Friday, October 29, 2010

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger / You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger [could be called Tulee vieras tumma ja pitkä mies in Finnish]. US/ES © 2010 Mediapro / Versátil Cinema / Gravier Productions. D+SC: Woody Allen. M includes Boccherini and "When You Wish Upon A Star" sung by Leon Redbone. 99 min. Released in Finland by Scanbox with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Saliven Gustavsson. Viewed at Kinopalatsi 7, Helsinki, 29 Oct 2010 (day of Finnish premiere).

There is an expression in Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck for which there is no good translation in English: livsløgnen, literally, "life-lie". It is a concept similar to "a foundation myth". The idea is also close to the "print the legend" theme in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. «Tar du livsløgnen fra et gjennomsnittsmenneske tar du lykken fra det med det samme» ("If you take away the life-lie from the average person you also take away his happiness").

"Illusion is sometimes better than medicine" is a remark in Woody Allen's new satirical comedy which explores Ibsenian territory. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is a rambling, multi-narrative ensemble piece.

The rich old couple is divorced. Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) marries a call girl (Lucy Punch). Helena (Gemma Jones) lets her life be led by a clairvoyant (Pauline Collins). She also finds a new partner, a soulmate, a sensitive bookseller with paranormal interests.

Their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) is a gallery assistant who supports her husband Roy (Josh Brolin), a wannabe writer who has trouble finishing a second novel attractive enough for the publishers. Actually it is the wealthy Helena who supports both Sally and Roy. Then a writer friend of Roy's, Henry Strangler (Ewen Bremner) gets into a car accident and Roy, believing he's dead, offers Henry's brilliant manuscript as his own.

Roy also starts an affair with a young musicologist Dia (Freida Pinto) who lives in the house opposite, and Dia's wedding with a huge international cast of guests is cancelled (another instance of the cinema's obsession with the cancelled wedding). Sally is attracted to her boss, the gallerist Greg (Antonio Banderas) but their terms remain strictly professional. Instead, Greg is attracted to a woman artist introduced to him by Sally.

The satirical themes are bitter but in the performances there is a tendency towards rounded personalities. We laugh with the characters, not at them.

Woody Allen belongs to the contemporary film-makers whose new films I keep looking forward to. He has almost always something new to offer. At least the astonishing cast of actors he manages to attract to his films. Is there another director in the history of the cinema who can boast such a roll of great actors in his oeuvre?

More profoundly, I sense a new balance of the bitter and the funny in Woody Allen's film. The "dark stranger" (= death) is not a new theme, it was there from the start (Love and Death... ). But the way Allen now deals with the Ibsenian livsløgn is new and original.

The screenplay starts in the middle and stops abruptly. There is no beginning nor end to this story.

Vilmos Zsigmond is a great cinematographer, but the digital transfer has the average contemporary look of cinema films, no match to the great Woody Allen cinematography of the films shot by Sven Nykvist, Carlo di Palma, etc.

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