Author: Jessica Schneider

Jessica is a novelist and poet. Visit her Amazon Book page for a glimpse into what she's shared. Her unreleased works include several trilogies and poetic novels on religious themes. She is currently working on a poetry collection on French painters. She also runs a YouTube channel on the arts.
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The famous "trench" kiss in Andrei Tarkovsky's "Ivan's Childhood"

A Confession of Influence: Paul Cézanne, Ukraine, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Ivan’s Childhood” (1962)

Childhood is a personal thing. It consists of those moments, amid our early years, that serve to shape us, set our foundations into place, and create our impressions. ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man,’ Aristotle said. So, what then? Childhood is a personal thing. Yet admittedly, I found myself struggling to write this essay. As an avid Tarkovsky viewer, I don’t know why this would be the case, other than perhaps the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Before Putin invaded Ukraine in late February 2022, I had already set out to write a number of reviews on Tarkovsky’s films. A beloved director, why should this not be the case? However, now when watching this Russian filmmaker, I admit to viewing his films differently. This is nothing against Andrei Tarkovsky himself, who was a sensitive, empathic man who would be outraged by this war, were he alive. But within his films, there is something there. I caught a glimpse of it whilst watching Stalker (one of my faves), but I most certainly saw it again within Ivan’s Childhood. […]

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A shot of Lincoln from John Ford's "Young Mr. Lincoln"

The Mythic Depiction of John Ford’s “Young Mr. Lincoln” (1939)

It is always fascinating when history retells history. In fact, historical films on famous figures can be a tough tell, as too easily the film can segue into politics and propaganda. Gone goes the story, and instead we are replaced with platitude and biased ideology. John Ford’s 1939 historical drama, Young Mr. Lincoln, is not a great film, but it is a well-told fictional rendering of Abraham Lincoln’s early years (played wonderfully by Henry Fonda), as he emerges from his log cabin a young man, determined to make a difference. And Ford, rather than attempting to cover too much of one man’s life, doesn’t claim this is The Young Mr. Lincoln, but rather, an idealized interpretation.

The film, which is set a hundred years before its 1939 release (1830s), is reminiscent of other Ford films. Those familiar with Fonda’s work will remember his rendering of Tom Joad in John Ford’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and how life within Young Mr. Lincoln much resembles the Great Depression era film, even if unintentional. (We are the people that live.) Remove the costumes and carriages, and the front porches and poverty remain the same. […]

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A stylized shot of Hart Crane, author of "At Melville's Tomb".

The World and Its Overwhelm: Hart Crane’s “At Melville’s Tomb”

The world is not a painless place, especially if one is an artist. On one hand, artists are often inundated with rejection, and so they regularly feel misunderstood. Of course, this difficulty is in no way limited to artists, but for the sake of brevity, I will be focusing solely on the artistic mind. My initial intention was to write a distillation on Hart Crane, but I found myself distracted. Such vision requires a sharp set of eyes. And so, as result, I diverted my focus to where it wished to go. Hart Crane is good for discussion, since he is not only known for his so-called ‘difficult’ verse, but for his suicide, wherein he jumped off the side of a ship and plummeted into the Gulf of Mexico at age 32.

In many respects, this is a cliché—the tortured artist who dies young, but in the case of Hart Crane, it goes further. After all, 1932 was well in midst of the Great Depression, and many were struggling to find work. Bread lines, soup lines, foods were scarce. In addition, Crane was an alcoholic, his father’s business was failing, he was continually overwhelmed by his mother’s emotional needs, his homosexuality was a battle in a time more discriminatory, and would he have a job upon his return to the States? Amid such uncertainty, one can ascertain that all this grew into too much, and so Crane ended his life just before noon on April 26, 1932. He was tumultuous, troubled. Yet most accounts from those who knew him portray a gentle, albeit struggling soul who took on the burdens of others. Yet, despite his enormous talent, still this was not enough, as talent doesn’t guarantee love. People will still come and go, and for someone like Crane, the feeling of abandonment proved more than he could take. […]

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A stylized shot from Alain Resnais's "Last Year At Marienbad"

The Murmur of Memory: Alain Resnais’s “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961)

I’ve encountered many who claim to respect, albeit not necessarily enjoy, Alain Resnais’s seminal classic Last Year at Marienbad. Their reasons vary but ultimately their thoughts move similarly. ‘Yea, it sure is great but it sure is boring,’ one said. ‘I admire the cinematography, if only there was a more engaging story,’ said another. I’m not here to convince anyone of his subjective likes or dislikes, and nor am I to say what the film is not—boring, slow-moving, isolating. Viewers can make up their own minds. And I suppose my opinion resides somewhere in between. In fact, Last Year at Marienbad is not only a great film, but also one that has been highly influential. There really is nothing like it.

The tale takes place at a French chateau, where people move about quietly or they don’t move at all. Decorative ceilings are every bit as intricate as they are distant. Outside, the landscaping is so perfect that from a distance the humans look like trees, or vice versa. And this is where the separation exists. It is not merely humans, but ‘the’ humans that populate this film. We witness them, barely moving as they stand around. They appear rich, elegant, and suffering from an eternal ennui. No one has a name. If an alien were to watch, it might believe that this is what humans are like—disengaged and preoccupied with the past. The narrator gives a clue, as he speaks in a low murmur in second person. But to whom is he speaking? […]

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A shot of reindeer from Jacques Perrin's "Les Saisons"

Nature & Poetry Within Jacques Perrin’s “Les Saisons” (“Seasons”, 2015)

This planet has always been picturesque. Yet, what of the arrival of humans? What have they done to undermine it? One only need watch Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert to see. From factory to industry, we’ve made this world harsh, uninviting. Not to mention our impact upon global warming. As example, Central Texas recently had the highest number of tornadoes reported in a single afternoon. Outside, the air was thick and too warm for March. We know how it got this way, but more importantly, where will it continue?

Les Saisons is not quite a documentary, but more so an observational narrative. Directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, this is the film for one who wishes to listen and observe. As example, the opening scene is that of the brutal cold, presumably during the Ice Age. We are given shots of bison that remain tenacious, yet partly frozen. They cower within their self-made corner in an attempt to create heat, whilst the wind overruns them mercilessly. ‘Winter has lasted 80,000 years,’ the narrator says. ‘In such hostile conditions, animals resist the freezing cold. Over this great expanse, traces of man are scarce.’ Then, we see an intricate pile of rocks that only humans could have made, which serves as a landing place for some owl. […]

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A shot of Isabelle Huppert in Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher.

The Quest For Control Within Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher” (2001)

Few films successfully essay a troubled individual without resorting to sentiment. It is a difficult line when the subject is uncomfortable with closeness and yet the audience continues to act as voyeur. In Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, Isabelle Huppert plays Erika Kohut, a respected piano teacher within a Vienna Conservatory. When we witness her publicly, she is confident and cold. Her students revere her. Her colleagues admire her. ‘A wrong note in Beethoven is less offensive than mangling the spirit of it,’ she says. But there is something deeper going on, and no, I am not referring to the sex parts. Rather, Erika suffers from pathological envy. Her mother, with whom she lives (as well as shares a bed) informs her daughter that she mustn’t let anyone be better than she. ‘If you want your pupils to have a career over you, no one must outdo you, my girl.’

These words are not to be overlooked, as we witness Erika’s contempt towards any pupil who might outshine her. She knows just how to break them down, too. No, she doesn’t scream like Fletcher in Whiplash, but rather uses their self-shame against them. Huppert is excellent in this role, as her austere face alone is enough to reveal her resentment. But it doesn’t stop there. When a young, handsome student named Walter Klemmer (played by Benoît Magimel) wishes to enter the Conservatory, she votes against him when her colleagues recognize his talent. They, however, override her decision and he becomes her student. She eyes him from afar and it is clear he idolizes her. Yet her knowing this is still not enough. When one of her timid female students (named Anna Schober) is overcome with stage fright, Walter goes to comfort her. As result, Erika silently seethes with envy. She cannot take it, and so she disappears into the coatroom, wherein she finds a glass and breaks it, dumping the broken shards into Anna’s coat pocket. One can only imagine what happens when Anna inserts her hand. […]

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A stylized shot from Robert Bresson's "A Man Escaped", depicting Fontaine being interrogated by a prison guard

Hours & Sound: On “A Man Escaped” by Robert Bresson (1956)

Few films contain the technique employed by Robert Bresson within his film A Man Escaped. In fact, Roger Ebert called it ‘a lesson in the cinema’, noting much what Bresson chooses not to do. Here, we are immersed within a prison cell and inundated with detail. Time and shadow are immanent. How one looks at you when your meal arrives could mean dire consequences. As a prisoner, one is forced beneath the brunt of whatever guard. As the days pass into weeks, moments carry a cautionary silence. Any sudden cough feels like an explosion.

François Leterrier plays Fontaine, a French resistance fighter who has been jailed within a Nazi prison camp. His expressions carry minimal emotion but his hands remain busy. In the opening scene, we see him attempt to escape from a car, but not before feeling the right push and press of the door handle. His motion is meticulous, deliberate and subtle and there is no music to accompany it. Events play out as they might in real life, where after enough tragedy, one will begin to suffer more from apathy than fear. […]

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A stylized photo of John Cassavetes talking to Peter Falk from Elaine May's "Mikey and Nicky"

Morning’s Consequence: Elaine May’s “Mikey and Nicky” (1976)

What is time to a decaying friendship? And what do we make of that friend who hangs around a little too long? That person that we should have cut from our lives eons ago? Here is a film that takes place within a single night, when the dark evening begins, only to then have time slowly creep towards sunrise. Elaine May’s neglected 1976 filmic gem reveals someone behind the screen with not only a sharp eye, but also a sharp wit. May is most known for her comedies (her two earlier films were such) but Mikey and Nicky will certainly impress drama upon the audience—friendship, masculinity and a lowlife involvement in crime. (And perhaps the consequences of keeping that one friend around for too long.) The film succeeds most notably due to the excellent acting but also due to May’s keen screenwriting skills.

Nicky (John Cassavetes) is a low-level gangster who has stolen money from his mob boss. As result, he is now held up in a grimy hotel room on the edge of town, in an attempt to evade capture or even death. Mikey (Peter Falk) is Nicky’s childhood friend. In a moment of need, Nicky calls Mikey up in the hopes that maybe his friend might be able to offer a hand, or even get him out of trouble. Mikey thinks that Nicky should leave town, but events and distractions unfold and that doesn’t happen. Nicky is suffering from a stomach ulcer and so Mikey goes to retrieve some creamer from a diner, but not before erupting into a rage at the cashier. Rage is a recurring theme throughout the film, as it often manifests as one’s temper. But it goes further than this. Neither man knows how to function in life. They wander and they exist. They blow up when things don’t go their way, and then there are the women who sit at home. Not necessarily waiting for them, but more so telling them to leave when the men shove their way in. Both Mikey and Nicky have wives and they both cheat. They are mooches who come and go. Mikey seems to be better off, but not by much. […]