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Husbands and Wives

One of Woody Allen's strongest films was the caustic and brilliant Husbands and Wives, a 1992 black comedy that doesn't provide a lot of belly laughs, but had me riveted to the screen with its scathingly accurate examination of the institution of marriage and the work and commitment that the institution constitutes.

One of Woody's strongest outings as a writer and director, the film is shot in the form of a documentary that features an offscreen narrator who not only narrates the story but interviews the central characters as well.

The film introduces us to Gabe (Woody) and Judy (Mia Farrow) a supposedly happily married couple, who are rocked by the calmly-delivered news that their best friends Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally (Judy Davis) are planning to divorce. What we then get is a Bergman-esque transformation between the two couples as Jack and Sally fail at new relationships and Gabe and Judy realize that they are not as happy as they think they are.

There's a strong Ingmar Bergman influence here, not surprising considering that Bergman is one of Allen's few cinematic idols, as we watch two couples who are basically in the same place but don't even realize it, but end up traveling journeys that mirror each other to the point that their lives have done a complete 180 by the time closing credits roll without them realizing what has happened until after it's happened. I found myself having Personna flashbacks, the Bergman film about the actress and her nurse who gradually exchange personalities.

Woody has put together an intensely personal story here that, despite the documentary film technique, still has a creepily voyeuristic feel to it. The scenes we are privy to all come off as intensely private and make the viewer feel like they are watching private moments that they are really not supposed to be seeing.

As usual, Woody has assembled a first rate cast...he and Farrow are a well-oiled machine here, despite the fact that this was the final film they made together before the Soon-Yi explosion and the tension between them is apparent onscreen, but it works for this story. The late Sydney Pollack once again proves that he was one of the few directors out there who could also act with his explosive performance as Jack and Judy Davis's crisp and unpredictable Sally actually earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Davis is just riveting here in a performance that burns a hole through the camera and makes it impossible to take your eyes off the woman and when Davis is not onscreen, the movie is just a little bit slower. LOVE the scene where Sally asks a blind date to use his phone twice so that she can yell at Jack about moving in with someone else.

Liam Neesom is sexy and vulnerable as a co-worker of Farrow's who comes between her and Davis and Juliette Lewis, in a role I kept picturing Winona Ryder in, scores as a student in Gabe's writing class who he eventually leaves Judy for. Lysette Anthony also makes an impression as the woman Jack moves in with after leaving Sally. The scene where where Pollack and Anthony make a very noisy exit from a party is almost frightening in its realism.

This is not your usual Woody Allen fare and if you're looking for something with a lot of fall on the floor laughter, you will be disappointed, but if you're dedicated Woody-phile looking to experience his finest work as a writer and director, Husbands and Wives should be at the top of your viewing list. This is a masterpiece, right up there with Hannah and her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors. 9/10