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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"What is this thing called love?"
DVD ReviewThe perspective of time allowed by the DVD format is exemplified by this anticipated release of Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives. With the decade that has passed since its theatrical debut, it might finally find an audience that can separate it from the tabloid events overshadowing this experimental journey into the deconstruction of a modern marriage.
A frenetic camera intrudes on two couples getting ready to go out for the evening. The scene is shot in such documentary-style immediacy that the turbulence erupting before us, engulfs us. Sally (Davis) and Jack (Pollack), married for 15 years, announce they are splitting up. While they appear rational and amicable, their long-time friends react rather badly, especially Judy (Farrow), who is visibly upset and audibly angry, somehow humiliated by the news.
As Sally and Jack feel their way through their separation, Judy and Gabe (Allen) begin to question their own motivations, each other and their marriage. Allen carefully disburdens his characters of their insouciant neutralities in the process of romantic decay, encapsulated in energetic and disquieting scenes of suspicion, flirtation, reminiscences, denial and finally, confrontation. It's impossible—and uncomfortable—to take sides; as each character's interior dichotomies are exposed, the erratic camera and subtle but dizzying contradictions leave no surface upon which sympathy can settle. Sally's aggressive perfectionism reveals her dissatisfaction with everything, belying her need for passivity and quiescence; Jack takes his disappointment with the manifestation of his fantasy out on the object of his ill-conceived desire; Gabe imagines himself as a dimensional being but retreats when confronted by the opportunity to expand; and Judy basks in an almost primitive denial of her own passive-aggressive behavior. Nevertheless, their peccadilloes are never trivialized, but significant in defining each individual, and so a universal empathy is achieved. The story spreads to encompass a self-aggrandizing English student with an Elektra complex (Lewis), an under-educated health nut with a penchant for astrology (Anthony), and the romantically gentile Michael (Neeson).
Allen's craft is in top form and dominates this film in which he breaks most of his former conventions, choosing more avant garde extremes of Godard's Breathless (Ŕ bout de souffle) over the rituals of Bergman, Chekov and other early inspirational sources: source lighting, disruptive edits and jump cuts, a handheld camera, overt obscenities, nudity and sex, a protracted kiss... This is an uncompromising Woody Allen, brutally weighing passion against the refuge of companionship, expanding his already brilliant cinematic vocabulary. (He even smiles the only time he mentions death!)
The performances are as unique as their package. Farrow is finally credible as Judy, the manipulative, disingenuous wife who is Denial personified in a frumpy old sweater. Allen plays Gabe confessional yet restrained, and Sydney Pollack is surprisingly efficient as the distended Jack. Sending them all back to summer stock is Judy Davis, who chews through every scene with an insatiable hunger to find Sally's source. Earning one of the film's two Oscar® nominations, she is so believably manic one can see the short step to last year's Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows; she wears histrionics like one of Miss Garland's dress gloves.
"Can I go? Is this over?" - Gabe
Pithy, painful, funny and terrifically polemic, Husband and Wives would be Allen's last of 12 projects with Farrow in as many years, and as such, seems perhaps more divulging than most. Woody understands the intimate psychology of relationships, and nobody does it better.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar presents Husbands and Wives in its intended anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with a second, full-screen version that seems to be open-matte. The image is free of age or digitally anomalies, but the contrast is somewhat murky. The director's trademark warm, infusive palette is intact and only a pleasant, film-like grain is visible.
In a move that might only prove annoying to reviewers, the first menu that allows one to choice between the widescreen and full-frame versions is only accessible when the disc first spins up; the only way I could move between them was to switch to the other disc tray and then return.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: If it's Woody, it's mono. As ever, the audio quality perfectly suits the subject matter, with the marvelous musical track present without encroaching upon the predominance of the dialogue.
A French mono track is included, similar in tone and quality. The actress dubbing Farrow is an excellent match.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Manhattan Murder Mystery
Extras Review: An original trailer is offered in full-screen format, which gives the film a more ticklish quality than it actually has. Another for Manhattan Murder Mystery is also presented in full-frame. Twenty-eight chapters dissect the film rather well. The main thing that sets this release apart from the three MGM Woody Allen sets is the absence of the single-fold booklet, which I suddenly found myself missing.
Subtitles in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese are provided.
Extras Grade: D
Final Comments"The only time Rifkin and his wife experienced simultaneous orgasm is when the judge handed them their divorce papers."
While it is difficult to categorize this film as a comedy, it is impossible to call it a drama with lines like this. Allen says that in Husbands and Wives, he broke free of the "prettiness" and "precision" of the past in order to cut to the heart of his subject matter. Indeed he does, with bravura.
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