Search Results for: Bergman

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A shot of piano-playing from Ingmar Bergman's "Autumn Sonata"

Love’s Demands: Ingmar Bergman’s “Autumn Sonata” (1978)

Often, we sit apart from another—presuming to know what that person is thinking. We imbue our motives into them, where we admit to not understanding why someone else has chosen the life they have. Why are they not more ambitious? More career-driven? What is ambition, anyway? Before we begin, we at least need to define ambition, and how goes this definition that varies person to person? For some, a career and kids are enough. Yet others might long for artistic success and recognition. Yet what does that entail, exactly? And where and how does that person become? I’ve often traveled to old towns and have marveled over the abandoned—be it buildings, forts, roads. Who lived then? Who defined those now expired standards? And where are those standards now?

Ingmar Bergman’s 1978 film, Autumn Sonata, is what most closely resembles a play by Chekhov or Strindberg. The words and the women are intense—feelings are felt and painful and abrupt, and moments have been brushed aside, but are not forgotten. Liv Ullmann plays Eva, a quiet wife married to Victor. She has an inner intensity brewing. Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman) is her mother. She is a self-centered concert pianist who is paying a visit upon Eva’s request. The shadow amongst them is Helena—Charlotte’s ‘other’ daughter who is suffering from a debilitating disease. Charlotte does not deeply care for either of her daughters and yet she makes an appearance for the sake of convenience. When Eva informs her mother that Helena is here, Charlotte is not pleased. […]

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A stylized shot of Tomas, the protagonist in Ingmar Bergman's "Winter Light"

Silent and Sunday: Ingmar Bergman’s “Winter Light” (1962)

There are some who embrace suffering—who endure it, and they do so with sanctimony. Hence, they believe others should not only endure it, but should also welcome it. To suffer is to attain salvation, and to reject it is nothing short of selfishness. I once had an employer who, upon hearing my unhappiness vis-à-vis my career, would reply, ‘Well, what can you do to change your attitude?’ My admission of misery was, in her mind, ‘bringing down the team’ (even though the team was already down). Overworked, just because one group was able to scrape by on limited resources doesn’t mean that another should be forced to undergo the same: i.e., ‘Well, they were able to suffer through it and so should you.’

Alas, I digress. Rather, this is Ingmar Bergman’s film, and what a great film Winter Light is. In 80 minutes, he manages to encapsulate an existential crisis, the rejection of love, the rejection of faith, and the rejection of self. Those who believe in God are still bound by their bodies, by their emotions. This limits the amount of suffering they are able to undertake. Within this filmic world, it is always Sunday and it is always cold. […]

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A stylized shot from Stanley Kubrick's "Killer's Kiss", in which a man and a woman are speaking face-to-face against a brick backdrop.

Celebration of Failure: Kubrick’s “Fear and Desire” (1953) & “Killer’s Kiss” (1955)

Whenever studying an artist’s work, it is important to note not just the home runs, but also the near misses. Perhaps even the failures. This is because most often technique can be spotted within those early, easily dismissed achievements, and upon witnessing the raw potential without polish, one can spot the growth. What is to be found there? Think of the great, later works of any writer or artist and ask yourself how often do you feel lost within that approach. Sure, Wallace Stevens’s “Sunday Morning” reads great but what the hell did he do to achieve that? How does he make it look so easy? How about Michelangelo’s David, where the sculpting Master claimed that all he need do was to ‘chip away’? Again, all looks great but if one is a young sculptor, how does he get there? On one hand, 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of those ever so perfect films with a narrative that unfolds like a poem. But what did Kubrick have to undertake to create it? Well, the answer resides in his early films.

Fear and Desire and Killer’s Kiss are both early films that I’ll not bother summarizing with excessive detail. At their best, both show potential differently. Each finishing at around an hour, brevity seems to be their strongest quality, as anything longer would surely bore the viewer. To begin, I will first address Fear and Desire. As a war story, Kubrick tried to have all versions of his film destroyed, as he thought so little of it. (Amateurish was the word used.) While not a good film, it isn’t terrible either. I might even give it a slight pass, as in 60/100 if for nothing else at least there are some good shots. To contrast, think of Herk Harvey’s first and only film, Carnival of Souls that, like Fear and Desire, is also a B film full of hammy acting. The difference, however, is that Carnival of Souls moves about as if one were in a dream, and so the situations that might otherwise come off forced, actually work. Such is not the case with Fear and Desire. So where to begin? […]

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A stylized shot of Sinan (Doğu Demirkol) sitting with books in Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "The Wild Pear Tree" (2018).

Longing & Regretting: On Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “The Wild Pear Tree” (2018)

‘Have you seen The Wild Pear Tree’?

These are the words I have been continually asked ever since its 2018 debut, and my answer has always been, ‘I will upon access.’ Well, now the time has come. Firstly, I shall begin by saying that Nuri Bilge Ceylan is likely the greatest living filmmaker. Yes, there are others, like Steve McQueen, but The Wild Pear Tree not only captures the depth and breadth of Tarkovsky and Bergman, but its unique imagery and dialogue illuminates. It has been said that Ceylan claims to enjoy ‘really long, boring films.’ I presume that when he said this, he was referring to what is perceived as such according to the average person’s taste, because upon watching The Wild Pear Tree (which finishes in just over three hours), this film is everything but boring. But…let me begin.

The film stars Doğu Demirkol as Sinan who has returned to his hometown after graduating university. Word has it that he has written a novel, or rather, ‘literary reflections’ that he seeks to publish. His father, Idris (Murat Cemcir), works as a teacher but has a fantasy of living off the land, away from the city. He seeks to retire, but in the interim he is fixated on finding water at the bottom of a well. One afternoon, Sinan assists at the well begrudgingly, as he knows the neighbors think his father is ridiculous. Yet at the same time there is an underlining resentment that Sinan feels when it comes to his father’s gambling habit. (All done for the intention to someday live out this ‘living off the land’ fantasy.) […]

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The priest in Robert Bresson's "Diary of a Country Priest", played by Claude Laydu, looking down in his room with a crucifix hanging to his left.

A World of Green Trees: Robert Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest” (1951)

Robert Bresson is a director who does not veer from the suffering a character must undertake at the cruelty of others. This is most prominent in The Trial of Joan of Arc, Mouchette, and Au Hasard Balthazar where we witness some being—be it person or animal—that is beaten under the brunt of some hostile society. Within all three films, each ends in dying or death. No one seems to have any empathy for the one suffering. Yet within Diary of a Country Priest, the ‘little priest’ as he is condescendingly referred to, undergoes very much the same. Unlike the pastor in Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light, the priest’s faith remains unwavering, as he desperately claims to need prayer like ‘oxygen in his blood.’

The priest, played by Claude Laydu, is somber, morose, and moves about quietly and helplessly. His illness leaves him physically weak. He only smiles once in the film, and that is when he is on a motorcycle. Roger Ebert notes that this is the moment that perhaps rekindles his childhood. Memories of his youth, when there must have been an earlier joy. He has chosen this vocation on purpose, but for what purpose is this? Has Christ abandoned him just as well, as he remains in this otherwise small, petty, country town? Meanwhile, the locals leave threatening notes ordering him to leave. […]

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A stylized shot of Christian Fiedel's face in Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" (German: Das weiße Band).

The Onset of Evil: Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” (2009)

Who can know the perpetrator behind something gone wrong? When something feels amiss, and all around bad things continue to happen to those who live within this German village? That not all good people are those harmed by these malevolent acts is one of the strengths of Michael Haneke’s 2009 film, The White Ribbon. Too often, filmmakers make ‘good’ people the victims and ‘bad’ people the perpetrators. But here, both are affected.

How the story unfolds is this—a rural German village, just on the cusp of World War I, has been terrorized by a series of events that have left them on edge. As example, the village doctor, while on his horse, trips on a wire and both man and horse suffer terrible injury. (The horse dies.) Yet this doctor is also abusive to his mistress, and he sexually molests his daughter. Children are beaten for minor transgressions—they are punished and tied up in bed for ‘impure touching’, and forced to wear a White Ribbon until they can amend their sins. A disabled child is left maimed and nearly blinded. A barn is set on fire, a husband hangs himself after his wife has fallen through a rotting floorboard, another child is murdered, and on and on. […]

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A stylized shot of the mother in Sean Baker's "The Florida Project" (2017) lying around, smoking a joint.

Still Growing: On Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” (2017)

There is an anxiety, among Left Wing cineastes particularly, for a “proper” artistic depiction of the poor. Realism, of course, is key – but how grueling is too grueling? You can’t slip into so-called poverty porn, because to do that would be to rob the class you’re portraying of their dignity. However, conversely, to be too light or fanciful, winsome, even, would be to rob them of their hardships, which uniquely distinguishes them from the higher classes. This is not to even mention the deeper anxiety that interrogates the point of art at all in one’s political project(s), especially when it comes to fictional portrayals of the subaltern and such. “It’s all make-believe, at bottom,” the worry might be. “Does this aid us? And would even the most nuanced portrait of the dispossessed do anything to alleviate their lack?”

Maybe this is caricature, but I’ve noticed this anxiety slip into many of the reviews I’ve read for Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. Many are positive (in that Baker avoids a misstep in either of the directions mentioned above) while some bemoan the lack of interiority in these characters’ lives, and even slam Baker for not making the mother, Halley, more empathetic. Others nitpick at its length, without elaboration, as well as its meandering, told-in-vignettes quality. And, of course, despite healthy acclaim, and a generous smattering of various festival/critic’s awards, the film still passed mostly under the radar – earning only a single nomination (Best Supporting Actor for Willem Dafoe’s Bobby) at that season’s Academy Awards. […]

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A stylized side-by-side portrait of Ted Hughes and Robinson Jeffers.

‘But They Both Wrote About Hawks!’: Robinson Jeffers’s “Hurt Hawks” vs. Ted Hughes’s “The Hawk In The Rain”

When contemplating writers, it is not uncommon for many to lump them together on account of subject matter. Sure, it is shallow, but it is easy marketing. Imagine it—any nature writer is ‘just like Loren Eiseley’ and any gay, black political essayist who writes on race is ‘just like James Baldwin.’ Anyone who writes of death is ‘just like Sylvia Plath,’ or anyone spiritual is ‘just like Rilke.’ (How convenient a comparison, albeit even if the writing itself is lacking in skill or depth.) Years ago, I got into an argument with a professor who claimed that some random ‘nature’ writer was ‘just like Loren Eiseley.’ She argued this after having complained about the lack of intellectual writing presented within university courses. And while I did agree with her initial statement regarding the dearth of quality writing as presented in universities, when she got to examples, she was running on full emotion. (Where goes the intellectualism?) In short, she merely ‘liked’ certain banal nature writers and lumped them beside Eiseley ‘just because.’ Why? Well, it is easy. They both write about nature! […]