Thursday, July 16, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Woody Allen Weaves An Uncommon Tragedy in Cassandra's Dream

Just finished watching Woody Allen’s most recent release, Cassandra’s Dream, starring Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor, among others. There are many great facets of the film, including the superfine way Allen creates fully developed characters with a minimal number of brushstrokes. He’s a master in this regard.

A follow up to Match Point, the film has the same seriousness, setting (England), ironies, and mix of characters with their different generational viewpoints and motivations. The characters are transparent to the viewer, but not to one another. In this regard, the screen writing is brilliant.

It is a story of two brothers -- and their love interests as well as family ties -- who have character flaws. Each has dreams that require money, and each seems intent on escaping the responsibilities of the family business to pursue what are patently foolish paths. At one point the brothers reminded me of some of Elmore Leonard’s criminals who are both smart and foolish. The outcome of the film was from the beginning self-evident, why could they not see it coming? Yet people do these kinds of things all the time. The music track alone tells you this is a tragedy and going to have a bad ending.

I did have a problem with the Philip Glass soundtrack on one level. Yes, it worked well in this film, but for me it evoked The Illusionist. If someone pointed this out (and someone must have) I can picture Allen saying, “That’ll work. Not that many people will have seen both films.” Or something to that effect.

That may be the one weakness of the film, not the music, but the decision to not push something to another level. Mr. Allen’s philosophy of film making is not to produce great art. It is to get the stories out. He is undoubtedly filled with stories, and simply doesn’t waste time on time consuming details. Or so it seems.

For this reason, despite the fabulous acting and great dialogue, crisp character development and tight story, the movie might not receive its share of critical acclaim. But then, in reading his book Woody Allen on Woody Allen, he owns up to the fact that he is not striving to be Bergman or Fellini. He does not wish the comparison to be even made. He is simply a man who loved the movies, and who has lived out his dream of being able to make movies. Ultimately, he probably doesn’t really care what the critics think, which is a nice place to be if you can get there.

In the end, I would have re-shot at least two or three moments in the film that should have been re-shot to “get it right.” Though maybe in the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter. There is much to like here with its echoes of Greek tragedy and other classic moments in literature. (The scene in the bedroom felt eerily close to the problem Raskalnikov encountered in Crime & Punishment, undoubtedly intentional.)

The film has sensuousness as a theme with almost none of the usual Hollywood demonstrativeness. It hints, rather than reveals.

The title for the film comes from the name of a boat which the brothers buy. The name Cassandra is taken from mythical Greek tragedy. Cassandra was loved by Apollo, but ended up being cursed by him when she did not return his love. Her gift of being able to foresee the future was forever a source of pain and frustration for her. The viewer of this film, like Cassandra, knows from the first that things will turn out bad, but can do nothing to stop it.

As is often the case, “The best laid plans of mice and men do often go awry.” Or to quote a maxim of my own, “We tend to get what we want, but we usually get more than we bargained for.”

THIS REVIEW ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN JULY 2008

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