Tag Archives: Ingmar Bergman

Challenge Week 52: Autumn Sonata

Finishing the Challenge out with a classic Bergman-Bergman film, the only one Ingmar and Ingrid ever made together, and it’s a doozy.

There are Ingmar Bergman films I love to bits, but I often find him a tough nut to crack, his film striking me as a bit austere and aloof rather than the deeply humanistic works I know they are. That kind of happened with Fanny and Alexander earlier last year, but with Autumn Sonata, it was almost TOO raw and full of naked emotion.

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Challenge Week 38: Fanny and Alexander

This is one of my least favorite kinds of posts to write, because it’s so hard to write about beloved films from master filmmakers that I liked but didn’t strongly connect to. It’s one thing if I DISLIKE a film like this, because at least that’s something to hang a reaction on. I will say that I watched the theatrical cut because while 3 hours is doable, 5 1/2 wasn’t really, but I would like to return and watch the television cut later on.

The first half of Fanny and Alexander places the titular siblings in a large, warm, and loving theatrical family. It’s difficult at first to tell exactly how everyone’s related to each other, but it doesn’t matter too much, because everyone loves and cares for each other – even when the children’s father has a fling with the maid, it doesn’t seem too troublesome or out of the ordinary. This half is not dissimilar to Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, though the addition of color and kids makes it even more light and whimsical.

tf-familyarranged

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The Roundup: April 2, 2014

The best things I’ve read over the past week; usually they were also posted during the past week, but I make no promises. Sometimes I read old stuff and think it’s still worth sharing, so hopefully I’ll highlight some good reads you hadn’t come across yet.

Cinema

Please, Critics, Write About the Filmmaking by Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com

r-Seitz

I shared this article on its own earlier this week, but it has since become the talk of the film blogosphere. The discussion really started with an article from jazz critic Ted Gioia lamenting that music critics don’t talk about musicianship. Criticwire took it from there, polling a variety of film writers with the question Should Film Critics Be Filmmakers?. Matt Zoller Seitz’s article is an expansion of his answer, pleading with film critics to talk about film form and not just writing/acting/ideology. That set off a bunch of responses, including Sam Adams saying that Critics Should Definitely Write About Form, Except When They Don’t Want To, and several other responses, mostly saying that yes, film form is important, but not everybody has to write about it all the time. Personally, I can say that when I don’t include a discussion of form, it’s because I’m being lazy, and I should definitely do better than that. I love reading articles that discuss form, and I’m capable of writing it when I hunker down to it. That said, different critics are good at different things, and also just because they’re cognizant of form doesn’t mean that talking about it fits in with the article they’re trying to write. I don’t think you have to shoehorn it in just because you can. It’s a good discussion to have, though, because I think it’s easy to get lazy like me and just not take the time to really closely read filmmaking techniques.

We have several successive generations of film watchers—some of whom consume TV and movies voraciously and have surprisingly wide-ranging tastes—who don’t know how to interpret a shot, or how to think about what the size or position of characters in a frame might tell us about the story’s attitude toward those characters. That’s a problem. We have critics and viewers who can agree that a particular episode of a particular show ended in a “shocking” or “unsettling” way, but they don’t think about the role that, say, a jaggedly timed cut to black or atonal music cue might have played in provoking that reaction. That’s a problem.

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Scorecard: January-February 2013

Most of January was spent trying to watch whatever documentaries we could get our hands on, mostly on Netflix Instant, so we could nominate films in that category for the 2nd Annual Flickcharters’ Choice Awards (we had to have seen at least five per category to nominate in it). Neither Jonathan nor I are big documentary fans, so we had a lot to catch up on. As I expected, they all ended up falling into my “yeah, it was good but not really my thing” category. Ah, well. Did manage to see a few films I genuinely loved, so it was still a good month. We only made it out to theatres twice (January releases – you know), but enjoyed both critically-panned movies we saw quite a bit for what they were. Running late as per usual, I decided to throw February in as well, especially because I only managed to watch ONE new-to-me movie in all of February. Feeling very pregnant apparently necessitated a lot of comfort-food rewatches.

And now, of course, most of March is gone, taken up by a newborn. :)

What I Loved

Blancanieves

I won’t actually write very much about this one, since I saw it at a press screening and I’ll be posting a full review on Row Three soon, time willing. For now I’ll just say that The Artist (a film I quite enjoyed) wishes it were as excellent an homage to silent cinema as this version of Snow White (set in 1920s Spain with Snow White as a bullfighter) is. I loved every second of its completely unironic take on European cinema of the ’20s.

2012 Spain. Director: Pablo Berger. Starring: Maribel Verdú, Ángela Molina, Macarena García, Inma Cuesta, Pere Ponce.
Seen January 8 at a press screening.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey

Yes, this is a 15-hour documentary originally shown in British TV, but I’m treating it as a single long film, because that’s frankly how it plays if you’re able to marathon it (like you can now on Netflix Instant, so….go do that), and that’s how Mark Cousins prefers to think of it. But whatever format you think it falls into, it’s an incredible accomplishment. Cousins illuminates the history of film from a much more global perspective than we’re used to seeing in the United States anyway – he doesn’t shortchange Hollywood, but he’s quick to point out innovation in other countries all along the way, and show how new techniques spread and echoed around the world. Some have complained about Cousins’ idiosyncratic narration style; his Scottish accent and diction tends to make most of his statements sound like questions and it definitely takes some getting used to, but I think it works, because it also emphasizes how personal an approach to film history this is – it’s comprehensive and informative, but it’s always filtered through Cousins’ own critical perspective, which is a good thing, I think. It keeps 15 hours of film history from ever getting dry or caught up in attempts at objectivity. He also does a great job of connecting films across the globe and across time; even though he goes largely in chronological order, he often takes detours to show how certain elements, whether technical or thematic, developed over time. Part history, part criticism, and all fascinating.

2011 UK. Director: Mark Cousins. Starring: Mark Cousins.
Seen December 26-January 14 on Netflix Instant.

The Muppet Movie

I’ve come at the Muppets almost solely as an adult – I watched Sesame Street some as a kid, but not a lot, and I never saw the original Muppets show. I didn’t see any of the Muppet movies until I was in my twenties, with A Muppet Christmas Carol (which is now one of my favorite Christmas movies of all time). But that hasn’t lessened any of my enjoyment as I start introducing myself to more Muppet stuff – I’m pretty convinced it works just as well for adults as for kids, if not better. The first Muppet Movie is silly as all get-out, but in a very absurdist, wonderful way that’s like the G-rated version of Monty Python. In other words, exactly up my alley. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this, from the “holy crap” cameos to Miss Piggy’s outrageous crush on Kermit to the fourth-wall breaking to the somewhat saccharine but irresistible songs. Can’t wait to see the rest of it. Dear Netflix: Please to put the show on Instant.

1979 USA. Director: James Frawley. Starring: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, Charles Durning.
Seen January 17 on Netflix Instant.

Rewatches

Fargo (1996; rewatched February 6) – This is the top film in mine and Jonathan’s mutual Flickchart list (the site can calculate weighted favorites based on multiple users individual rankings), and it was about time we revisited it. Still awesome.
The Court Jester (1956; rewatched February 19) – A friend alerted me to the fact that this is available on Amazon Prime Instant, and I jumped at the chance to rewatch it – one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen, and the rewatch didn’t change that opinion.
Clue (1985; rewatched February 19) – This was total comfort food; sometimes you just need a little Clue.
The Untouchables (1987; rewatched January 12) – Watching Gangster Squad put me in mind of The Untouchables, and Jon had never seen it, so we pulled it out. Yeah, Gangster Squad stole whole swaths of stuff from this movie, which remains much much better overall. Still my go-to when people start bagging on Brian DePalma. At least he made this.

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Blindspotting 2013: Wild Strawberries (1957)

There are so many Ingmar Bergman films I haven’t seen (and most all of them are considered essentials by cinephiles) that there will likely be a Bergman film on every one of my Blindspot lists for years to come. Last year it was The Virgin Spring; this year I opted for Wild Strawberries, which generally comes near the top of lists of greatest Bergman films but I’ve been avoiding because, really, “after living a life marked by coldness, an aging professor is forced to confront the emptiness of his existence” doesn’t sound like that interesting or compelling a story (that’s the IMDb description). But, of course, Bergman’s genius is in how he tells his stories and the depth of humanity he instills in them more than the plot details themselves.

The film is much more subtle than the description above suggests, with the professor’s coldness mostly demonstrated by his terse treatment of his long-time housekeeper and somewhat estranged daughter-in-law (and son, by extension). He’s bitter and unsympathetic without being necessarily outright cruel. The night before he’s to head off to accept an honorary degree, he has a surreal dream culminating in a vision of his own death, which sets him on a journey of memory the following day as he detours by places of childhood and youthful significance and interacts with the young people he finds there now.

Seeing one’s own death as an impetus for self-reflection might be a common trope, but Bergman keeps it feeling fresh both by the evocative strangeness of the dream (a precursor, perhaps, to the nightmarish weirdness of Persona) and the rather opaque interactions that follow. It’s clear that the resurrected memories of lost loves and family reunions, as well as his conversations with his daughter-in-law and the trio of young people affect the professor greatly, but it’s far from the pat lesson-learning that you’d likely find in an American film.

The professor is played by Swedish director Victor Sjostrom, best known for silent films like The Wind and The Phantom Carriage, and he’s pretty great, surrounded by Bergman stock figures like Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, and Ingrid Thulin. Some of them are in pretty small parts (like von Sydow), but they leave their mark on the film nonetheless. That plus the surprisingly surreal bits elevated the film far beyond what I expected. It didn’t quite reach the top of my Bergman list, which is still occupied by Persona and The Virgin Spring, but I’m definitely pleased to cross it off my Blind Spot list.