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‘Allen v. Farrow’ recalls the scandals with new comments, old phone calls

Sensitive interviews with Mia Farrow and children Dylan and Ronan — but not Woody Allen — tip the HBO documentary’s scales.

Mia Farrow plays with young daughter Dylan in a family photo seen in “Allen v. Farrow.”
HBO

The four-part HBO documentary series about the complex, devastating, horrific and tragic history of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow is titled “Allen v. Farrow” and thus implies a comprehensive look at the charges of child abuse against Allen from both sides.

A more fitting title would have been “The Case Against Woody Allen,” as we hear extensively from Mia Farrow, alleged victim Dylan Farrow and other Farrow family members as well as longtime friends and supporters. Allen “appears” only via archival news conference footage, old movie clips, taped television conversations and his audiobook reading of his 2020 autobiography “Apropos of Nothing.”

Not that Allen’s own words serve him well. Whether he’s being insensitive and evasive in news conferences and television interviews, manipulative and combative in phone conversations with Farrow or sounding downright creepy in excerpts from his own book, he comes across at best like a leering, selfish, disturbingly obsessive presence who was inappropriately intense with Dylan and orchestrated an affair with Farrow’s adopted teenage daughter Soon-Yi, who eventually became Allen’s wife.

At. Best.

“If I wanted to be a child molester, I had many opportunities in the past,” Allen tells Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes.”

Wow. That’s some defense.

For those of us who were around in the early 1990s, when the seemingly idyllic movie royalty union of Allen and Farrow exploded in spectacularly shocking fashion, much of “Allen v. Farrow” serves as an extensive refresher course of a stunning series of events that played out in very public fashion.

In February 1992, when Farrow and Allen had been together for 12 years, Farrow found nude photos of her daughter Soon-Yi in Allen’s home, leading to a confrontation in which Allen confessed having an affair with Soon-Yi. (They eventually married and have been together for 23 years.)

Seven months later, Farrow said her 7-year-old daughter Dylan had told her Allen sexually abused her in an upstairs area of their Connecticut home.

A week after that, Allen’s lawyers filed a custody suit against Farrow, calling her an unfit mother.

Woody Allen reads the newspaper with daughter Dylan (left) and son Ronan in a family photo.
HBO

Even some 30 years later, it’s dizzying to be reminded of the dueling press conferences, the magazine cover stories, the TV interviews, the shocking details of the allegations against Allen. In present day, the skilled and sensitive documentarians Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering conduct interviews with Dylan, Mia, Mia’s sister Tisa, Dylan’s brother Ronan (whose journalism was a vital catalyst in the #MeToo movement) and longtime family friend Priscilla Gilman, all speaking with great candor and admirable bravery about the alleged events.

Dylan comes across as someone who is still feeling the after-effects of her childhood trauma and always will — but refuses to let that define her. She’s warm and smart and brave and strong, and we feel such hope for her to have a lovely and complete life with her family.

Dylan Farrow speaks out in the documentary “Allen v. Farrow.”
HBO

We hear accounts of Allen constantly hovering around Dylan when she was a toddler and a little girl, to the point where the parents at Dylan’s school voiced concerns about his behavior. In audio recordings from the past and recent on-camera interviews, Mia Farrow sounds devastated and heartbroken and consumed with regret over not doing more to stop Allen from his alleged atrocities against Dylan. When Farrow and Allen talked on the telephone after the scandal had become public, they taped each other.

“If I have a shred of belief left in you, then help me now: Tell me where you were for those 20 minutes,” says Farrow, referring to the day Allen allegedly abused Dylan, when the house was filled with family and friends, but no one could find Allen or Dylan for 20 minutes.

“All the details when the time comes, and the truth will come out,” replies Allen. What the hell does that even mean?

Woody Allen holds Dylan Farrow in a family photo with Mia Farrow (right) and his children and stepchildren: Ronan Farrow (from left), Lark Previn, Fletcher Previn, Daisy Previn, Soon-Yi Previn and Moses Farrow.
HBO

Criminal charges were never filed against Woody Allen, who maintains his innocence.

But when Manhattan Justice Elliott Wilk ruled in favor of Farrow in the custody hearing, he said, “There is no credible evidence to support Mr. Allen’s contention that Ms. Farrow coached Dylan” into making false claims. “We will probably never know what occurred on Aug. 4, 1992 … however, Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate, and measures must be taken to protect her.”

Many actors who appeared in recent Woody Allen films have since expressed regrets and in some cases donated their salaries to support charities fighting sexual abuse and supporting victims.

Allen’s “A Rainy Day in New York,” filmed in 2018, sat in limbo for a couple of years after being dropped by Amazon Studios but eventually was released in the United States last fall by the Orland Park-based MPI Media Group.

The 84-year-old Allen’s 2020 comedy “Rifkin’s Festival” was financed and filmed in Spain and released there last September. No word on whether it will ever see the light of day in America. I wouldn’t bet on it.