Directed by Woody Allen
About halfway through “Husbands and Wives” I had to sit and ask myself, have I seen this film before? By the end of the film I still wasn’t sure. I think the main reasoning behind that is not because I either had or had not seen it, but simply because “Husbands and Wives” is the quintessential Woody Allen film. And since there have been well over 40 of those, and I’ve seen nearly every one of them, my mind was bound to somewhere get lost in the jumble that is my Woody Allen sub-conscious. I have to say though, that despite this weird sense of deja-vu, I don’t hold it against the film at all. In fact, “Husbands and Wives” is the quintessential Woody Allen film because it is one of his very best films. And in a career as amazing as he has had, that says a lot.
For those of you interested in knowing this (and that probably just amounts to me) “Husbands and Wives” is one of the six films that Woody has recently gone on record as saying is his favourite of his own work. The other five are “Bullets Over Broadway”, “Match Point”, “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, “Zelig”, and “Vicky Christina Barcelona”. All five of these films are quite good, but I’d be hard pressed to include them on my own list of his best. (Mine would probably read: “Annie Hall”, “Hannah and Her Sisters”, “Take The Money and Run”, “Sleeper”, “Whatever Works”, and “Husbands and Wives”.) Regardless, “Husbands and Wives” is very interesting because it shows how ahead of the times Allen was. Not only does the film deal with the subject of divorce (as do most of Allen’s films) with an eye for absolute realism, but he films the movie in such a style that pre-dates the more modern craze of the faux documentary. Of course, Woody was not the first person to ever do this, but I do believe he was ever the first one to combine that form of narrative technique with the editing style of Jean-Luc Goddard from “Breathless”. In fact, the entire film of “Husbands and Wives” screams of the sort of European sensibility that Woody has chosen to more or less end his filmmaking career on. Despite being a very NYC based film, “HAW” breathes in its American surroundings and exhales a very European (particularly French) approach. Woody’s character even goes so far as to let out one of his secret desires, to move to Europe and create a life for himself there. Later on in the film when Mia Farrow’s character chastises Woody for such a fantasy, telling him that he’d never be able to survive more than 48 hours off the island of Manhattan, you can almost sense Woody challenging himself to pursue his dreams and move to Europe. (Sure it took him nearly another ten years to do so, but he did.)
And that scene is just one in many which adds a layer of realism that is absent in most of even the best Woody Allen films. It could be because I know that during the production of this film, Woody Allen’s relationship with Mia Farrow was ending, but you can almost sense that this film is acting as somewhat of a catharsis for both of these talented individuals. As their real life relationship ends, they act it out on-screen, and maybe found a way to reconcile themselves in both worlds.
“Husbands and Wives” is a very heavy film. It is also a very funny film. It’s not quite the drama that Allen has been making more of lately, but it’s certainly not the comedy of his past. It is, however, a very well made film. And not only that but in one of his many monologues in the film, Allen expresses his character’s particular idea on relationships that I found myself relating to even more than the ideas in his other films. (Of which, I believe in many.) This is what he says:
“See, I’ve always had this penchant… for what I call “Kamikaze Women.” I call them Kamikazes because they crash their plane. They crash it into you, and you die with them. As soon as there’s little chance of it working out… Something clicks in my mind. Maybe because I’m a writer. A dramatic or aesthetic component becomes right… and I go after that person. There’s a certain dramatic ambience that’s almost… as if I fall in love with the situation. Of course, it has not worked out well for me. And ultimately she ended up in an institution. (laughs.) I mean, it’s not funny, it was a very sad thing. She was great, but nuts.”
That’s somewhat of a paraphrase because I wanted to end on a joke. But nobody puts it better than Woody.