The Compleat Ingmar #16: The Passion of Anna (1969)

Okay, he’s pulled it off: I’ve finally got to a film on my Bergman odyssey that has left me entirely non-plussed: The Passion of Anna. Obviously there are elements here that I recognise and that I have an idea what to do with: we have the old Bergman staples, shame, despair, marital unhappiness, infidelity, as well as the stock characters, male cynics who only see senselessness and react with an aloofness that makes you want to slap them, women who in turn cling on to a belief in something real and pure in the face of shallow existentialism under the guise of worldly intellectualism. The faces, too, are very familiar – Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson – as is even the landscape, Bergman’s beloved island of Fårö.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Takashi Shimura (1905)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

When people think of Akira Kurosawa, many of them will think of samurai fighting first and foremost, and the face that they will think of most likely is that of Toshiro Mifune. It’s no surprise – Mifune was an actor of tremendous charisma, he had a crackling, mercurial quality that makes it difficult for the audience to take their eyes off him.

Mifune and Kurosawa were frequent collaborators, making sixteen films together. Which sounds like a lot – but Mifune wasn’t the actor that Kurosawa worked with most often. That honour goes to Takashi Shimura (1905-1982), who co-starred with Mifune in Seven Samurai. Mifune’s character and acting were more immediately noticeable, but Shimura and his character Kambei were as key to the film’s success.

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The Compleat Ingmar #15: Shame (1968)

The cliché of an Ingmar Bergman film seems to be that of a melancholy, existentialist treatise on the meaninglessness of life and of relationships, most likely in black and white. You know the kind of thing: people standing at the beach, being depressed. I’ve said so before, but that’s not the Bergman I’ve found, even in films such as The Seventh Seal, and most definitely not in Fanny and Alexander (both of these are yet to come in our journey through Criterion’s amazing box set Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema). Look at something like Scenes from a Marriage and alongside the acrimony, emotional cruelty and existential despair that doubtlessly fuel the conflict between Marianne and Johan, you’ll definitely also find warmth, humaneness and humour.

I rather wish there had been more of the latter in Shame, a film that, while recognisably Bergman in its concerns – and obviously in its cast -, reminded me of Michael Haneke in its relentless grimness. It is perhaps telling that one of the rare scenes where the film displays a sense of humour shows one of its characters to be such a bad shot that he fails to kill a chicken that’s barely half a metre in front of him.

By the end of the film, the chickens have lost their lives nonetheless and that character has become both able and more than willing to use his gun on a human being.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Akira Kurosawa (1910)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Those of you who’ve been following this site for a while will know that when Criterion brought out a complete collection of Ingmar Bergman’s films, I was there pretty much immediately. I got the collection, a gorgeous collector’s item filled with existentialist Swedish goodness, and since then we’ve been watching an instalment in the ongoing Bergman saga on a more or less monthly basis. What better way to start your weekend than by watching a marriage crumble into acrimony and psychological cruelty? Criterion’s since announced another similar set – The Complete Films of Agnès Varda – and chances are I won’t be able to resist… but really, what I’ve been hoping for ever since the Big Box of Bergman is an announcement that Criterion is doing the equivalent for another one of the greats of world cinema. I am, of course, talking about Uwe Boll.

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The Compleat Ingmar #14: Hour of the Wolf (1968)

This film should have been the thirteenth in Criterion’s sublime collection Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema – and if we count Scenes from a Marriage as one work in two different formats, the numbers actually tally. Hour of the Wolf is an ominous, nightmarish work; in fact, I would go so far as to say that it is about the last thing I would have expected in the director’s oeuvre, an out-and-out horror film – though, this being Bergman, the horrors are not those of ghouls and ghosts, they are of the decidedly psychological kind.

Nonetheless: there are scenes of faces being pulled off and eyes floating in wine glasses. You’ve been warned.

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The Compleat Ingmar #13: From the Life of the Marionettes (1980)

How’s that for coincidence? I ended my write-up of Saraband with a reference to everyone’s favourite dysfunctional married couple, George and Martha (sad, sad, sad) from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Fast forward to the next film on our Swedish odyssey, the 1980 From the Life of Marionettes (Aus dem Leben der Marionetten), which Bergman made for German state TV while in tax exile – and there is more than a touch of the seething resentment and marital cruelty of Albee’s classic on display.

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The Corona Diaries: It’s the pictures that got small

Matt here, waving at you wearily from that little country in the centre-left of Europe. So, for what will soon have been two weeks – but what feels like at least twice that – Switzerland will have been on partial lockdown. We’re still allowed to leave the house, though if we congregate in groups of more than five people, the Corona police will descend on us and… cough on us, perhaps? I’m not quite sure, because I’m being a good little boy, which means I’m practicing social distance with the best of them. My wife and I still go out to catch some sun and fresh air every day, but we stay at least two metres away from others, eyeing them cautiously.

It helps that we’re not exactly the biggest extroverts in the world. Our idea of a fun evening out rarely involves other people, at least not actively. Sure, before the Coronavirus epidemic we’d often be found in groups of dozens, sometimes even hundreds – but that’s what you get when you go to the cinema several times a week.

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The Compleat Ingmar #12: Saraband (2003)

For the last week or so, my wife and I have been mostly at home, except for the occasional trip to the shops or a short walk every day to get some fresh air and catch some sun. Other than that, we’ve been good, keeping our social distance, barely seeing, let alone talking, to others. It’s just the two of us.

What better time than this to visit our old friends, Marianne and Johan, everyone’s favourite dysfunctional couple?*

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The Compleat Ingmar #10: Scenes from a Marriage (TV series) (1973)

We recently watched the Netflix-produced Marriage Story by Noah Baumbach. It’s a tough watch: you quickly develop sympathy for the two likeable main characters (played beautifully by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson), and when a legal system that seems to prioritise making a buck over helping two people separate as amicably as possible starts working on them it hurts to see how they are twisted into nastier, pettier, crueler and more antagonistic versions of themselves, particularly when a child is involved.

Where Marriage Story is about the film’s leads becoming the people they never wanted to be due to the legal system, though, the two main characters of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage don’t need lawyers to become enemies: intimacy, fueled by insecurity and resentment, becomes a more cutting and more precise weapon than the sharpest scalpel.

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The Compleat Ingmar #9: A Lesson in Love (1954)

A Lesson in Love doesn’t exactly start very well, at least from a contemporary perspective: after an arch voiceover telling us to prepare ourselves for a comedy for grownups, we first meet a comely but angry young woman, Susanne (played by Yvonne Lombard), listing the failings of her older lover, the gynaecologist David Erneman (Bergman regular Gunnar Björnstrand). The lines are sharp, even witty, but it still seems that we’re watching what is essentially a male fantasy: obviously the young, attractive patients of a middle-aged, jaded gynaecologist would fall over themselves to undress for him in private as well as in his practice. It’s not that Bergman spares his protagonist, but whatever criticism is leveled at David, in the end it doesn’t matter. Young women seem magically attracted to him, and even as Susanne berates him for his cynicism, she still can’t help begging him to continue being her lover.

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