Determinism and the Maiden: Devs (2020)

2020 has been a year in which, more than ever, it’s been difficult to shake the feeling that we don’t have much agency over our lives. Things happen that are outside our control and we watch them happen, wondering if there ever was a moment when we were in charge of our everyday existence. Therefore it is probably no surprise that two recent high-profile sci-fi series tried to wrangle the theme of whether we live in a deterministic universe, even if they were both made before our sense of agency took its biggest knock in the shape of a nasty little virus: HBO’s Westworld and FX’s Devs, which was written and directed by Alex Garland.

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The Compleat Ingmar #18: Through a Glass Darkly

The door opened, but the god was a spider. He came up to me and I saw his face. It was a terrible stony face. He scrambled up and tried to penetrate me, but I defended myself. All along I saw his eyes: they were cold and calm. When he couldn’t penetrate me he continued up my chest, up into my face and onto the wall. I have seen God.

The individual elements of Through a Glass Darkly are familiar. We’ve previously seen Bergman play with techniques familiar from the horror genre, especially in Hour of the Wolf. We’ve also seen his characters grapple with mental illness, as well as with religion and crises of faith. However, Through a Glass Darkly feels quite different from these other films – perhaps because of its intense focus on its central female character, another striking addition to the cast of women created by Bergman and his leading actresses throughout their collaborations. Bergman’s male protagonists are often weaker than his female characters, but this time, they are basically a supporting cast to the female lead. Without a doubt, the star of this film is Harriet Anderson.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #2: Garfield

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

We started our free-fall association into culture with Julie’s sublime entry on John Garfield. We continue with a sudden, nauseating lurch towards something rather more ridiculous. Have you ever had a close look at the things you liked as a child… and shuddered?

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Hang in there, kid, you’ll make it through: The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

To get this out of the way: how much did I like The Personal History of David Copperfield? Well, fifteen minutes into the film I felt like I had been enveloped in a warm hug, and I wanted to return the favour and hug back the film and everyone involved in it. Who would have thought that the man who brought us foul-mouthed political enforcer Malcolm Tucker and the pitch-black political satire The Death of Stalin would also be the writer-director of one of the most delightful films of recent years?

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #38: It’s (a)live!

At A Damn Fine Cup of Culture, our wheelhouse is mostly films, TV series, books – the damn fine cups of culture that you can enjoy at your own leisure, in your own time, at the turn of a page or the push of a button. There is an entirely different world of culture out there, though: live performance. Join Julie, Matt and our guest for November, Nicolette Kretz from AUAWIRLEBEN, the theatre festival happening annually in Bern, Switzerland, as we talk about why we love live performance, what some of our favourite live performances have been, and how 2020 – the year of COVID-19 – has been an opportunity for many to rethink what makes a piece of culture live.

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Mummy, where do fascists come from?: The Childhood of a Leader (2015)

When we first see the boy, he looks harmless enough. We catch a glimpse of him through a lit window; he is dressed as an angel, but his blond locks would make him look reasonably angelic even without the costume.

The music, though? It is the discordant, foreboding drone of a horror film. It puts us in mind of other cinematic children, ones called Kevin or Regan or even Damien. The visual style may be Fanny and Alexander, but the sound design is the avantgarde dread of There Will Be Blood, designed to evoke an atmosphere of unease. This child may look like an angel, yet he is anything but.

(Warning: Spoilers to follow)

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They create worlds: Hades

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

Stroppy teenagers. Authoritarian dads. Absent mothers. Intrusive family. Oh, and myriads of monsters, mythological creatures, divine powers, mythological weapons, snark, flirtation, style, and the best tunes this side of the river Styx. Who’d have thought that the underworld could be this much fun?

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The Compleat Ingmar #17: Fårö Document (1970) and Fårö Document 1979 (1979)

Truth to tell: after a series of Bergman films focusing on dysfunctional relationships, from Scenes from a Marriage via From the Life of the Marionettes to Shame and The Passion of Anna, I was ready for a change, and as much as I like Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow, I thought I could do without them for a film or two. Lucky for me, the next two instalments on our journey through Ingmar Bergman’s cinema were the two documentary films, Fårö Document (made throughout 1969 and first aired on Swedish television on 1 January 1970) and its follow-up Fårö Document 1979, which act as a welcome palate cleanser in Criterion’s box set.

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They f*** you up, your mum and dad: Favolacce (2020)

If you enjoy films about idealised, endless childhood summers, look no further than Favolacce. In fact, don’t look at far as Favolacce. Don’t even look in its general direction. Just turn around and walk the other way. If, however, you are a fan of Michael Haneke’s cinema of cruelty but always thought that its austerity needed a pinch of pitch-black humour? Then Favolacce (released in the English-speaking world as Bad Tales) by twin filmmakers Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo might just be your thing.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #37: Cinéma mon amour

Cancelled blockbusters, social distancing, mask requirements: even in places where movie theatres are still open, it isn’t easy for cinemas in 2020 to keep audiences coming back. Here and there, though, there are cinemas that are weathering the pandemic and providing a meaningful cultural and social service, giving a home away from home to cinephiles. One of these cinemas is the Cinema REX in Bern, Switzerland (https://www.rexbern.ch/), which reopened in summer and has been showing indie premieres, world cinema and retrospectives. Join us as we talk to our guest, Martina Amrein from Cinema REX, as we talk about running a movie theatre in 2020 and the key importance for cinemas of finding a niche for yourself.

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