Interiors Review

Interiors has gone down in history as something of a failure, the first of Woody Allen's doomed attempts to be remembered as something more than a great comic actor and director. This is entirely understandable but also something on an injustice, as Interiors is a powerful, rich film which gets as close to the spirit of the best Ingmar Bergman films as anything made in America. It's certainly self-conscious and somewhat derivative, but the quality of the acting, writing and direction is undeniable.

The story concerns three sisters and this is where the problems start. Like it or not, few viewers will be able to help thinking of either Chekhov or Bergman, neither of them easy artists to live up to. Indeed, the first scene, where the elder sister Renata stares out of her window and sees a scene of transcendent happiness from her youth, is so strongly reminiscent of the final scene of Cries And Whispers as to give this viewer a jolt of recognition. It's not plagiarism by any means but it is a guide to how Allen wants the film to be received. This is a self-consciously 'serious' movie and it sometimes seems claustrophobic and airless - as do many of Bergman's films. The three sisters are part of a rich but unhappy New York extended family and their underlying desperation comes to the fore when their father Arthur (Marshall) announces that he plans to leave their mother Eve (Page). The immediate reaction of Eve is to attempt suicide, in the most harrowing scene Allen has ever shot, but she survives and goes back to the sanitorium from which she had only recently been released. Meanwhile, the middle daughter Joey (Hurt) can't get to grips with her life and drifts from project to project in a listless way which frustrates her long-term boyfriend Michael (Waterston), a political activist. Joey's close relationship with her father has always been a source of frustration and jealousy for Renata, herself stuck in a traumatic marriage with Frederick (Jordan), like her a writer, whose lack of commercial success is making him paranoid. Renata has felt anguished for a year and is obsessed by death but is unsure quite why she feels this way. The third sister, Flyn (Griffiths), is a successful actress whose deliberate remoteness from the family makes her something of an outsider.

The film charts the breakdown of the family in uncomfortably intense close-up and with peculiarly humourless objectivity. To a great extent, this is the problem with the film. Allen seems to have forgotten the lesson he demonstrated in Annie Hall; that humour heightens tragedy rather than detracting from him. Alvy Singer may have had a fund of brilliant wisecracks but this was simply hiding his desperately sad plight. He was adrift within his own inability to feel happiness and incapable of realising that his loneliness was entirely his own fault. As a result he attained a tragic status which eludes the characters in Interiors who seem to obsess over their own failures without ever showing the humour which puts tragedy in context. As such, they tend to seem plot devices more than real people and their dialogue often sounds like a series of position papers. The key casualty of this trend is the character of Frederick who, despite Richard Jordan's committed performance, comes straight from didactic melodrama and has the burden of the silliest lines and the least convincing scenes. One moment in particular, when he tells Flyn how much he loves her and then tries to rape her, is the sort of thing which Allen, in his best comic films, would have gleefully spoofed.

Having said this, there is still much to admire in Interiors. As a study of the awful indifference with which people can treat each other, it's insightful and penetrating and it deals with hopelessly damaged lives in a way which is comparable to Cries And Whispers, if not quite so finely nuanced. One scene in particular, when Eve makes her suicide attempt is incredibly harrowing, not least because its so methodical and unhysterical. As she tapes up the windows and doors and turns on the gas then sits down to wait, you get the sense of the quiet desperation which leads people to such extremes. This intensity is present in several scenes and points directly towards the brilliant succession of jump-cuts which express schizophrenia in Stardust Memories - another underrated film. Technically the film is first rate with Gordon Willis's chilly cinematography supplying exactly the right tone for Allen's icy chamber piece.

The actors do everything that is required of them and more. Geraldine Page's restraint as the mother who can't express love is admirable and E.G.Marshall, notorious over-actor in other films, is very fine as the father. Nice work from Mary Beth Hurt and Sam Waterston too, but the real fire comes from Diane Keaton. This was the third of a run of three great performances for her - after Annie Hall and the ludicrously underrated Looking For Mr Goodbar - and she really does dominate the film. Keaton has the ability, rarely exploited nowadays, to make sense of emotional chaos and she seems to be able to communicate directly with the audience. All the mannerisms of Annie Hall are gone and replaced by an intense sadness which is often very moving.

This isn't a great movie, it's far too solemn and self-important to have the requisite energy. But it is a very good one and certainly not the disaster that its reputation suggests. The major stumbling block is that for Woody Allen to write and direct a film without the slightest hint of a sense of humour is a sad waste of his greatest gift. Profundity doesn't necessarily require solemnity and elegant spareness isn't automatically a mark of quality. But the acting is superb, the direction controlled and sinuous and the narrative often powerfully affecting. Allen fans who have avoided Interiors should definitely have a look for themselves and they might be as surprised as I was at how effective it is.

The Disc

This is another MGM Woody Allen disc and the story is much the same as before. A reasonably good presentation of the film itself, a trailer and nothing else. Woody Allen's dislike of extras is now well known so I'll refrain from mentioning it again.

The film is presented in an Anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer which does the job without being very impressive. There is some minor print damage but the level of detail is pretty good and it's sharp enough. But I noticed an awful lot of artifacting in places, especially during the darker scenes of the second half. The limited use of colour in the film is well represented. There is some film grain evident but this is not a problem.

The soundtrack is the original Mono track. This is very acceptable with clear dialogue and no distortion.

The trailer is fullscreen, grainy and very badly damaged. It consists of clips interspersed with critical raves (which rather belies the impression that this was universally slated on release - it was but there were some supporters too). There are 16 chapter stops and the menus are static.

If, like me, you had avoided Interiors despite seeing everything else Allen has directed then I urge you to give it a chance. It's a little pompous and overly po-faced but it's also a fascinatingly personal and uncommercial work from a hugely talented artist. At times I was directly reminded of Bergman - notably Cries And Whispers and The Silence Trilogy - and that can hardly be a bad thing. The DVD is reasonable and is probably worth a look if you are an Allen fan and can find it at a reasonable price.

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