Films that preceded greatness are often forgotten, and that is very much what Love and Death is. After the incredible work Woody Allen brought us with Annie Hall, it’s no surprise that there’s been a shift in perception as to what his work provides us. But it’s a true shame that Love and Death has been somewhat forgotten about, its dumping onto Netflix solidifying its stance as both a popular piece of film, but one that nobody really remembers all that well.
Love and Death is a great piece that focuses on the more obvious comparisons and influences that Ingmar Bergman brings to your standard Woody Allen picture. He rips on the connotations of death, ones so prominent in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Allen stars alongside Diane Keaton in their first outing together, set in the Russian revolution period of history. It’s full of sneeringly creative jabs at Tsarism, communist regimes and Napoleon. Very much seeped in the history of the time period, Love and Death benefits greatly from some fine writing and historical references.
What this piece of Allen’s filmography brings us is a blend of slapstick, comedic elements found in Sleeper and the more forthright, light–hearted storytelling techniques of A Midsummer Sex Night’s Comedy. It seems fitting that Love and Death feels like A Midsummer Sex Night’s Comedy, especially given that both are clear homages to the work of Bergman, who becomes a solid focus throughout the entirety of this tightly knit comedy.
Allen’s starring performance is great, not quite the highs of his more dramatic works, but a far stretch better than the likes of Bananas and Take the Money and Run. Maybe this is in part due to the forgettable nature of both listed films, but Love and Death makes no real exception to the forgettable leading Allen rule. Starring as Boris, Allen ramps up the slapstick and drama in a film that looks to cover far too much in too little time. He manages to get through the Russian and French war, along with the rise and fall of Napoleon in record time.
Definitely a strong standalone comedy, even one of Allen’s stronger outputs overall on a directing scale. The film is great to look at, with some nice shots breaking up the standard formula of the 70s comedy movie. Keaton is great alongside Allen, bringing about a performance that provides confidence in a role that she would soon grow into as Allen’s frequent love affair. The two work well together in an unfortunately forgotten piece of early Allen, one that strives to showcase how great a director he would become, and how he never lost his comedic charm.