A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (Woody Allen / U.S., 1982):

A long shot of the woods, held just long enough to register a shift in sunlight through the trees, counters Woody Allen's professed disdain for the countryside. The professor (José Ferrer) stands for pedantic civilization, for whom metaphysics simply show "man's own inner uneasiness"; the doctor (Tony Roberts) is a dedicated satyr suddenly struck by love, the inventor (Allen) pours frustrations from a stagnant marriage into a series of flight contraptions (including an update of the mini-helicopter gag from Sleeper). Their mates are a trio of squeaky-voiced women, the professor's young bride (Mia Farrow), the wanton nurse (Julie Haggerty), and Allen's wife (Mary Steenburgen) -- the three couples meet for the weekend at the pastoral summer house, Allen illustrates their swapping and romping with Mendelssohn and Belle Époque views of fauna and flora. The failed suicide is from Smiles of a Summer Night, although the Renoir of A Day in the Country and Picnic in the Grass lends an even clearer model for the tale of "conceptual pragmatism" and natural sensuality. Allen has no affinity for Renoir's robust generosity, yet this study does wonders for his filmmaking, leading Allen to compose frames and hang on to them so that characters can transverse through. Roberts reluctantly ushers one of his buxom patients out the door at the clinic, catches Haggerty grinning at him off-screen and invites her to the gathering behind frosted glass -- one take. Steenburgen's appetite for sex is roused by wine and the nurse's lessons, she pounces on Allen on the kitchen table ("We cannot have intercourse where we eat oatmeal"). The roundelay is complicated by the inventor's magic lantern, which projects a romantic vision from the "unseen world." Ghosts? "There are no ghosts except in Shakespeare," Ferrer says, before turning into one of the Bard's sprites. Cinematography by Gordon Willis.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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