Another Woman

By Damian Cannon

Straying far from his comedy roots, Woody Allen has fashioned an intense and perceptive examination of life's compromises. Marion Post (Gena Rowlands), a highly successful philosophy professor, is acclaimed by her colleagues and revered by her students. A childless marriage to Ken (Ian Holm) provides love and security, although both have experienced matrimony before (Ken's daughter Laura (Martha Plimpton) is a good friend of Marion's). They're quite happy together, spending evenings with friends and attending the opera. Marion is currently on furlough to write a book, for which she has let a small apartment in the city. However, her first day at the typewriter is disturbed by voices quietly audible through the wall. They appear to belong to a psychiatrist and his patients, making them somewhat intriguing for Marion. She really doesn't want to listen though and discovers that a pair of cushions, placed strategically over an air vent, blocks all sonic leakage. The thing is that one the patients, Hope (Mia Farrow), has a tone and a story which just begs attention. Plainly at the end of her tether, Hope finds herself waking in the night and becoming too disorientated to even recognise her own husband. These revelations have a strange effect on Marion, bringing to mind memories that she'd long thought of as buried. When she and Ken announced their engagement plans a friend of theirs, Larry (Gene Hackman), cornered her in another room and revealed his overwhelming love. Although she half-responded to his passion, her better judgement convinced her that life with Ken was what she wanted (even if all of his attractiveness was on an intellectual level). Along with these significant reminiscences, Marion finds that her sleep is plagued by dreams which seem to be lecturing on her life.

Gradually her confusion and feelings of uncertainty mount, throwing doubt on the life-changing decisions which placed Marion where she is today. Even a visit to see her father (John Houseman), with Laura, only stirs up greater clouds of childhood memories. She was always the clever one, destined for the top and pushed unmercifully by her parents, whilst her brother could achieve nothing worthwhile in their eyes. Streams of flashbacks illuminate her childhood friends, the troubled times of her first marriage (a typical student-teacher relationship), the adultery which she encouraged and the way in which she always seems to place herself above everyone, almost judging them. Marion's existence is coming apart at the seams and she doesn't know why.

Allen has always been skilful at uncovering the essential aspects of relationships, although time has honed these talents. In every film characters make comments which reflect deeply on their own lives. Well, Another Woman is much like a single one of these off-the-cuff remarks expanded into an entire picture, an enlargement which shows the wealth of detail lying behind a few well chosen words. Marions's entire history is placed under the microscope, revealing the deep wounds which underlie a thin skin of normality. In order to achieve her ambitions (or, at least, her father's) Marion has subdued emotional needs and chosen the logical actions. The strength of Allen's script lies in the manner in which these scars are revealed and how true-to-life they seem; this is not a comedy!

It's true that Another Woman plays a lot like a homage to Bergman, mixing the regrets of a wasted life with dream sequences and bright symbolism. While this is partly the case, Allen has the ability to take these elements and construct an adult drama which stands purely on its own merits. Rowlands is excellent as the tightly bound, emotionally arid academic forced to deal with the feelings repressed for a lifetime. She's so internalised that even her hair is spun in a tense bun, although by the end some release is possible. The other actors also attain a high standard of characterisation (Hackman is terrific as a man willing to sacrifice everything for love). The result is painful, difficult to handle and searing. No lines are played for laughs, in fact a lot of scenes are so truthful they hurt. The pay-off is the moments which resonate deeply within your own life, and when that happens the recognition makes you gasp and tingle with an undefinable longing. This is the power of Another Woman.

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