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Harriet Andersson (#110 of 4)

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

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

Editor’s Note: In light of Sight & Sound’s film poll, which, every decade, queries critics and directors the world over before arriving at a communal Top 10 list, we polled our own writers, who didn’t partake in the project, but have bold, discerning, and provocative lists to share.

I can identify two elements common to the films that ended up on this list. They are either about feminine suffering and/or about the impossibility of language to ever quite translate feeling. The criteria which I came up with for this impossible, unfair, and incredibly fun assignment involved remembering the films that led me to think “This is one of the best films ever made” at the time I first saw them, and which, upon a re-screening, several years later, remained just as remarkable—perhaps for different reasons. Also part of the criteria was my (failed) attempt at not repeating directors, and making a conscious effort to go against a cinematic “affirmative action” that would try to represent different periods of time, countries, and genres. It’s also mind-boggling to notice how half of the list includes films made in the mid 1970s. But the list escapes traditional logic. It’s the warping, re-signifying logic of affect and memory that architected this list, which turns out to be nothing short of this cinephile’s symptom.

Cliffs Notes Bergman: The Atlantic Theater Company’s Through a Glass Darkly

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Cliffs Notes Bergman: The Atlantic Theater Company’s <em>Through a Glass Darkly</em>
Cliffs Notes Bergman: The Atlantic Theater Company’s <em>Through a Glass Darkly</em>

If you’ve never seen the film Through a Glass Darkly, then there’s a fighting chance you might like Jenny Worton’s stage adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s cinematic masterpiece, the great director’s starting point in a trilogy of soul-wrenching 1960s films that tackle God’s relationship—or lack thereof—to humanity. But if you have set eyes and ears on Bergman’s carefully crafted images and words, then experiencing Worton’s ham-fisted take on the original is as emotionally satisfying as reading a Cliffs Notes version of Moby Dick.

Which is not to say that adapting Through a Glass Darkly for the stage was a bad idea; in bringing to the screen what was essentially a psychologically fraught chamber play, Bergman, who also wrote the film, always acknowledged a creative debt to the Swedish dramatist August Strindberg. Certainly, taking Bergman’s minimal characters and haunting island setting from celluloid to three dimensions was not a ready-made feat, but with some clever tweaking it could have been a worthwhile effort. Unfortunately, however, Worton and director David Leveaux fall far short of worthwhile, instead achieving an undesirable sort of artistic alchemy, where they turn movie gold into theatrical straw.

Ingmar Bergman’s Sawdust and Tinsel on Criterion

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Ingmar Bergman’s Sawdust and Tinsel on Criterion
Ingmar Bergman’s Sawdust and Tinsel on Criterion

Ingmar Bergman made eleven films before his breakthrough, Summer with Monika (1952), where he seemed to be stimulated by filming his lover at the time, Harriet Andersson, a bluntly carnal brunette. Andersson is also crucial to his next film, Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), marketed in the US as The Naked Night. There’s no real nudity in the movie, though Andersson’s breasts often threaten to burst out of her period clothing and, as always, her big, wet, striated lips are so central to the images that they should have their own special billing. In the famous flashback that comes at the beginning of the film, Alma (Gudrun Brost), a coarse, aging blond desperately trying to prove that she’s still attractive, cavorts nude in the sea with a regiment of soldiers. Her clown husband (Anders Ek) pulls her out of the water, covering her nakedness with his body. But there’s no covering the nakedness of his emotions under his heavy clown make-up, and no possible way to cover up his wife’s disgrace.

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.