Festival de ‘Usual Suspects’: Zelig (1983) de Woody Allen

April 18, 2016 § Leave a comment

This unofficial festival’s official opener is a shocking reminder of the artistic powerhouse that Woody Allen once was. Even his more acclaimed contemporary output (Midnight in Paris, Blue Jasmine etc.) registers as downright comatose in comparison with this mockumentary that practically bursts at the seams with borderline offensive irreverence and giddy wit.

A picture that I, due to either misunderstanding on my part or misinformation on the part of another, believed to be a mockumentary about a time traveller of sorts, Zelig boasts a central conceit that is equally as fantastical as time travel but far more original and pregnant with comic potential. Seemingly driven by an intense need to ‘fit in’, Depression Era schmuck Leonard Zelig (Woody Allen) has developed the chameleonic ability to blend into his social surroundings so much so that he morphs without cue, racially, anthropometrically, intellectually, what have you; though it is interesting that his gift/curse lacks a transgendering function.

What follows is a fleet-footed account of how psychiatrist Dr. Eudora Fletcher (a characteristically willowy Mia Farrow) pin-points the psychic nature of Leonard Zelig’s shape-shifting malady and thus proceeds to cure him by way of psychoanalysis and – eventually – unwitting romance, two slam-dunk Allen hallmarks.

After over a decade of mild-mannered ensemble comedies, one is in danger of forgetting that Allen, at his peak, was not simply the high priest of neurotic, East Coast intellectual humour, but a relentless formal innovator. From the use of double exposure and subtitles in Annie Hall to the mind-boggling blend of staged and archival footage on show in Zelig (achieved via blue screen), Allen’s brand of dramatic comedy has had a surprising impact on cinematic form over the decades, in addition to its fearless marrying of the highbrow and the low.

Of course, one cannot or should not expect that the creative restlessness of a middle-aged comic will necessarily continue into his old age. Surely enough, Allen, now 80, sports a face which was once compellingly sardonic in its stoniness but which now reeks of boredom and complacency; or perhaps just plain-old burnout. In many ways he is entitled to this, what with his filmographic output. But I also reserve the right to mourn the loss of the Woody Allen that cinema once had, not that his films will be lost in a hurry.

For the moment, the twenty upcoming films In Competition should count themselves lucky that Zelig is Out of Competition. I certainly count myself lucky for having finally seen it.

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