Monday, 7 June 2010

Another Woman

Many critics have tried to disparage this particular film - the mysteriously titled Another Woman (1988) - for supposedly offering something of a counterfeit copy of the work Ingmar Bergman. Such reactions no doubt stem from the similarities to certain themes in a film like Wild Strawberries (1957); where the image and presentation of a person viewing the subconscious dramatisations of specific "past" events and interacting with them, leads to a sort of emotional epiphany. Although these elements are obviously clear - noticeable even in the creation of this character and the film's emphasis on faces posed in the half-light - one could just as easily pick out the influence of say, the films of Andrei Tarkovsky; where the ideas of memory and reflection and the recollection of significant events from the past, help to clarify a story that is taking place in the present.

In the vast majority of Allen's work, this juxtaposition - between the past and the present, or the way in which memories can somehow change a course of action (and vice versa) - is almost always explored through the creation of fiction; where characters writing a book or creating a film use these past-life experiences to explore the relationships between the characters on the page. In doing so, these characters are ultimately better able to define the problems and pitfalls that are evident in their own real-life associations, largely through the contrasts and distinctions that are formed when these two individual strands inevitably intersect.

We can see such elements in everything from Stardust Memories (1980) to Deconstructing Harry (1997), where the characters are using these fictions to explore the various problems in their own lives and relationships, often without even recognising that such problems existed to begin with.

Another Woman directed by Woody Allen, 1988:

Although it is possible to regard Another Woman as one of the weakest of Allen's films from this pivotal peak-period of the 1980s, it does at least offer an experience that works; a film where the sense of emotion and the general ideas explored become more successful as the film progresses towards its somewhat more hopeful and indeed almost reflective final act. However, the lead up to this particular revelation, still pregnant with an uncertainly and a quiet anticipation, is a long and winding one; focusing on the issues of guilt, failure and a crisis of identity, as the characters maintain a polite veneer of dignity and outward civility, while nonetheless crumbling from within.

Like the protagonists in the similarly structured Interiors (1978) and September (1987), the choice of the lead-character and her personal portrayal is vital to the film but difficult for the audience to really come to grips with. Her initial characteristics, combined with the self-assured narration, make it harder for us to interact with her on a purely personal level; while her interactions with the other characters and her own attempts to learn more about them ultimately cast a further negative light on her own failings and insecurities. Through this particular device, Allen is able to more closely examine the themes behind the film, eventually creating something of an epiphany that will affect every single character within the story, but only as an extension of Marion herself.

Another Woman directed by Woody Allen, 1988:

Marion suffers from that typical trait of complaining about problems that she has created through arrogance and a lack of understanding. The fact that she herself cannot appreciate this for the bulk of the film's duration makes her even harder to sympathise with, as she continues to look down on people and place them under the microscope, as if insects, there to be examined. However, for once, these qualities - no matter how seemingly repellent in the very early parts of the film - do eventually lead the plot to somewhere more enriching.

Regardless of the flaws of the character, the film, in its structure and tone, has a fascinating quality, which in some respects, leaves it open to a variety of deeper and more personal interpretations. For example, the implication of the title - which is an important factor in truly understanding the various personal connections woven throughout the film - is never fully explained, though is hinted at, in such a way so as to suggest elements of further, meta-interpretation. We can most clearly see it as an extension of Marion's unspoken guilt in regards to her various romantic relationships; her infidelities, the eventual infidelities of her husband, and the distant suggestion/accusation that the break-up from her controlling first husband was the reason for his death. She is also a character forever in the shadow of her mother; an enigmatic figure in love with nature and the arts, but stifled by her coldly intellectual husband, and the responsibilities of a family life.

Another Woman directed by Woody Allen, 1988:

The intention of the title is also obvious in Marion's interest and eventual relationship with the tragic and mysterious Hope; a young pregnant woman plagued by various psychological problems and her own suicidal thoughts. Marion initially discovers Hope when she rents an apartment that shares an adjoining wall with a psychiatrist's office, where a flaw in the ventilation systems makes it possible to eavesdrop on the various conversations.

Another Woman directed by Woody Allen, 1988:

In "discovering Hope", Marion is able to contextualise her own life and failures in comparison to this tragic young woman alive with desires for art and creative fulfilment, but shackled by the oppression of everyday living. It is almost as if Hope is an extension of Marion's psyche; a vision of what could have been had she allowed her life to take a different direction, or a cipher that allows her to fully realise how meaningless and empty her current situation truly is. In creating the character of Hope, Allen is intelligent enough to leave the broader attributes a mystery. As a result, the very nature of Hope - from her brief appearances in the film to the way Allen frames her within these scenes - suggest an almost imaginary figure; a development of Marion's own personality and a way for her to analyse herself, psychologically, in a way that reduces the chance for her own ego to rationalise her mistakes and complications.

By creating "another woman", Marion is able to view herself objectively, finally finding hope, in the literal sense, and therefore able enough to change her circumstances and the direction of her life for the better. The ultimate revelation of this makes the film far more interesting and rewarding than it might have initially seemed, with Allen observing a number of weighty psychological themes and uncomfortable personal questions in a way that still makes for an intelligent and captivating drama, regardless of its potential flaws.