Tag Archives: Ingmar Bergman

Wild Strawberries & Wild Egos

Movie night!

Some of my friends find these to be cynical and unhopeful times. Imagine that.

  • People are voting against their interests.
    • Poor counties in my home state that receive hugely larger amounts of help from the federal government than the taxes they pay are solidly and repeatedly voting for candidates dedicated to drastically reducing that assistance.
    • My state has over 400,000 people who now have medical insurance because of the Affordable Care Act and yet they elected a governor who campaigned clearly and openly on a promise to put an end to their newly acquired insurance.
    • These things don’t affect me personally except for the accelerating diminishment of my hair as I scratch my head in wonderment.
  • Intelligence increasingly is being scorned as undesirable. Legislators are using the phrase “I’m not a scientist” to refuse to listen to scientists…with pride for their cleverness.
  • Extreme defensive shifts are damaging major league baseball. That one’s only a concern of mine. My friends are not really bothered by this.

These are disturbing signs. I join my friends in worrying about where this all might be heading.

But I don’t think it’s the end of times.

They’re just different times.

Tonight’s flick is Ingmar Bergman’s WILD STRAWBERRIES. In it an old professor leans out his nocturnal window to receive professions of affection from three young people as they leave him to live their lives. He then lies down to dream of his parents waving their affection for him as they live their lives. He is blissfully nestled in these generational boundaries.

I think that’s relevant…and soothing.

They’re just different times. I’m OK wit’ dat.

BUT I think it would be wise to swallow our egos and listen to scientists and other smart people…and our dogs – we should always listen to our dogs.

AND…the batters have got to swallow their egos and hit the ball the opposite way!

Winter Light on the Summer Solstice

It’s Movie Night in Central Kentucky. It’s summer with 132% humidity; just the night for a cold beer or Ingmar Bergman’s WINTER LIGHT.

I have radically mixed feelings about the films of Ingmar Bergman. Some of the longest and most tedious decades of my life have been spent watching PERSONA and FANNY AND ALEXANDER and THE VIRGIN SPRING…and yes, THE SEVENTH SEAL. Some of the most interesting times have been spent watching THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY, SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT, SUMMER WITH MONIKA…and yes again, THE SEVENTH SEAL (scratchin’ my head).

And then there’s WINTER LIGHT.

I love this film. I first saw it in the summer of 1969. It sank its claws in me and has never let go. I’ve watched the film about a half-dozen times since then.

It is small, intimate, exquisite, painful story-telling about the largest of issues. It would never make it in today’s United States of Donald Trump, AK-14’s (or 47’s, or whatever), Kim Davis, or ark parks.

It whispers – it doesn’t shout. It agonizes – it doesn’t sneer. It lingers and ponders – it’s not a sound bite or tweet. It thinks for itself – it doesn’t meme (is that even a verb?). It’s not reality TV – it’s reality. No need to fake it for the judges or a hidden camera or the voters at home – just tell the story in the unforgiving glare of truth.

I’m reminded of Carl Theodore Dreyer’s captivating film; JOAN OF ARC, which tells its story as a ballet of faces. You cannot look away.

WINTER LIGHT takes it further. Bergman uses his faces in excruciatingly long shots – but his characters also speak – directly and unblinkingly. There is no escape from their story; not for you as the viewer, and certainly not for Gunnar Bjornstrand, the faith-challenged priest of the story or Max Von Sydow the faith-bereft farmer he attempts to counsel.

Faith is hard. It’s available to everyone, but not granted to everyone. It has value. It will save/redeem/inspire…but not everyone.

Mr. Bjornstrand’s performance is wondrous to me. I totally believe Bjornstrand’s discomfort with his cold/flu. I believe his discomfort comforting his parishioners. I believe his weariness and desperation. I believe his doubt. I believe his desire to believe. I watch the film waiting for his epiphany like a boy raised in a Southern Baptist Sunday School should. I wait for Godot as a child of the sixties should.

This is great storytelling and nothing gets blown up and there are no super-powers…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

How I Wish I’d Spent My Summer Vacation

It’s Movie Night with Ingmar Bergman. Let the dancing begin!

I watched Ingmar Bergman’s film; Summer With Monica. The rest of you probably watched it in 1956 or 66 or 76 or 86 or… What can I say? I’m in a different time zone and moving with my usual glacier-like speed.

This is a lovely film!

The film mashes several little boy fantasies;

  • stealing a boat and sailing away,
  • the stolen boat belonging to an iconic “older dark man in the castle” – his father in this case – even better,
  • and escaping to summer islands with a willing female companion,

against the inevitable realization of what it means to be a rent-paying, child-rearing adult. The resulting sparks in this case are difficult and discouraging, but not unhopeful.

Whoa. Not unhopeful! This is Bergman, right?

I am ambivalent about Bergman. The craftsmanship is evident. The tricks with light and dark are mesmerizing. I am always impressed…and usually bored. The films are tedious. I don’t require a car crash every thirty seconds but I do appreciate an occasional pulse.

I know Mr. Bergman was famously influenced by the films of Carl Theodore Dreyer (whom I admire) and you can see this when his camera dwells on the faces of his actors, most especially in Winter Light. But in Dreyer’s films, Joan of Arc as an excellent example, while the actors’ faces are the main tool for telling the story, those faces don’t feel static or tedious. Bergman misses this distinction.

However, Summer With Monica never becomes stationary. Most of the scenes in this film leave you wanting more. How often can you say that about a Bergman film?

I really liked the film and will be thinking about it for a while yet.

Oh yeah, Harriet Andersson was pretty cute too!

Son of Japanese Noir

Movie night!

I was so taken by Yoshitaro Nomura’s ZERO FOCUS (see previous blog) I had to watch his reputedly best film; THE CASTLE OF SAND. Lucky me.

THE CASTLE OF SAND contains a satisfying quota of “noir” elements.

  • It pairs an older/wise investigator with a younger/energetic partner. They work separately and come back together to compare their discoveries. Those discoveries are meagre, but spark progress in each other through this cross-pollination. Yes, there are some “Eureka!” moments, but not the usual Hollywood kind. Mind you, I’m not knockin’ Hollywood “Eureka!” moments. They’re usually pretty exciting storytelling. But it’s intriguing to see these two hard-working, sweating, high-integrity guys tease just enough new information to keep their investigation from fading away.
  • It has bar scenes, dining car scenes, and police headquarters interview scenes. Check, check, and check.
  • It has trains. I know that sounds strange but this is always good for me. I’m a passenger with no control. I am caught in a powerful, loud machine hurling me towards the next chapter in the adventure at hand. Gulp.

It does not have Ginzu knives.

But wait! There’s more!!

Unlike ZERO FOCUS, this film is in color. Mr. Nomura uses that color to exploit the beauty of rural Japan. Imagine if the Ingmar Bergman of SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT had shot a film in rural Kentucky in early summer. The vistas are impossibly green – the people are small against it. The roads/trails are generally straight and so are the people. Integrity is high – tolerance is low. Hospitality is ubiquitous – charity is rare.

The acting in this film is perhaps not as uniformly fine as in ZERO FOCUS, but the older detective portrayal by Tetsuro Tanba (fellow James Bond aficionados will remember Mr. Tanba as Tiger Tanaka in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) is very nice.

The treasure in this film is the remarkable way the resolution is revealed. Our detectives apply for a warrant to arrest their suspect. To do so, they must present their case to an assembly of police officials. As they tell their story we see their story in painful and lush flashback. As they speak and we watch, everything is underscored by a piano concerto written and played by our prime suspect. The camera smoothly and logically and relentlessly moves from police conference to rural saga to concert performance. I could not look away. The plot twists as the story is unveiled are effective and startling………and plausible.

This is a gem.