Tag Archives: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Scorecard: July-October 2012

Four months at a whack here, but really, I haven’t been watching all that much, thanks to sleeping almost all of the time and lacking the attention span for more than 30-minute TV shows when I AM awake (see why here). Interestingly, all of my “loved” films this time around are 2012 films. That’s strange and weird to me, especially since I watched a few “unassailable” classics, but I’m being honest about how I felt about them at the time I watched them. Also, there’s a preponderance of new releases anyway since going to the theatre tends to keep me awake and engaged a bit more right now than watching films at home, so I’ve watched fewer films at home than usual.

What I Loved

Cloud Atlas

I’d heard everything from “mind-blowing masterpiece” to “vapid, messy drivel” about this film coming out of TIFF, so I had no idea what to expect when I went into it. As you may have guessed, I’m far closer to the “mind-blowing masterpiece” side of the scale; in fact, as of right now, it’s sitting atop my Top 2012 Films list. I read the book a couple of months ago in preparation, and I’m sure that affected how I received the film – I didn’t actually love the book, largely because I felt like it was more of an exercise in pastiche, more interested in proving David Mitchell’s chops at imitating different styles of writing and less interested in actually making meaningful connections between the different stories. The movie still has the different styles, but less pronounced (because it’s difficult to get such things as “19th century journal” and “epistolary novel” to translate to film stylistically), and the stories are all intercut with each other, a brilliant way to strengthen and highlight the thematic tissue connecting the stories. Putting the music of the Cloud Atlas Sextet front and center lends the film a symphonic quality heightened by the editing to create something that as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which is exactly what I was missing from the book. It’s rare to say, even for a non-book-purist like me, but in this case, the movie is easily better than the book – quite a statement especially for a book that many people have long considered unfilmable. Well done.

2012 USA. Directors: Andy & Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer. Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon.
Seen October 27 at AMC Burbank 16.

The Master

I came into The Master with some trepidation, since I’m just about the only person on earth who really disliked There Will Be Blood, and I wasn’t sure if PT Anderson could get back on my good side or not. Thankfully, he did, and while I would say I only “really liked” The Master when first leaving the theatre, thinking back on it and talking about it has raised it my estimation a LOT. I might still like Magnolia (see below) a bit better of PTA’s films, but it’s close, and so far The Master is probably the best movie of the year for me. The interplay between Phoenix and Hoffman is incredible – two actors at the top of their game, playing off their very different styles (and very different characters) against each other. Amy Adams holds her own as well, which I didn’t expect. And the jittery camerawork/focus underscores the story – really, the character study – perfectly. Images, lines, contrasts, outbursts, quiet moments – they’ve all come flooding back to me without warning over the weeks since I saw the movie, and that’s what I call a sign of a great film. Great enough I might be willing to give TWBB another chance. We’ll see.

2012 USA. Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams.
Seen September 15 at Arclight Hollywood.

Argo

With Argo, Ben Affleck cements his career as a director even further, proving that while many of us have lost faith with him as an actor, when he’s behind the camera, he can do little wrong. This time he’s in front of the camera as well, which worried me a little (I didn’t see The Town, which also had him as actor-director), but he comes through in both roles. Taking a side story from the Iran Hostage Crisis of six Americans who managed to escape the embassy and hide out in the Canadian ambassador’s house, Affleck plays an extraction expert whose crazy plan to get them out involves a fake movie for which they will be the fake scouting crew in Tehran. The film’s seemingly unwieldy combination of real-life political thriller (which is highly tense and dramatic) and Hollywood show biz story (which has a good deal of comedy) comes together perfectly, while Affleck and Co’s eye for period ’70s detail puts him right up there with Soderbergh. An old-fashioned thrill ride with a great cast.

2012 USA. Director: Ben Affleck. Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Scoot McNairy.
Seen October 13 at AMC Burbank 16.

Looper

This has been my most-anticipated film ever since I first heard about it more than a year ago, thanks to my abiding love for Rian Johnson films (I loved Brick more than The Brothers Bloom, but they’re both really good), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and time travel. I successfully avoided almost all the marketing for it, so I went in pretty cold, and I’m glad I did. The story is more about Gordon-Levitt’s character development (thanks to the incursion of his future self in the form of Bruce Willis) than time travel itself – in fact, Johnson actually wisely refrains from getting into the nitty-gritty of the time travel, which keeps the focus squarely on the characters, and I liked that. There are a few plot holes if you analyze the time travel too deeply, but I don’t think they ultimately matter in terms of the character-focused story, and the combination of character drama and action flick with just a touch of sci-fi works really well.

2012 USA. Director: Rian Johnson. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo.
Seen September 29 at AMC Burbank.

Premium Rush

Bike messenger Joseph Gordon-Levitt rides his bike around NYC at breakneck speeds, trying to deliver a life-or-death package, avoid the dirty cop trying to catch him, the real bicycle cop he pissed off, and fight a rival bike messenger for the affections of his girlfriend. And it’s pretty much non-stop adrenaline from start to finish. That’s about all you need to know. This is an old-fashioned B-level genre movie, and it hits every note right. Sure, it’s got nothing deep going on, but it doesn’t try to be any more than it is and for 85 minutes of pure fun, this kind of thing is hard to beat for me. And Michael Shannon is awesome in this kind of no-holds-barred role (he’s always awesome, but he’s all kinds of fun when he really lets loose).

2012 USA. Director: David Koepp. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Sean Kennedy.
Seen August 8 at AMC Burbank.

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FB100: #99 – Day of Wrath

This post is part of a project to watch the Film Bloggers’ 100 Favorite Non-English Films. See my progress here.

Day of Wrath cap

Day of Wrath
Denmark 1943; dir: Carl Theodor Dreyer
starring: Lisbeth Movin, Thorkild Roose, Preben Lerdorff Rye
screened: 12/18/07, VHS

Previous Viewing Experience: Never seen it.

Knowledge Before Viewing: Not too much, just that it’s a Dreyer film. I haven’t actually seen any Dreyer films, unless you count the few minutes of The Passion of Joan of Arc that Godard includes in Vivre sa vie. There’s some religious aspect to it, I think–inquisition or persecution or something.

Brief Synopsis: Anna, a young seventeenth-century woman married to a much older pastor charged with rooting out and interrogating witches, finds it difficult to escape being accused as a witch herself when she falls in love with her husband’s son.

Initial Viewing Response: I’m not sure what to write about this one, largely because I’m sort of ambivalent about it. The cinematography is pretty (and would have been prettier with a better print, I’m betting, if better prints exist any more), and the painterly framing is very evocative. Dreyer gets a good performance from Lisbeth Movin, especially, though her shift from sweet and innocent girl to someone you’d almost believe is a witch is a bit more abrupt than I would’ve liked. Yet you never really lose sympathy for her, even though she does rather blatantly cheat on her husband with his son–the accusation of witchcraft in the seventeenth century was basically a self-fulfilling prophecy, as proven by the “trial” and “confession” of an old woman near the beginning of the film (the woman curses the pastor and his family as she dies, which also complicates the motivations in the rest of the film). Apparently, the pastor married Anna when she was little more than a child without really getting her input on the arrangement (a plot point that probably would have been better revealed earlier than it was, by the way), and his mother hates her and refuses to give her any say in the household, so she’s never had the opportunity to make any decisions on her own. Not that I’m saying starting an affair with her husband’s grown son Martin was a good decision, but still. It’s a bit of a step from that to her being a witch–seemingly the default accusation for any woman who doesn’t behave precisely as the men around her want and expect.

Given that Dreyer made this film in 1943 in Denmark, I was expecting the Inquisition to be more overtly Nazi-like. They sort of were at the beginning, when trying to force the old woman to name names and take other “witches” down with her, but as the story shifted more and more over to Anna, I didn’t see it as much. Still, I think there was enough similarity to get Dreyer in big trouble, forcing him to leave the country.

Reflective Response: A week later now; I’m still ambivalent. The fact that the old woman who was burned at the stake at the beginning cursed the pastor and Anna bothers me. It almost suggests that the old woman was a witch, and though that doesn’t make the torturous interrogation techniques she was subjected to any less horrific, her vindictive attitude does waver my sympathy for her a little bit. Similarly, Anna is very sweet and demure at the beginning and becomes almost dislikable near the end. (The very end, when she realizes that there’s really nothing she can do to avoid accusation, regains any sympathy she may have lost.) It’s tempting to apply feminist criticism to the film, which would read Anna as oppressed at the beginning, subjugated into passivity by a patriarchal system; as she moves into self-affirmation and asserts her own will, she naturally appears less “sweet,” because she’s rebelling against the norms that value “sweet” women and attempting to become a strong woman instead, a move which results in an accusation of witchcraft by the patriarchal establishment. That reading makes a lot of sense, though trying to work the film’s religious background into a feminist reading makes my brain hurt.

I often judge a film’s greatness based on how well it sticks with me–how much I can’t stop thinking about it after I’ve watched it. I haven’t really thought about Day of Wrath at all since I watched it (until I sat down to write this). The only scenes that have really stayed with me are the interrogation scene of the old woman and Anna’s realization that she’s trapped by her mother-in-law’s accusation. The first is understated and yet horrible, while the second is tremendously well-played, showing up in minute shifts in the actress’s expression. Oh, wait, I forgot. One of the most beautiful and virtuosic shots follows Anna as she crosses a large, columned room to overhear the judgment on the old woman. It combines the high-contrast cinematography that Dreyer inherited from German Expressionism (and would soon be a key feature of film noir) and the deep focus photography from contemporary films like Citizen Kane.