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Husbands and Wives

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Woody Allen's experiment with the hand-held camera. At its worst, the camerawork suggests the manic manneredness of those jostled-elbow, buckled-knee TV advertisements currently in vogue. At its somewhat better -- at its somewhat more rationalizable -- it suggests the informal intimacy of a home movie or the formless immediacy of a cinéma-vérité documentary. As a matter of fact, the latter is more than just suggested; it is openly declared in the form of an omniscient off-screen interviewer and sparse narrator who would actually seem to have been filming and assembling the very scenes we are watching. It isn't openly declared, however, or outwardly apparent or tacitly implied -- as it is, by contrast, in the true-crime parody of Allen's Take the Money and Run -- who this interviewer might be or why he would be tracking the affairs of two New York couples, and inducing them and their friends and acquaintances to comment on these affairs. Even in the straightforward interview segments, the camera is apt to mimic the movement of a nodding head or a wandering mind. And there, or anywhere else, a jump cut or a zoom shot will be tossed in for good measure. Those -- no matter whether they recall the technical innovations of the nouvelle vague or the convention-flouting deliberate imperfections of Warhol and Morrissey or (again) the voguishness of TV ads -- do their share to contribute to a surface scribbled over with stylistic self-indulgence, self-imposition, and distraction. In a way, this seems a shame, because Allen's investigation into the mysteries of human compatibility, into the misperceptions and self-deceptions of intelligent people, is gripping enough to hold our attention through all the bucking-bronco antics of the camera. And that's saying something. It isn't to say that Allen ever delves below the level of truisms, but these are illustrated in a breezy, anecdotal, Jenny-Jones-or-Oprah-Winfrey talk-show manner that encourages audience identification and participation. With Mia Farrow, Judy Davis, Sydney Pollack, Juliette Lewis, Liam Neeson, and Allen. (1992) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R | 1 hour, 48 minutes
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