In 1979 at the age of 44 years old Woody Allen made his one true masterpiece. Wonderfully enjoyable films - Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Love and Death and Annie Hall were behind him and there was much to follow. But in Manhattan Allen briefly dropped the slavish imitation of Bergman he had already begun adopting (his first ‘serious’ drama and flop Interiors had come out the year before) and found a tone that was his own.
To say that this slight, urban, amoral romantic comedy about one divorcees attempts to find love with his best friend’s mistress (Diane Keaton) is the only film in Allen’s impressive canon worth seeing is perhaps overstretching it, but there is something timeless here that Allen never came close to again. Maybe it’s Gordon Willis’ gorgeous black and white photography of those legendary cityscapes, maybe it’s Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue welling up in the carefully spaced interludes. Or maybe it’s the knowing cheeky borrowings from Fellini, Bergman, Visconti, Lelouch, Godard, Truffaut and so on. It is of course all these things and much more (Allen’s screenplay and the performances here are also astounding). Watched at this reserve the film has certainly dated, but as a dislocated hymn to the Big Apple and the burgeoning middle age meltdown that all men fester unto themselves, it cannot be bettered. The romantic comedy of this or any year.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 8 Dec.