The Compleat Ingmar #30: The Touch (1971)

Is it strange that I associate adultery with the 1960s and 1970s? Obviously I don’t think that adultery was invented in 1963, just after sexual intercourse (because, after all, Don Draper got there much earlier, right?), but when I think of the stories of or about the time, what comes to mind are the novels of John Updike or novels like The Ice Storm, which is set in the early ’70s. When I think adultery, I first and foremost think of men with sideburns wearing corduroy suits, sleeping with the wives of their colleagues or friends, much more so than I think of crazed blondes that boil bunnies before breakfast.

The Touch (1971)

In that respect, Ingmar Bergman’s The Touch, the first English language film by the director, is a good fit for the era. Adultery, check. ’70s hairdos, check. (There are probably few actors whose hair denotes the ’70s as much as Elliott Gould.)

And somehow, none of the people in these adulterous relationships seem to be happier due to their affairs. You can see why Bergman would be drawn to this material.

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Criterion Corner: Europa (#454)

Has there ever been a director as Marmitey as Lars von Trier? And, let’s be honest, that’s exactly how von Trier likes it. At least for a while, there were few directors as keen as him to cultivate their own bad boy image. Which in turn makes it difficult to consider his films independently from one’s reaction to von Trier himself – and as a result, I’m always surprised to find that I truly enjoy many of his films (though for now I keep avoiding Breaking the Waves and The House that Jack Built).

Europa, the third stop on my tour of my Criterion backlog, is no exception. Of the three films I’ve watched since beginning this series, this is probably the one I’ve enjoyed most immediately.

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The Compleat Ingmar #22: The Seventh Seal (1957)

It’s been a while since we last visited with the Swedish master of existential crisis, but we’re returning with what is probably his most famous, most iconic work. Mention Bergman’s name, and what do people think of? Max von Sydow on a desolate beach playing chess with Death, probably.

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: Not that Tom Jones!

Join us every week for a trip into the weird and wonderful world of trailers. Whether it’s the first teaser for the latest instalment in your favourite franchise, an obscure preview for a strange indie darling, whether it’s good, bad, ugly or just plain weird – your favourite pop culture baristas are there to tell you what they think.

How better to celebrate a Sunday than with an acting legend? We already featured Albert Finney last week, in the trailer for Two for the Road – but seeing how the first post of the week was Sam’s Six Damn Fine Degrees entry on Mr Finney, we can’t really end the week without another treat for all the Finney fans out there, can we? So here’s a trailer for his breakout hit, Tony Richardson’s 1963 adaptation of Henry Fielding’s classic novel, Tom Jones.

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The Compleat Ingmar #21: The Virgin Spring (1960)

It is quite amazing to see how prolific a filmmaker Bergman was, and how varied his oeuvre was within a fairly short time. To make a somewhat arbitrary cut, between Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), a romantic comedy with a melancholy streak and a wonderfully light touch, and Persona (1966), whose psychological drama veers into something not too dissimilar from Lynchian horror, lie ten films that include the strange, phantasmagoric The Magician (1958), the chilling, existentialist Winter Light (1963) and, of course, The Seventh Seal (1957), a film so iconic that its central image is surely familiar to many more than have actually seen the film. Even halfway into Criterion’s Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema, I still tend to have a somewhat reductive image of Bergman as the writer-director of psychological drama set in upper-middle-class circles, films of midlife crises and marital strife – and along comes the primal, harrowing The Virgin Spring to remind me that Bergman’s films were much more than just this.

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: Trust no one (except us, of course)

Join us every week for a trip into the weird and wonderful world of trailers. Whether it’s the first teaser for the latest instalment in your favourite franchise, an obscure preview for a strange indie darling, whether it’s good, bad, ugly or just plain weird – your favourite pop culture baristas are there to tell you what they think.

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The Compleat Ingmar #19: Winter Light (1963)

It has been said many, many times, but it bears saying again: for someone who described himself as an agnostic, Bergman had something of a fixation on religion. Not in social or cultural terms, mind you: Bergman’s concern seems to be almost entirely with very personal matters of faith. Winter Light is probably the most literal in this respect: its protagonist, Tomas (Gunnar Björnstrand), is the pastor of a small Swedish church out in the sticks who finds that as his congregation dwindles (the first scene sees him preaching to a handful of people, several of whom politely try but fail to hide their disinterest), so does his belief.

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The Compleat Ingmar #18: Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

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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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 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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