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USA 1983
Directed by
Woody Allen
79 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Allen’s vastly under-rated mockumentary about Leonard Zelig (Allen), "the human chameleon", a 1920s phenomenon who chronically changed his appearance to look like those around him is one of the director’s best works, atypical in form but manifesting many of Allen’s signature ideas.

A brilliant technical achievement that marvellously recreates the filmic look of the era, Allen with clearly a top-notch creative team, notably cinematographer Gordon Willis who used 1920s equipment to get the correct look, to help him, seamlessly interpellates his usual schlemiel character into the Roaring 20s in what is an extended metaphor on the human sense of estrangement. The simulation of newsreel footage and even a B movie are wonderfully done whilst Allen is able to get a roster of A-list talking heads like Susan Sontag, Saul Bellow and Bruno Bettelheim to dignify his joke, narrated with deadpan seriousness by Patrick Horgan.

It is easy to dismiss Zelig as a one-joke film but that is to overlook the mercurial intelligence that lies behind such an apparently lightweight offering.




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