Another Woman

By Joe Brown

"ANOTHER Woman", the October-released successor to "September," marks Woody Allen's fifth decade and the birth of his first child with Mia Farrow. Continuing Allen's exploration of the autumn years, it retains traces of the chilly austerity that marred "September" but overall it's a far warmer, much more successful entry in Allen's canon of Serious movies.

Sternly beautiful Gena Rowlands is cast as Marion, a rigid philosopher who takes a leave of absence to write a book and discovers in her sublet writing studio she can eavesdrop on the analyst next door. Particularly fascinated by the emotional musings of a very pregnant Farrow (transparently named "Hope"), Marion contrives to meet her. Along the way, Marion runs into a number of estranged friends and family members (Jung called this sort of string of coincidences "synchronicity"), and it begins to dawn on the iron-willed wonderwoman that though she has ironed out all the emotional bumps and wrinkles, she isn't happy, and she doesn't know herself as well as she had imagined. The film's central image is a striking and illuminating one: Marion silhouetted, walks through a darkened hallway, snapping on the lights one by one.

It's clear that "Another Woman" is meant to be a useful, generous-spirited film. It champions the possibility of change at any time of life; in fact, it could almost be viewed as an advertisement for psychoanalysis. And it is to be commended for giving life to its older characters, the over-50 crowd so often neglected in movies -- Marion and her contemporaries are juicy, sexy, complex people.

The cast, as usual, is a gallery of Allen's favorites: the late John Houseman, Gene Hackman, Martha Plimpton, Blythe Danner and other luminaries. The storytelling is fluid and dramatic -- almost theatrical -- the film glows with light and the design is economically artful; Allen, influenced by "Persona"-period Bergman, is at the peak of his technical powers here.

But it's all so painstakingly composed and unrelentingly beige that "Another Woman" is occasionally enervating, and ends up missing its own point about really living life. And Allen's stiff, scripted-sounding Serious Talk -- these folks chat the way writers write, and it's sometimes hard to stomach -- provokes some unplanned laughter.

But you have to imagine that Allen is aware of this effect. A decade ago, in "Annie Hall" (noting his 40s and his relationship with Diane Keaton), Allen had punctured exactly this kind of self-inflated talk, at the same time crystallizing the essence of the as-yet-unborn "Another Woman": "That's one thing about intellectuals," he said. "They're proof that you can be absolutely brilliant and have no idea what's going on."

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