(Kanopy Streaming, November 2018) There seems to be no limit to the Ingmar Bergmanesque nature of Ingmar Bergman’s movies—by which I mean that whatever cliché you can conjure up in your mind about European arthouse movies (pretentious, implausible, black-and-white, handful of actors, dull, dour, slow-paced, inconclusive, rural-set, etc, etc, etc.) there’s bound to be a Bergman movie that meets and exceeds those clichés, fully justifying them. Through a Glass Darkly is not dissimilar to Persona in being set in a beach cottage, but it feels considerably duller even as it delves into mental problems, incest, parent abandonment, psychosis and the family lives of writers. It’s the kind of film that downplays whatever assets it has, and then ends on a note fit to make viewers shrug in indifference. The camera rarely moves, and while the actors are good at what they’re given, what they’re given isn’t enough. I’m lucky that this isn’t my first Bergman film, otherwise I may have given up entirely on his oeuvre.
(Kanopy Streaming, October 2018) Considering that Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh’s Seal is often cited (not always favourably) as being the quintessential European art-house film, I approached the film with some caution. I don’t particularly like the kind of film that The Seventh Seal is said to typify, and was expecting the worst and the dullest. Considering these expectations, I was pleasantly surprised … but not much. Nor by much. But the film is rather more amusing than expected—absurd, profound, visually inventive at times but especially funnier in a dark fashion. Needless to say, “better than expected” isn’t much of a recommendation—I still found it long, meandering, atonal and trying, but it wasn’t quite as bad as I feared. This doesn’t quite translate into a recommendation, but no matter—The Seventh Seal’s reputation in history is secure, and I’m not going to make much of a dent in it … nor will I add much more to this review.
(Kanopy streaming, September 2018) I approached Persona with a great deal of wariness—I’m already cool on Ingmar Bergman, on European art-house, on audience-supplied-narrative, on pretty much everything that Persona is said to exemplify. That it comes preloaded with a reputation as a movie where any interpretation has been dissected and found plausible didn’t help my mindset at all. On the other hand, my lowered expectations may have helped, because I found Persona to be reasonably interesting. It only takes a few moments for the aggressive opening sequence to quasi-subliminally show an erect phallus on screen—from then on, anything can happen and it’s almost a relief not to try to make sense of it as the film multiplies its show-off moments. There’s fourth-wall breaking, images of the physical film snapping, a high-energy interlude, a scorching-hot erotic monologue, great performances by Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann, deliberate confusion about the identities of the characters (or even whether they’re distinct characters) and a tone that leads you to expect the worst even if nothing much happens. In short, it’s an experience more than a story, and it works much better if you just let it wash over you. I still don’t like this kind of movie and wouldn’t necessarily recommend Persona unless I was sure that this is the kind of effect the viewer was looking for, but I’m satisfied to call my viewing of the film at least a draw in terms of enjoyment, which is much better than what I was expecting. Onward to other Bergman movies, I guess…
(On Cable TV, April 2018) There may have been dragons, aliens, global conspiracies and vampires in Fanny och Alexander but I’ll never know because it seemed that I slept a thousand nights during the film’s running time and yet things never seemed to change. This is director Ingmar Bergman reflecting upon his childhood in a small Swedish village, and so you can imagine that the film is low on spectacle—while there’s some heavy drama involving kids being abused by their step-father, and someone being burned alive in an attempt to escape, the film spends far more time creating an atmosphere (most notably around a rather lovely Christmas celebration). To be fair, there are ghosts and nudity and violence here, but most of them come rather late in a duration time for more than three hours—at which point I simply didn’t care about much else than making it to the end of Fanny och Alexander even through brief comatic episodes. So it goes when I’m placed in front of much European art-house stuff—I’m easily bored.