Monday, June 30, 2014

The Straight Story 1999

Alvin Straight , somewhere in seventies, unable to drive, travels several hundred miles on a lawn mower to see his estranged brother, who has had a stroke. The journey takes him some months. This is a story of heroism, immediately reminiscent of Hemingway. On the way, we get to see endlessly sprawling corn fields, and some vivid encounters with good hearted people, who try to help the stubborn man in his eventful journey. A sensitive, uplifting, film, based on a true account.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

About Schmidt 2002

Schmidt (Nicolson) has just retired from an insurance company. Deprived of his lifelong routine, he is exposed to the desert of retirement, with all the time to complain and be miserable. This is an inconsequential film painting a bleak and depressing picture of life, of which the aging process is but a stage. Perhaps the truth is that he has long been senile. Schmidt evokes revulsion more than pity, to little purpose.

Saraband 2003

This is a 2003 sequel to the 1973 "Scenes from a Marriage". The same actors enact the same characters and everybody-the actors, the director and the story- have aged by 30 years. Much has happened--Johann and  Marian  have been separated for ages, Johann has inherited a fortune, Marian is visiting him after a long gap as the film opens. This is a look at old age, how much and how little people change. All of them are as rootless as they were: this is the human condition, having little to do with aging, social class or geography.. However personalities have hardened in their contours. Also featured is Johann;s tormented son, unable to emerge over the grief over the loss of his wife, feeding emotionally on his daughter, who vainly struggles to extricate from the emotional vice. Hatred would seem to be as common a mark of the parental bond as love, particularly in adulthood. Another emotionally gripping drama from the Gloomy Swede.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Scenes from a Marriage 1973

This is an intimate study of a marriage, and more a study of human relationships in general. Originally a TV series, the film is divided into six episodes separated by years. Even in affluence, people search for ever elusive happiness. What do people seek in a relationship and why do they fail even though everything is apparently there? This delightful movie is a picture of life as it is, ever mysterious and shifting like a kaleidoscope, far ahead of analysis.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wild Strawberries 1958

Isaak Borg is a 78 year ex-professor, driving along a seaside ringed by slopes dense with conifers. Accompanying him are his estranged daughter in law and three boisterous teenagers, who have hitched a hike. He is a successful man, and his destination is a nearby university, where he is to receive an honorary doctorate today, his professional crowning moment. Early this morning, he had a strange dream, foreboding his death, though he seems  in good health (clip below). His journey is a journey through his own past: an unhappy marriage. a bitter father son relation, losing his youthful love (in a double role by Bibi Andersson, who is also one of the three teenagers in his car) and a rewarding career. He also picks up a couple whose car has crashed into theirs in the process of a physical fight. They make no attempt to hide or suppress their mutual hatred, and have to be asked to leave. We have a picture of the hellish depth to which a relationship can descend, mirroring his own with his long deceased wife.  He visits some of the places marking events of his life and meets his 90+ mother, in this journey of dreams and reverie. This is in effect a biography of the aged professor, what was and what could not be, and his present anxieties about death. His present is of idyllic comfort, as we see him passing his days, writing in his book populated study, tended by his efficient housekeeper of 40 years standing.
This was the first Bergman film I saw, and perhaps the best. It is a picture of a bitter sweet journey of life, as the camera drinks in the sea, the hills and the human form. Bergman is a master in portraying human expressions, the fleeting variations of mood and emotion. Ebert once remarked he was a master in his studies of human faces. This is cinema of the finest vintage. Bergman is no mean literary talent either, and the script sparkles and dances.