Crimes and Misdemeanors

Crimes and Misdemeanors ★★★★★

One of Allen's true masterpieces, and arguably his most ambitious film: a pair of faintly interlocking stories unfolding in successive chunks, one a gripping, gutting tragedy, and the other a hysterically funny comedy.

The serious story is an astonishingly intense, brilliantly-directed piece about a doctor and philanthropist (Martin Landau) trying to deal with his mistress (Anjelica Huston), a loose cannon intent on bringing his world down around his ears.

The other narrative is lighter than air: a comedy classic about Allen's resentful, unsuccessful documentary maker being asked to shoot the authorised biography of his brother-in-law (Alan Alda), an impossibly smug TV producer and his rival for the affections of colleague Mia Farrow.

It's superbly put together - its pivotal event falling at the exact mid-point - handsomely shot by Bergman's favourite, Sven Nyqvist, and full of Allen's distinctive dialogue. Do people talk like this? Perhaps not anywhere I've been, and yet the language is deep and beautifully pitched, the themes universally resonant, and the characters diverse, real and unforgettable, brought to life by a remarkable cast. There's Landau's conflicted atheist, Huston's hysteric, Sam Waterston's thoughtful, almost angelic rabbi, Allen's frustrated thinker, Alda's apparently superficial success story, and a pair of different yet equally lonely women in Farrow and Caroline Aaron.

Its central theme - tied up in a lovely closing voiceover - isn't only the obvious one suggested by the title, though I don't want to say more here, or indeed to spoil my favourite joke in any Allen film, which comes when Woody has to explain to his wife the misfortune that has just befallen his sister.

It's a film that manages to be bleak, heartbreaking and yet ultimately, somehow, uplifting, often in the most unexpected of ways.