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ANOTHER WOMAN

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Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Gena Rowlands, Mia Farrow, Ian Holm, Gene Hackman, John Houseman, Sandy Dennis, Blythe Danner
Director:  Woody Allen
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  MGM/UA
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  81 Minutes
Release Date:  June 5, 2001

“I didn’t think anything turning 30.  Everyone said I would.  Then they said I’d be crushed turning 40.  But they were wrong.  I didn’t give it a second’s thought.  They said I’d be traumatized when I hit 50.

And they were right.”

Film ****

An intelligent, well structured philosophy professor who has just turned 50 finds her carefully constructed walls being taken down brick by brick in Woody Allen’s masterful drama Another Woman.  With an amazing performance by Gena Rowlands anchoring a superbly subtle and brilliant script, this often overlooked jewel is one of the best films I’ve ever seen.

Rowlands plays Marion, a woman whose natural coolness keeps some of the people in her life, and indeed, we the audience, at a distance.  At first.  She is well thought of, successful, enjoying a new marriage to a kindred spirit (Holm), and about to start a new writing project.  In order to work without distraction, she rents a single flat in New York to serve as an office.

Her well ordered life begins to change, however, because of an acoustic peculiarity in her new office:  there is a psychiatrist’s office next door, and she can hear his therapy sessions through the vent.  At first she is practical, and merely tries to block out the sound with pillows.  But her natural curiosity soon takes over.  She listens to the outpouring of a troubled young pregnant woman, Hope (Farrow).  The things she hears begin to slowly awaken a self-evaluation in Marion, the very one she adamantly denies she needs in the opening scene.

Woody Allen has always been a master of manipulating reality in his films for the sake of narrative.  His use of such techniques as inter-cutting flashback segments, exaggeration of certain events, and characters actually walking around and interacting with their own memories are part of what made Annie Hall such a groundbreaking film and hilarious comedy.  Here, in a drama, he experiments with the same techniques, with effective results.

It’s a deliberate but utterly fascinating process, as Marion’s self-illusions begin to crumble away one by one in a number of genuine surprises that I’ll try to keep from revealing.  But the questions that come begin to transform her before our eyes.   Was she responsible for a childhood friend’s inherent sadness?  Did she make the right choice in marrying safely when she could have married passionately?  Do people really think of her the way she perceives they do?

If it sounds like I’m oversimplifying, I am…but for the simple reason that the less you really know going in, the more potent the viewing experience will be.  I’m a long time and huge fan of Woody Allen as a writer and a director, but for some reason, Another Woman came in completely under my radar.  I had never even heard of it until I saw it included in the new Woody Allen Collection box set.  I popped it in my player without a hint of foreknowledge, and the experience of discovering this amazing, intelligent and beautifully subtle picture first hand is not one that I would want to take away from any other movie fan.

There are those who adamantly don’t care for Allen’s attempts at dramas.  To be certain, his body of work is a wildly varied one, from the screwball comedies like Bananas to the haunting and thought provoking master works like Crimes and Misdemeanors.  Personally, I love what Woody has done with dramatic films like Interiors and this one.  He is a brilliant, insightful writer, and when he creates a drama, he does so with great love and attention to character, and finds emotion in the sublime and the tender rather than the bombastic and melodramatic.  Those who want a heated love story or a heart wrenching tale may find the Woodman’s dramas a little less than satisfying.  Those who want a change of pace from that, however, really owe it to themselves to study these quiet, unassuming little gems that speak truthful volumes about life, love, joy, bitterness, and all the honest, human moments that comprise our lives.

Another Woman boasts a terrific cast in top condition whom, with the exception of Mia Farrow, had not worked in a Woody Allen film before.  In addition to Rowland’s stellar work, Gene Hackman is memorable as a past lover, in a role slightly different than just about anything else I’ve seen from him.  Ian Holm, a remarkable actor, brings a quiet sadness to the role of the husband.  Farrow’s small but important role works beautifully within the structure of the film, and Houseman, in his final film performance, is touching as the regretful father.  In a flashback role, David Ogden Stiers plays this character as a young man, and his vocal and physical similarities to Houseman are remarkable.

But though an ensemble piece, most of the credit should go to Woody Allen for his wonderful and beautiful screenplay and impeccable sense of direction.  Allen is not a director afraid to let his camera run, capturing moments that come across as spontaneous and honest, but with an incredible amount of subtext and occasional symbolism. 

The whole notion of Marion investing in a small room to shut everything out so she can focus on herself is just one example, and it’s no coincidence that at the same the unwelcome voices start to appear in her office, they also come to life in her own mind.  She can’t shut them out once they start to come in, and dealing with them will greatly alter her life and her own perceptions.

Video ***

This anamorphic widescreen transfer from MGM/UA is generally very good, but as is the case with some Allen films, the movie itself doesn’t really make for a reference quality DVD.  Images are generally sharper during brighter scenes, but softened a bit during darker ones.  Available lighting is often employed, which doesn’t always capture colors at their most natural for the camera, but consider that these are deliberate choices by Allen and his terrific cinematographer, Sven Nykvist.  The disc represents a good, clean and honest rendering of the material, with no undue grain or evidence of compression to mar the effect.  All in all, a worthwhile effort.

Audio **

Woody records his soundtracks in mono.   As with most of his offerings, this DVD represents a perfectly palatable but unspectacular listening experience.  Clear dialogue, nice sounding music, but not much more.

Features *

Only a trailer.

Summary:

One of the rare joys of film criticism is to sit down to a movie you had never heard of and having it immediately rank among the truly best you’ve ever seen.  It’s a feeling I’d like to bottle up and break out on more mundane days.  Another Woman is a sublime, beautiful and completely engrossing character driven piece about a woman whose barriers of protection and illusion melt away before our eyes.  It is a unique and unforgettably brilliant experience, and another masterpiece from Woody Allen.