serious' writer while nervously (or rather neurotically) searching for the woman of his life (who else but Keaton): and all this is accompanied by evocative music by Gershwin. But we do not remember Manhattan just for its famous scene on the bench with a romantic view of the Brooklyn Bridge, masterfully shot by the cinematographer Gordon Willis, but also for its perfect combination of Yiddish humor from the author’s earlier films with the tragic atmosphere of Interiors. While observing the interiors Allen relies on sequences paradoxically close to Godard’s film grammar, while the exteriors of New York in Cinemascope assume an almost mythological character of a 'love letter' to a city. Thus we get a seminal Allen with an identity crisis of a middle-aged intellectual who hides neurotic cynicism behind his clowning. He is best described by the Gerard Genette’s famous phrase - ‘Comedian is a tragedian observed from behind.'
Therefore Interiors may be the most spectacular author transformation of an American artist, ever since Eastwood directed Breezy starring William Holden. Similarly to Eastwood, who in Breezy unexpectedly discovered Rohmer in himself, with Interiors Allen became the 'American Bergman'. However, this does not mean that there are no humorous moments in Interiors, but they are so well integrated in the utterly serious structure of the film. Still the parallels to Bergman that the critics like to use when writing about Allen, are quite superficial because the true roots of this film stem from American art and tradition, such as works by Eugene O'Neill (code: Long Day's Journey into Night). Again the film features the indispensable Keaton, now in the role of the poet daughter of an elegant but depressed designer Geraldine Page.
In Allen’s film Irrational Man, Joaquin Phoenix plays a philosophy professor who loses his grip on the world and keeps distancing himself from his surroundings. But who is this irrational man from the film’s title? For Allen, he is yet another variation of Dostoyevsky and his Raskolnikov who has been haunting him since the 1970’s and Love and Death in which he starred as a 'militant coward' who competes against the great Russian writer to prove who is the greater misanthrope. 'I like Russian writers, especially Dostoyevsky, he understands things', says Phoenix. So what remains today from Allen’s cinema? Maybe professor Phoenix answered this question in the marvelous dialogue that took place during a dinner with a student when he tried to stop her from falling for him. 'Why?', she asks him. 'Because you are better than me', he tells her and gives her an old book of poetry. Allen still has the strength to find his 'muse' and presents her with a film and those emotional 'recollections of stardust', as the only possible answer to the hero’s private and professional crisis. (Dragan Rubeša)