Those who dismiss Woody Allen as a neurotic narcissist out of touch with reality need to confront 1983’s Zelig. Perhaps the most complex, unusual film in an already diverse CV, it remains his most culturally and politically aware work, its relevance increasing with each passing year. Allen stars as the titular “human chameleon” who can alter his appearance to “become” any man he encounters, and whose discovery prompts headlines, psychological studies and dance crazes. Flawlessly constructed by Allen and genius cinematographer Gordon Willis as a back-to-the-’30s mock-doc, the film misses no opportunity to pinpoint the resonances inherent in its idea: Zelig’s desire for conformity leads him first to the Catholic Church, then the Nazi Party. The comedy tends to the smirk-inducing rather than the laugh-out-loud, and the second half wanders somewhat, but Zelig is a strong contender for Allen’s most fascinating film.
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