23 June 2004 | canadude
Why do Woody Allen films have to be funny?
It appears that many critics find the idea of a Woody Allen drama unpalatable. "Interiors" gets slammed as a forced, awkward, heavy-handed and cheapened imitation of Bergman (most noticeably "Cries and Whispers") and usually discussed in context of "Annie Hall" that preceded it and "Manhattan" that followed.
Well, "Annie Hall" was funny as hell and I love "Manhattan" - it's directed with an authority that I don't think was matched in another Woody Allen film ("Crimes and Misdemeanors" had touches of such visual elegance). With the exception, of course, of "Interiors" which preceded it.
"Interiors" is Woody Allen putting aside his neuroses and directing with unshakable confidence. Granted, Bergman has already cleared the path for him to some degree, but "Interiors" stands on its own. Visually and aurally it's a quiet film, permeated with silences, dark off-white colors, beige and grays mostly, despair and sadness. It's the existential hell and it's a lot quieter than the descriptive terms make it seem.
Narratively, "Interiors" has the fluidity and grace of any other of Allen's more successful films. Like the multi-character "Hannah and Her Sisters" or the parallelism of "Crimes and Misdemeanors" the stories, relationships and situations rise and build naturally.
"Interiors" is, essentially, the story of an upper-class family shattered, if not exposed and tested, by the divorce of the parents and the ensuing collapse of the mother. The title, of course, refers not only to the profession of the mother who is arguably the central character and definitely the emotional and psychological catalyst for the events of "Interiors," but also works on a metaphorical level. Interiors that Allen implies are those that shatter when the mother, phenomenally played by Geraldine Page, is forced to face the separation from her husband. The neat world constructed by her starts to crumble revealing not only the painful truth to her, but also to her daughters who are greatly affected by this as well. The truth, of course, is that nothing was perfect in the first place - the interiors were simply created to shelter from the reality of family crisis, bottled-up emotion, undue expectations, selfishness, synthetic love and conflict.
The conflicts that arise, or rather expose themselves, bring to light themes that are quite frankly very Allenesque. Allen explores the burdens of existence, namely the inevitability of death (and the question of the immortality of art), loneliness, the failure of relationships (and thus violation of trust), and the search for meaning in life. "Interiors," however, differs from his other films in that it takes a distinctly psychological approach to these problems. It does so by not exposing its themes through "situations" (like Woody Allen finding out that he might be dying in "Hannah and her Sisters" and attempting suicide), but rather through realistic psychological observation of familial relations - particularly mother-daughter ones.
Like many Bergman films, "Interiors" is psychological to the core, even though I don't recall a single shrink in the film. It's also dramatic and quieter than all other Allen films. Finally, it would be a shame not to mention that, while obviously very Bergmanesque, the film is seeped in the atmosphere of many Chekhov plays, bordering on the psychological darkness of Ibsen. "Interiors" is the American film version of early-20th century European theatrical drama - the problems of the well-off, upper-class families not being able to survive social, emotional and psychological instability that they themselves contributed to creating. We are talking of people with intellectual and monetary resources - resources that we treat as essential to happiness. "Interiors" like many of the darker of Allen's comedies, is a quietly terrifying question-mark - it is directed at our lives and our values. And the answers are nothing, but perturbing. Little to laugh about really.