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Ingmar Bergman (#110 of 30)

Ivo van Hove on Directing Scenes from a Marriage and Angels in America

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Ivo van Hove on Directing Scenes from a Marriage and Angels in America
Ivo van Hove on Directing Scenes from a Marriage and Angels in America

Theater director Ivo van Hove has made a habit of breaching borders. Born in Belgium, he currently runs the internationally renowned Toneelgroep Amsterdam in the Netherlands and also brings his work to New York with welcome regularity. More significantly, van Hove makes an art of erasing the barrier not only between actor and audience, but also between one scene and another.

During the presidential 2012 election, his epochal production Roman Tragedies, which played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, ran for nearly six hours without any breaks. Van Hove edited Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, and Anthony and Cleopatra to focus both the text and the theatrical experience on the relationship between politicians and the public. Audiences were encouraged to come and go where and when they pleased—even up onto the stage. The production became an exhilarating and indelible exercise in democracy, mounted by one of the reigning auteurs in global theater.

Cannes Film Festival 2014: Winter Sleep, Wild Tales, and Amour Fou Reviews

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Cannes Film Festival 2014: <em>Winter Sleep</em>, <em>Wild Tales</em>, and <em>Amour Fou</em> Reviews
Cannes Film Festival 2014: <em>Winter Sleep</em>, <em>Wild Tales</em>, and <em>Amour Fou</em> Reviews

With his latest, Winter Sleep, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s characteristic obsession with his country’s variegated topography takes him to Cappadocia, a remote stretch of the Anatolian countryside whose strange mound-like formations provide the backdrop for an intimate tale of marital take-and-no-give that’s been stretched (for no apparent reason other than indulgence) to over three hours. Much like the lead character, a charismatic former actor who now runs the Hotel Othello, Ceylan’s film doesn’t know when to let an argument rest. The obvious analogue here would be Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage; the key difference lies in Winter Sleep’s absolute refusal to let anything be at emotional stake. The husband expounds, his wife or sister rebuts, and then he uses his considerable rhetorical acumen to put them in their place. A subplot dealing with a dispute between the hotelier and his tenant farmers seems left over from an earlier film. And in case there were any doubt as to the fatuousness of Ceylan’s approach here, look no further than an excruciatingly protracted scene involving an envelope stuffed with money and a crackling fireplace telegraphs its inevitable conclusion from the start. Perhaps such inexorability is Ceylan’s true theme. If so, he still has to answer for taking nearly forever to get there.

New York Film Festival 2013: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Review

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New York Film Festival 2013: <em>The Secret Life of Walter Mitty</em> Review
New York Film Festival 2013: <em>The Secret Life of Walter Mitty</em> Review

There’s a good reason why James Thurber’s short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has endured since its publication in The New Yorker in 1939: In its evocation of an utterly ordinary man retreating into his own private fantasies as an escape from numbing reality, Thurber hit upon a concept as simple as it is profoundly universal. It’s also an idea ripe for cinematic expansion, especially if you view cinema the way Ingmar Bergman once characterized the films of Andrei Tarkovsky: “When film is not a document, it is dream.”

For Ben Stiller, apparently, Thurber’s classic story is grist not for a sympathetic exploration of the universal human desires to dream and live, but to craft what eventually amounts to a totem to his own vanity. How else to explain its increasingly exasperating collapse into scene after scene that extols Mitty’s, and by extension Stiller’s own, heroic goodness?

Summer of ‘88: Da

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Da</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Da</em>

If you dream of a monosyllabic title for your hit play, you can’t get any more evocative than Hugh Leonard when he gave his the simple name of Da. Not only is it short, not only does it spell out the theme of filial sentiment in a single flap of the tongue, it damn near makes sense visually. The two bulky letters face each other, different in size and stature, forever at odds and yet inseparable. Like father. Like son. Duh.

For a brief moment in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it seemed Ireland could have done no wrong in terms of movies that were unashamedly local and universal at the same time. The same feat would be repeated by Iran in the mid-’90s and by Romania in the new millennium, but the string of Irish films of note—starting out with The Dead, Eat the Peach, and Da, and culminating with the golden era bookended by Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father—has been hugely inspiring in terms of attracting global audiences to local themes. (In fact, one of the best films of the entire surge was John Irvin’s Widows’ Peak, based on a script by no other than Leonard.)

I have a special fondness for Da: Leonard’s play is one of several I translated into my native Polish, and it’s also the only one of those to be published. Naturally, I spent a long time with Leonard’s words. As I ploughed through the text, I wondered how the whole thing would work on the stage, given its complex time structure. This I’ve yet to discover; the movie, however, still works very well.

Film Comment Selects 2013: From the Life of the Marionettes

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Film Comment Selects 2013: <em>From the Life of the Marionettes</em>
Film Comment Selects 2013: <em>From the Life of the Marionettes</em>

If watching Ingmar Bergman’s Face to Face left a sliver of doubt about the director’s scorn for modern psychiatry, From the Life of the Marionettes makes it amply clear. Only five years separate the two films. Face to Face, starring Liv Ullmann as Jenny, a young psychiatrist who tries, and ultimately fails, to reconcile her anxieties and sensitivity to her anesthetized work milieu, was made in 1975. What made watching the film viscerally agonizing was seeing Jenny’s slow descent into depression and phobia after a disintegrated marriage and being raped while trying to rescue a patient. Bergman constructed Jenny as a character of unfathomable complexity, harrowing to watch, at times incongruent.

From the Life of the Marionettes followed in 1980, yet in its stark black-and-white rendition of psychological anguish, and in its categorical refusal to grant any noble impulses to medical practitioners, it could be seen as a giant stylistic leap for Bergman: a savage yet coolly overplayed parody. Where Jenny from Face to Face left one feeling as if we were being asked to indulge in her unending pain, Bergman’s second glance at the psychiatric profession in Marionettes is more chilling, as if Bergman took a scalpel and surgically carved his narrative, always close to the nerve.

What’s Happened to Us? Jeanine Basinger’s I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies

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What’s Happened to Us?: Jeanine Basinger’s I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies
What’s Happened to Us?: Jeanine Basinger’s I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies

The cover of Jeanine Basinger’s I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies features Carole Lombard and Jimmy Stewart in a still from Made for Each Other (1939) and, boy, is it gorgeous. Each star with their ambiguous facial expressions, sensual proximity, and debonair dress, the image speaks to an embodiment of classical Hollywood and its underlying ethos of subtle subversion masquerading as affirmation. In fact, much of Basinger’s new book consistently functions in this manner, as one cannot help but be enveloped by the 139 stills and illustrations that so vividly render the period, almost to the extent that Basinger’s prose becomes secondary. Although Basinger claims that her aim—defining historical parameters for explicating depictions of marriage in the cinema—must necessarily revolve around content, the physiological qualities of this particular period of Hollywood cinema holds more resonance than the narratives proper. Discounting a romanticized view of the period runs the risk of stripping away its seductive nature and its ability to transform the domestic; after all, isn’t this a primary motivation for watching a film about two human beings in love? To have the resonance of daily human contact and interaction transcended through cinematic time and space?

If this initially seems a roundabout way to discuss Basinger’s book, it’s because her treatment of the subject is too straightforward for more provocative taste. Rather than historicizing with a revisionist eye, Basinger takes a more traditional historical approach, placing film after film within different or overlapping taxonomies. Much like fellow film historian David Bordwell, her writing is strong, the vision clear, but the parade through periods and themes of filmmaking is more soporific than enlivening, since the categorizations read as matter of fact, instead of being motivated by reaching audacious ends.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Tony Dayoub’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Tony Dayoub’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Tony Dayoub’s Top 10 Films of All Time

When The House Next Door invited its writers to submit their Top 10 films of all time, I was faced with the usual conundrum: What does “Top 10” signify – best or favorite? After much consideration, I’m happy to say that the list I came up with could easily represent either. These are definitely personal favorites, but, in my not-so-humble opinion, they are also unassailable in their perfection, and could easily fall at the top of any all-time best list arrived at by consensus.