Shadows and Fog (1991)

Directed and Written by Woody Allen, Rated PG-13, 85 minutes.

Woody Allen prepares another inverted homage in the vein of Stardust Memories and The Purple Rose of Cairo with Shadows and Fog; however, while his past attempts at capturing the oppressively weird psyche of Fellini or the crowd pleasing satire of Capra, Shadows and Fog is a mismatch of style and substance. Allen shoots a wonderfully moody expressionistic film, but his Kafka-inspired script is in the wrong movie.

When a local strangler claims his latest victim, a vigilante mob confronts the nebbish Kleinman (Allen), awaking him from a deep sleep and sends him on his duties for “the plan.” Yet, in true Allen fashion, the plan is never explained to Kleinman, who then wanders the streets, looking for a clue. Across town, a local sword swallower named Irmy (Mia Farrow) leaves her cheating clown boyfriend (John Malkovich) and takes up at a local brothel, where she spends the night as a prostitute.

The plots converge as you might expect. Following Irmy’s night as a prostitute and subsequent arrest, Allen meets her outside of the police station and the two brave the strangler haunted night. Over time, Kleinman and Irmy running into new factions of the same mob, corrupt police and religious figures, and circus performers that, like these two, haven’t the slightest idea of what’s going on.

In one respect, the expressionistic look matches Kleinman’s own ambiguity. Allen’s lampooning of  Fritz Lang’s M. plays nicely with the appropriate stylistic choices of Allen’s camera. What fails to connect is Kleinman. Allen is in top form as the timid Kleinman, but what worked in Bananas doesn’t sit nicely here. Kleinman’s relationship with anyone is barely worth acknowledging, and since no one else seems to care for him anyway, I don’t see why we should either.

Allen parades a wealth of talent on screen, but while the actors and look of the film are fantastic, his script suffers where it counts. Irmy’s relationship with Malkovich and Cusak are fleeting, no matter how much the existential Cusak would have you believe otherwise. Kleinman’s interest in the Strangler and his sudden lifelong appreciation for magic don’t appear until the end as the director shoehorns them into relevance. Nothing about the finale feels earned.

With a production as meticulous as this one is (Allen’s camera work and production design are among the best of his career) and given the talent on board, one would think Allen would give his script more care. Relying on old tricks, he tries his best to use the old Allen-in-his-favorite-works formula but fails to create a stable compound.

Grade: C+

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