As the extremely withdrawn Don Johnston is dumped by his latest woman, he receives an anonymous letter from a former lover informing him that he has a son who may be looking for him. A freelance sleuth neighbor moves Don to embark on a cross-country search for his old flames in search of answers.
A small and insignificant bookkeeper, Kleinman, is awoken one night by his neighbors who wants his help to track down a strangler who has been killing people all over town. The citizens form vigilance committees, but when Kleinman has dressed, his neighbors have disappeared. Meanwhile a circus has come to town. Irmy and Paul are two of the artists. After a fight, Irmy leaves the circus in the middle of the night. Eventually she meets Kleinman, scared and alone. Written by
'Shadows & Fog' is, for me, all that which makes a perfect picture. I've seen all Woody Allen's pictures, and none affects me in the same way that 'S&F' does.
The film is set in the early part of the 20th century somewhere in Eastern Europe. The opening scenes set up what will become the basic plot (and believe me, it is basic) of the film. Allen plays Klieinman, a simple clerk who is awaken by a lynch mob hell-bent on catching a killer who has taken to strangling (or slitting the throats, nobody seems sure) of the townsfolk.
As Kleinman leaves his flat in reluctant search of the killer, we are introduced to the fog swept streets of the village. It is here that we find the real character of this film. Allen uses the simple story of the hunt as a means to introduce us to us to true beauty in the night. He uses lighting and canted angles to produce a surreal setting unlike any film produced in the last half-century. Note the way light filtering through the spokes of the circus wagons reflects of the fog in a way so beautiful and haunting that it's easy to forget we're watching an 88min comedy shot on sound stages in New York.
Setting the mood as such, Allen walks us through the streets and offers a brief glimpse of the characters who inhabit the night. It seems as if the whole town is up searching for the killer, and each of them is given a short moment to offer a bit of insight and then move on. However brief, each character brings us further into the shadows and we soon feel a chill as the night air seems to fill the room.
The scene eventually shifts to a whore house where we are privy to a spectacular scene. Five women sit at a table discussing relationships, fascinating stories given that most of them are whores. Instead of cuts, Allen simply places a camera in the center of the table and revolves as the ladies converse. It's a scene reminiscent of the opening sequence of 'A Touch of Evil' of the Copacabana scene in 'Goodfellas'. Amazing.
There's so much more to say. Brecht's score is wonderful, the cast is literally one of the best of the 1990's (Cusack, Malkovitch, Foster, Macy, Riley, Shaw, Bates, Tomilin, Kavner, Pleasence), and the jokes are hilarious.
Above everything, see this film for it's namesake ... Shadows and Fog. If ever there was a homage to night and all its mystery and beauty, it's 'Shadows and Fog'.
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