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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A scene with a crying infant and a crying Mouchette from the Robert Bresson film of the same name.

The Misery, Cruelty, and Beauty of Robert Bresson’s “Mouchette” (1967)

There is an understated quality to Robert Bresson’s filmic technique that it is almost easy to miss. For one, he regularly refused to hire actors and rather preferred ‘everyday’ folks to play his roles. His intention was that after so many takes, the process would become so natural to the non-actor that rendering the role would be akin to breathing. I have watched Mouchette probably close to 10 times, and each time I notice subtleties that I did not before. His form is so natural that you almost can’t see it—it is that good. As compared to Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light, which is high artifice, with Bergman you know you are watching a film. Tarkovsky often makes you feel like you’re in a dream. But Robert Bresson makes you believe that you are a witness, and that life really does unfold this naturally and poetically.

Mouchette tells the tale of a poverty-stricken girl (played by Nadine Nortier)  living in rural France. Her mother is dying. Her father is an alcoholic. She walks to school looking slovenly in her mismatched clogs. Her hair is greasy and unkempt—forced into loose pigtails. Her classmates are indifferent towards her and her teacher is cruel, as she shames the poor girl in front of the class for not singing. Mouchette begins crying. Her teacher doesn’t think to ask how she is doing. […]

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A shot of the protagonists from Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight".

The Weight of Years: Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” (2013)

At the end of Before Sunset (2004), Jesse (Ethan Hawke) walks Celine (Julie Delpy) up to her apartment moments before he is set to catch a plane for America. As with the first film, Before Sunrise (1995), there is a pressing urgency to get to know and to say as much as possible within a short span of time. In fact, by the end of the second film, the characters have only now spent a total of two days together, yet their connection is undeniable. Before Midnight (2013), however, doesn’t carry this time-sensitive urgency as we come to learn that the couple is now married with twins.

Alright, this must be a happy ending (or beginning) then. Jesse is a published writer who also works as a professor. Celine is involved in activism and has recently been offered her ‘dream job’. They live in Paris. The couple, while vacationing in Greece, sees Jesse’s son Hank off at the airport, and this gets Jesse wondering if he has been present enough within his son’s life. Everything seems like a fairy tale. While in Greece, they visit a writer’s home and are offered copious amounts of food and drink. It is a seaside villa along the Mediterranean, and how many would be offered such an opportunity, much less how many writers live well off enough to afford such? It’s not that the couple is excessively extravagant, just that their situation, while real, is perhaps the most unrelatable. […]

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A shot of the two leads from Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset", second film of the "Before Trilogy"

The Magic, The Sunset: Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunset” (2004)

We’d like to think that being a few years older and a few years wiser could offer us our much needed life do over. Scenes replay in our minds: if only I could have met that person now, I might have reacted differently. And it is not so much the events and eras that change, but rather, our perspectives. Only time can help shape that. Life will often, more or less, remain the same.

It is now nine years later, and Jesse and Celine are both nine years older. He’s written a book and is giving a reading in Paris, which is where Celine lives. She shows up. The book is about their night together, and Celine admits that she’s read the book twice. At the end of Before Sunrise, we don’t know if the characters will meet in six months. In Before Sunset, we come to learn that Celine’s grandmother died and was buried on the day they were supposed to meet. Hence, she could not come to Vienna. But he did. He admits to waiting and feeling that disappointment and perhaps this missed meeting was the thing that jaded them both to the idea of Romantic love.

The characters, now that they’re older, are also more levelheaded. Celine has an environmental job and Jesse works as a writer/professor. He is in a loveless marriage and she is dating a guy who is never around. She admits that men enter her life, only to depart, but not before thanking her for showing them what love is. This makes her angry and resentful. Celine, while still the same, is more outspoken than her earlier character. She is a feminist who punishes herself for still having these Romantic longings. ‘The concept that we should find one person to spend our lives with is evil,’ she says. […]

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A picture of the poet Bruce Ario in his church.

From There to There: The Life and Vision of Bruce Ario

There are many writers that impress vision upon a reader. But rare is it that you can meet one. Bruce D. Ario (April 29, 1955 – August 6, 2022) was one of those writers. I first met him in autumn of 1999 and I continued to know him online until his death in 2022. That I am even typing this is still a shock, as his death came suddenly. He wasn’t ill, but rather he fell and hit his head, according to his obituary. It is difficult to imagine a future without Bruce, as he was always eager to read my and Dan’s work, and his essays and comments were always unique. In fact, I can’t imagine a Minneapolis without him—the buildings, the streets, and the church—all had become part of him. Just how does a city go on without its Cityboy?

Bruce was a regular at the Uptown Poetry Group, where I would see him twice a month from 2000-2003. We’d all take our turns sharing our poems and it was normal for him to go last, after everyone else. This is perhaps indicative of his personality—others first, himself second. His ‘signature’ poem was something that earned its own name—called the ario, which consisted of ten lines written in 3/3/3/1 format. The last line would often serve as a baseball bat knocking the point home. His language was simple but not simplistic, as he excavated his ideas from feeling. His worldview was matter of fact with an underhanded insight. And one would need to listen, as his craft could easily go overlooked if not paying attention. […]

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A shot of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" (1995)

Wistful Dissolve: Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” (1995)

Within one of my short story collections, I have a tale that begins, ‘Only the summers counted as time.’ The story, while having a very different setting than that of Richard Linklater’s 1995 classic Before Sunrise, captures somewhat similar ideas. ‘That was 30 years ago, and so that means 30 summers,’ a summer camp counselor said. This quote stuck with me, so much so, that my childhood summers felt like they stood outside as a sort of time.

I recall my first moment watching this film. It would have been summer, 1995 after renting the cassette from Blockbuster. I worked my job, and late into the night I watched the film on VHS and felt myself brought to Vienna, wandering the streets with these two characters. Oh, and how I wished I could find a guy as cute and as deep as Ethan Hawke who, within this film, embodies the young, artistic girl’s fantasy. ‘I didn’t just go to Europe to read Hemingway,’ he tells Celine (Julie Delpy). ‘I came to be anonymous.’ […]

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A wistful shot of Judy Garland looking outside of a car window at night, from the film "Judy" (2019) by Rupert Goold.

A Star Is Worn: On Rupert Goold’s “Judy” (2019)

There is no business like show business, as the saying goes. In it, life for the performing artist is a continual stage—birthed from competition and endless rehearsals. With such a schedule, when can one be given a chance for pause? And where does the performer end and the person begin? Just days before watching Rupert Goold’s Judy, I watched Richard Attenborough’s A Chorus Line (1985). I remembered that film from my youth and it is, if nothing else, one long rehearsal. The same could be said for Judy Garland’s life.

Garland, born Frances Ethel Gumm, began performing at the age of two, along with her sisters. The trio were known as the Gumm Sisters, but they eventually changed their name to the Garland Sisters, when reviewers’ kept misspelling Gumm. Judy, the youngest, was also the most talented of the three. And as anyone familiar with the early MGM film industry, she was one of many who had drugs forced upon her by age 13—uppers and downers, not to mention forced dieting and studio insults, all which contributed to her depression. It is without any doubt that her early years contributed to the chronic low self-esteem she’d suffer throughout her life.

Renee Zellweger portrays Judy, and she does so with just the right amount of accent and vulnerability. The film, which focuses on Judy’s final year while performing in London, skips over many of the events that make her life interesting. Zellweger, however, gives a convincing rendering of the troubled singer, all the while acknowledging that many who know and knew her only admired the performer but did not care to know the person. […]

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A photo of Andy (Chevy Chase) eating sheep testicles in George Roy Hill's "Funny Farm" (1988).

Good Farce: George Roy Hill’s “Funny Farm” (1988)

‘Being a fake is what I do best,’ Andy Farmer tells his wife Elizabeth when the couple has bribed their local townspeople in recreating a Norman Rockwell universe within their small Vermont town. George Roy Hill, who is known for Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Sting, and Slaughterhouse Five, has tackled this delightful comedy that pokes fun of pretension and image with just the right farce. In Funny Farm, Andy (Chevy Chase) has traded his New York sports writing job for a quiet, small-town life where he plans to write his Great American Novel. Likewise, the publishers have already issued him a 10K advance in the hopes that his talent will deliver. Andy’s wife, Elizabeth (Madolyn Smith Osborne), is a schoolteacher who reluctantly welcomes the change as the two plan to uproot and start a family.

If this concept already sounds cheesy, it has succeeded. While the script is of course going to have everything go wrong (including snakes and bugs), George Roy Hill utilizes the appropriate light-hearted humor with a splash of the sardonic. In his review, Roger Ebert cleverly refers to the townsfolk as those one might expect to see out of a Stephen King novel. They’re not so much dumb (even though some are) or evil as they are dispassionate and unfriendly. Odd would be too nice a word. When the Farmers’ movers are lost and ask for directions to Redbud, they address an old man by the name of Mac. ‘How did you know my name was Mac?’ the man asks. ‘I just guessed,’ the mover replies, to which the man remarks, ‘So why don’t you guess your way to Redbud?’ […]

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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. […]