Writer/director Woody Allen delivers a powerful, "searing adult drama" (Leonard Maltin) examining the life of an accomplished philosophy professor teetering on the brink of self-understanding. Boasting a superb cast led by Gena Rowlands, Mia Farrow, Ian Holm and Gene Hackman, Another Woman is Allen's 17th triumphant film. Stylistically rich and technically expert, the film layers past and present, dialogue and narration, reality and metaphor, to achieve a "lucidity and compassion of an order virtually unknown in American movies" (Time). Intelligent, accomplished and happily married, Marion (Rowlands) considers her life fulfilling until a chance encounter with a troubled stranger (Farrow) offers her a brief but piercing glimpse at her inner emptiness. Drifting in a loveless marriage and denying her feelings for another man (Hackman), Marion is shocked when she accidentally learns of her husband's (Holm) infidelity. Taking this as a sign to change her life, Marionconfronts the true depth of her own emotional hunger and the frightening intensity of a passion shehas ignored for too long.
This underrated film is by far Woody Allen's most satisfying I-wish-I-were-Ingmar Bergman movie, and in its elegantly constrained fashion it teems with imagination--not to mention a glorious cast. Gena Rowlands plays a philosophy professor who, subletting an apartment as a writing office, finds that the confidences murmured to her psychiatrist neighbor are audible through the air vents. In particular, the fears and desperation of a younger, very pregnant woman (Mia Farrow) trigger a stream of reveries regarding the professor's own life, past romances, and troubled family. Some of these seem to be straightforward memories (though we take too much for granted, and that's part of the point); others are theatrically stylized, with different actors taking over roles initiated by others (Rowlands sometimes appears in long-ago flashbacks, trading off with Margaret Marx as her younger self).
Allen had, like his protagonist, recently turned 50, and the sense of personal stocktaking here is much more compelling--and much less self-indulgent--than in a lot of his other films. Surely the magisterial presence of Rowlands made a big difference. She's in excellent company, including Ian Holm as the prof's tightly wrapped husband, Sandy Dennis as the dear old actress friend who hates her guts, and John Houseman as her widower father. Like Lloyd Nolan's in Hannah and Her Sisters and Keye Luke's in Alice, Houseman's turned out to be a valedictory performance. We cherish it--along with the inspired casting of David Ogden Stiers as, in effect, the younger John Houseman. --Richard T. Jameson