Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

“We are all faced throughout our lives with agonizing decisions. Moral choices. Some are on a grand scale. Most of these choices are on lesser points. But! We define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are in fact the sum total of our choices. Events unfold so unpredictably, so unfairly, human happiness does not seem to have been included, in the design of creation. It is only we, with our capacity to love, that give meaning to the indifferent universe. And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying, and even to find joy from simple things like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more.”

‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’, directed by Woody Allen in 1989, is an American black comedy. It tells two parallel stories: the first of an ophthalmologist, Judah Rosenthal, played by Martin Landau, who is having an affair which turns sour. After his mistress, Dolores Paley, played by Anjelica Huston, threatens to ruin his marriage, Rosenthal’s brother agrees to hire a hitman to dispose of her. Meanwhile, Clifford Stern, played by Woody Allen, is hired to direct a film featuring his wealthy but vain brother-in-law. Whilst making the film, he falls for a producer who he attempts to woo with a showing of ‘Singing in the Rain’ and Indian food. Ultimately, Rosenthal ends up free but guilt-ridden, and Stern ends up disconsolate and alone. The two halves of the film, one melodramatic and dark, the other comedic and sweet, rest uneasily together but consistency is found with both Allen’s witty and philosophical dialogue and Ingmar Bergman’s usual cinematographer Sven Nykvist’s chilly and spare visual styling. The two narrative threads are also drawn together through the common theme of marital infidelity and guilt. The unresolved ending of the murder plot and the unhappy ending of the romance (the producer, Halley Reed, ends up with the insufferable and unsuitable brother-in-law) also work to unify the film. For all its dark subject matter and frosty appearance, Allen’s movie is still charming and likeable – as with most of his thrillers, the humour and sense of anarchic fun is omnipresent, and it’s debatable whether this makes them dramatically weak, or characteristically distinctive.

Would I recommend it? Yes – I really enjoy Allen’s movies and love his pace and reverence towards international cinema. I’d watch in a double bill with one of Bergman’s psychodramas for the cinematography.


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