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According to critic Robbie Collin this is one of Woody Allen's weakest films and having just watched it and having seen 25 of his films I might agree with him. The idea of a loving homage to German expressionist cinema is not a bad one but Allen fails to do much with the genre and wastes a talented and eclectic cast on a weak screenplay. The only real joy in the film comes from a few scenes in which Mia Farrow, playing a mousy sword swallower, encounters a group of brassy prostitutes played by Kathy Bates, Lily Tomlin and Jodie Foster. As the working girls discuss their experiences on the job and Farrow stoops in discomfort at the frankness with which they discuss sex and financial transactions was funny. They are later joined by a group of young intellectuals attending a local university and Farrow agrees to have sex with the particularly pretentious John Cusack and surprisingly orgasms. As soon as this brief interlude ends and we return to the tedium of our lead character played by Allen.
Other issues with the film include the fact that you never really care about any of the characters and the dreams they are pursuing or the problems they have. Allen's characters can often be difficult to like as he has relationships with women who are too young for him or mistreats the women around him but you feel only apathy for him here. He is a victim of a corrupt system facing mostly mental obstacles, a hallmark of the genre, yet because of the vagueness of all this and a lack of time to develop his character we never feel that we know him. We get scenes of him getting to know a girl as he walks around a location that is foreign to him as often appears in Allen films but there is not the magic of Manhattan (1979) present in this film. This was his second to last collaboration with Farrow and he fails to put her to good use which is unfortunate considering her good work in Alice (1990). Here's to hoping that I enjoy Deconstructing Harry (1997).
It has some interesting points but, as a whole...
Shadows and Fog isn't Woody Allen's most celebrated work, in fact it barely gets a mention but I liked the film. Its setting is a circus in some town in Eastern Europe and the film is brimming with marquee names like John Malkovich, John Cusack and Jodie Foster to even Madonna. The jokes and gags are funny though not in a direct way and there is a bare plot so to speak. The decision to shoot in black and white is sound as the cinematography is a highlight even detractors of this film speak well of.
Shadows and Fog, one of Woody Allen's best films, is a successful experiment in combining Kafka-like surrealism (Orson Welles' The Trial seems like a clear influence,) typical Allen neurotic comedy, and film noir. The film overcomes its influences to make a profound statement about the human predicament in a way that is not at all pretentious. Allen stars as Max Kleinman (Max = big, Kleinman = small person,) a skittish coward who is drafted by local vigilantes in a plan to catch a murderer (Lang's M is also a clear influence,) but ends up wandering around in a literal and existential fog complaining, "I can't find out my role in the plan." The excellent black and white photography is just right for the mood. The movie gains extra interest from a number of star cameos, including Madonna, Lily Tomlin, John Malkovich, and Jody Foster.
#WoodyAllenRetro Podcast Project
wow what an amazing cast is the first thing that needs to be said, then the rest of the movie has it's charm and mood for sure - it is certainly humorous at parts throughout but the atmosphere becomes more of the movie than plot which is a bit disappointing... but then again just watching the cast interact and have such lively conversations is almost worth the movies weight alone - overall not woodys best but a great cast and visual atmosphere makes this one special more than anything else
"- It's true. Everybody loves his illusions.
- Loves them. They need them. Like they need the air."
Divertida pero poco interesante y con un extraño tono, aunque bien actuada y con las habituales buenas líneas de diálogo típicas en Allen.
Here's why adapting really short bits of writing into feature films is fraught with difficulty. Allen's short piece "Death" is a funny little parody of Kafka. It would also only account for about 15 minutes of screen time. Adapting it for the screen 20 years later, Allen pads out the material with tons of references to other films, genres and filmmakers. The result is an uneven and slow hodgepodge of material that wears out it's welcome before the first act is over.
Could have been good, but it fell apart in the end. Someone must have been pushing a deadline, but the cast was star studded. Crazy to think how many famous actors there were.