Man, where has this Woody Allen flick been hiding? Woody does Bergman again, 10 years after Interiors.
Another Woman features some of the best voiceover I’ve heard/seen in a long time. The great Gena Rowlands plays Marion Post, a philosophy professor who rents a second NYC apartment in order for some peace and quiet while writing a book. Through the vents she hears a woman, Hope (Mia Farrow), spilling her guts to a psychiatrist.
The cast in here is fantastic – Ian Holm as Marion’s wife, Gene Hackman as her would-be-lover. With cinematography from Bergman-staple and sometimes-Allen-collaborator Sven Nykvist, Another Woman is a treat to look at.
While this is a script that could easily fall into Blow Up-rip off territory, Allen expertly steers clear of such cliches, making this more Wild Strawberries-like in its look at life, death (sequences with Marion’s father, played by John Houseman are fantastically heartbreaking), and love.
Allen shows he can write more than just a great one-liner. Holm has a killer repeat line that shows his true colors in a shattering confrontation of husband and wife, and Larry Lewis’ (Hackman) recollection of his and Marion’s first meeting is gorgeous.
Woody’s camera direction is simple and elegant. He prefers to stick in medium shots for much of the film and his mise-en-scene is perhaps his most restrained (not that it’s regularly out of control). The first time Marion hears Hope’s voice is great.
Allen starts us by slowly dollying towards her back as she sleeps on her typewriter:
He cuts around to the side as she opens her eyes:
And then he cuts to the vent:
The camera tilts and pans off of the vent:
Finding Marion in a tight close-up:
The moment is slow and methodical, underscored by Marion’s nostalgic voiceover. Each shot lingers for a long time. The room is silent and feels warm (testament to Nykvist’s lighting).
The camera move from the vent to Marion is subtly fantastic. It’s a nice time jump that defies expectation. When the camera starts to move from the vent we expect to simply return to Marion, still on the typewriter. By finding her a) upright and b) in close-up, Woody tells us just how much the voice is impacting her at that moment. It’s a nice ellipsis – we skip right past her registering the voice and finding meaning, and go right to the point where it’s already touching her.
Later in the film Marion and Hope meet. Woody shoots their interaction, again with Marion’s voiceover running beneath, in several wide shots. I should note that each of these features a moving camera (dolly, pan, dolly), though, aside from the last one, I’m only showing them in stills:
As with the rest of the film, the camera movements and length of shot are fluid and long. Woody keeps them largely in wide-shot until the restaurant scene at the end here. Much of this feels like Body Double, just without De Palma’s Hitchcock pandering.
I think that the instinct would be to shoot this in a series of more dramatic close-ups in order to emphasize this new relationship, but if it’s a temptation, the director resists. The wide-shots keep us distanced, forced to feel the emotion through Marion’s voice-over recollection.