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Persona (#110 of 4)

Film Comment Selects 2012: Mortem

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Film Comment Selects 2012: Mortem
Film Comment Selects 2012: Mortem

French filmmaker Eric Atlan’s black-and-white Mortem has been billed as a “metaphysical thriller” inspired by David Lynch and Ingmar Bergman. The more obvious comparison, however, would have been to French film noir. Mortem’s opening scenes, in which two young women arrive by nightfall at an empty hotel, bring to mind Georges Franju’s haunted Eyes Without a Face, based on Jean Redon’s novel that also inspired Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In. In all three movies, bizarre experimentation, psychic or physical, and plot reversals ensue.

New York Film Festival 2010: Certified Copy

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New York Film Festival 2010: <em>Certified Copy</em>
New York Film Festival 2010: <em>Certified Copy</em>

[Writer’s note: Certified Copy is best seen cold. However, discussion of it requires spoiling elements. If you have not seen it yet, do not read this piece. Just know that the film is incredible.]

If I remind him of that walk along the Via Nazionale he says he remembers it, but I know he is lying and that he remembers nothing; and I sometimes ask myself if it was us, these two people, almost twenty years ago on the Via Nazionale, two people who conversed so politely, so urbanely, as the sun was setting; who chatted a little about everything perhaps and about nothing; two friends talking, two young intellectuals out for a walk; so young, so educated, so uninvolved, so ready to judge one another with kind impartiality; so ready to say goodbye to one another forever, as the sun set, at the corner of the street.—Natalia Ginzburg, He and I

A man and a woman stop in a café. They’re perfect strangers or just-acquaintances, and having a perfectly good time. Then the man tells a joke that the woman doesn’t enjoy. She starts crying, and the man conveniently gets up to take a phone call outside. A waitress asks the woman what’s wrong, and the woman describes the problems that arise once you’ve been married for 15 years. When the man comes back inside, we no longer know the nature of their relationship. They laugh at the absurdity of the thought of being married, only to argue eventually over whether he’s neglected her and the kid.

This is the point during Certified Copy when a lot of viewers check out, the spot where it shifts from a funny, sunny jaunt through Italy to a rom-com version of Persona. But Abbas Kiarostami’s new movie has been preparing us for this moment all along. The two people are simultaneously playing the new couple and the old one, plus the actors playing them. The dissolution of personal identity is merely the last goal of Kiarostami’s overall project in this film, which is to dissolve the line between copy and original altogether.

A Woman’s Face: Bibi Andersson & Persona at BAM

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A Woman’s Face: Bibi Andersson & <em>Persona</em> at BAM
A Woman’s Face: Bibi Andersson & <em>Persona</em> at BAM

Bibi Andersson’s face hasn’t really changed. It has the natural lines of a woman in her seventies, but the wrinkles lie like intricate, soft cobwebs on her cheeks; her bone structure remains intact. Her slightly slanted eyes are wary, even wounded. As she waits to introduce her most famous film at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, I notice her solid body in grandmotherly clothes, her still blond hair. She’s very Swedish, in every sense. When the audience applauds her, Andersson takes a small, theatrical bow, as if to say, “What’s the fuss?” The novelist Jonathan Lethem asks her a few questions about working with Bergman, and she starts to talk about him in the present tense, then corrects herself. “I have to remember that he’s gone,” she says, again, with no fuss, no sentimentality.

The Eclipse: Losing Bergman and Antonioni

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The Eclipse: Losing Bergman and Antonioni
The Eclipse: Losing Bergman and Antonioni

Ingmar Bergman dies in the morning. Michelangelo Antonioni dies at night.

On the same day. In the middle of summer. Now, to most people, these are names from the distant past. Their real heyday in the cinema was at least forty years ago. These were old men (Bergman was 89, Antonioni, 94). More than one commentator has termed their mid-twentieth century, fearing-the-atom-bomb, discuss-our-alienation-over-black-coffee-later modernism as “quaint.” We live in a period where some of those in power have termed the central tenets of the Geneva Conventions “quaint.” Can the term “elitist” be far behind? The other recurring word in these initial pieces is “difficult.” Not easy.