Sean Cordy’s review published on Letterboxd:
“God is a luxury I can’t afford”
Crimes and Misdemeanors is a rare piece of cinema; blending straight up humor whilst giving the audience something to chew on. Actually, [it’s] more than just something… it’s a lot of things. It’s rare to see a film appease on both intellectual and entertainment levels. Woody Allen addresses the complexity of human nature/emotion(s) with both dramatic and comedic appeal; satisfying everyone.
Allen’s screenplay revolves around two protagonists with no relation with the other. But because of their similar situations, are seamlessly juxtaposed in this story. Judah (Landau) a praised philanthropic ophthalmologist in the middle of an ugly love affair that may bring down his life’s work. Cliff (Allen) is a down on his luck filmmaker. He too is in a love affair (of sorts). Allen poses two sides of human beliefs and their effects using these two characters.
Landau plays his character with gravitas, displaying his character’s range of confused feelings with ease. His situation asks a multitude of questions pertaining to murder and its effects.
1. Is it alright to murder for personal protection?
2. If the first question’s answer is “Yes”, then how will it affect the instigator’s life?
3. Will you remorse?
4. If “Yes”, then will you confess to rid your guilt?
5. If “Yes” again, will you let it sit in fear of punishment?
6. If you avoid lawful justice, will you face a greater punishment from yourself?
Allen doesn’t answer these questions definitively, but gives us an idea with Judah’s actions and reactions. There’s motif that Allen uses that really grasps the character of Judah, eyes. There’s no denying the power of sight here. He’s an eye doctor, there’s a multitude of quotes about sight, and of course the blind rabbi. “The eyes of God are always on us” is the quote. Judah isn’t a religious man, but something in him still tells him that there is. During an appointment, he sees that the rabbi is going blind; now is the time to talk to him. The rabbi isn’t God, but he is a portal to God, and now that he can’t see, there’s no worry of him seeing the sin that Judah wants to commit. But even with this comfort of no one watching, he still finds what he wants to be morally wrong, but there’s a tipping point for him that pushes him off into murder through his brother’s connection.
He goes through a stage of remorse, but after four months passes, is living a happy life again. He wanted to confess, but realizes that it would be much worse to confess to murder than to his original problem. Now comes the sixth question, “Will he face judgment from himself?”. Cliff is here to answer that for us.
Woody Allen plays his character in a way only Woody Allen could. His delivery and timing is fantastic. His character is mostly the opposite of Judah; low-income and down on his luck. But he is caught in an unhappy relationship just as Judah is and turns to another woman for happiness. He’s a documentary director and is in the middle of an intriguing psychology piece. It’s this project that loosely binds the two stories together. He discusses theories of love, relationships, and life in general. Along with the editing that provides an unknowing third party perspective on the characters’ situations and their drives, is the movies that Cliff watches.
Among those films are Singin’ in the Rain, specifically the “All I do is Dream of You” scene. It’s the epitomic scene to use. All the two main characters do is dream of you. “You”: being their second-ladies. Judah wants to end their relationship by murder, while Cliff wants to marry her even though he’s already married. I’m not enough of a film aficionado to know the other films used, but each one ties in with Judah’s situation. But it’s not until the very end that the two stories are definitively connected.
They meet at the blind rabbi’s daughter’s wedding. They meet by happenstance and Judah feels a draw to talk about his situation he went through four months; by way of describing it as a movie idea. The audience learns that over that period of time, he eventually felt that it was the right decision (killing his lover) and feels no guilt in it anymore. While Cliff’s advice for the movie is for him to turn [himself] in so that in the absence of a God, the character can take that place and create self-tragedy.
There’s an incredible amount of insightful dialogue between characters, that it becomes too much to absorb. I had to rewind multiple parts to make sure I understood the gravity of each line. Allen isn’t just a man that writes funny, but writes with great subtext and meaning; especially the rabbi. Not only is [he] physically blind, but metaphorically blind. Allen writes all of the characters with some sort of trouble in life, except for the rabbi.
The ending really hits that point. The last thing we’re shown in the rabbi dancing with his daughter. He’s incredibly happy. Why shouldn’t he [be]? His daughter is getting married. But it’s more than that. He never knew what Judah did, and never will. He doesn’t see the tragedies in the world. Ignorance is truly bliss. He’s a man of God and is happy because of the guidance he provides for him. He cannot guide himself as others can – as Judah finally does. After finally betraying his judgments of morality, giving into only his own needs, he [Judah] finally becomes happy after he creates his own morals – after he had been hiding from the eyes of God (the rabbi). The only person that isn’t happy in the end is Cliff… all alone in this world because he’s selfless. It’s a sad thought – that if you’re selfish, you’re happy, and if you’re selfless, you’re depressed. But it’s the sad, cynical truth of life.
Along with the great direction and writing is a fantastic ensemble. Everyone is top class here. Alda is incredibly funny, Huston provides great drama and conflict, and Judah’s brother is fantastic as well. Everyone captures their character’s motives with great skill. And of course, the two leads are great as well. Great acting isn’t rare in comedies, but the filmmaking execution usually is; though [certainly] not the case here.
Sven Nykvist, known for his works with Ingmar Bergman provides great camerawork here. He’s able to transition the scenes with great ease. Each scene is remarkably framed and lighted to provide even more emotion to each scene. This film would amount to [practically] nothing if it weren’t for the editing. The two unrelated stories are seamlessly positioned to reel in the audience into the film that seems to have little connection with the two plots. Allen’s music selections are incredibly whimsical and provide both comedic and dramatic appeal.
There’s so much that I’ve talked about, but I haven’t even discussed half of it. It’s incredibly deep. I will definitely be returning to the hilarious, yet meaningful film. Of all of Woody Allen’s works I’ve seen so far, this sits at the top.