Film Reviews: TIFF Cinematheque Present – The films of INGMAR BERGMAN

A must for all those serious about cinema, Ingmar Bergman films demonstrate the art of cinema and the influence of a director’s life and religion on his craft.

Bergman has also been an influence on many a filmmaker, most notably Woody Allen, Margarethe von Trotta, Olivier Assayas, Mia Hansen-Love, Ruben Ostlund among others.  Allen has made films like STARDUST MEMORIES which is definitely Bergman in tone while von Trotta has made SEARCHING FOR INGMAR BERGMAN, a documentary on the Master’s work.    It is a pity the doc is not screened as part of this retrospective as it would serve as the perfect companionship.  The doc was screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and hopefully will get a theatrical run soon.

This exhaustive series screens almost every Bergman film, which needless to say should be seen on the big screen.  The cinematography by Sven Nyquist,who has worked on most of the Bergman’s films is nothing short of astonishing.

Bergman’s films range from the playful like the most entertaining FANNY AND ALEXANDER to his most serious (about death WILD STRAWBERRIES, CRIES AND WHISPERS and of course, THE SEVENTH SEAL with the grim reaper or relationships PERSONA) to his kind of action/revenge flick, the excellent THE VIRGIN SPRING).  A warning is that the films are not an easy watch – many are ultra-grim, except maybe for FANNY AND ALEXANDER which runs more than 3 hours in length.

Religion plays part in Bergman’s films.  His childhood is best exemplified in FANNY AND ALEXANDER.  

For the complete program schedule, ticket pricing, venue and showtimes, please check th Cinematheque website at:

tiff.net

Capsule Review of Selected Films:

CRIES AND WHISPERS (Sweden 1972) ***

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Though the only foreign film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, CRIES AND WHISPERS is one of my least favourite Bergman films.  Though the cinematography here by Bergman regular Sven Nykvist is one of his best works, the film is too artsy for my taste.  The story follows  three sisters, played excellently by Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Thulin and Harriet Anderson, one of which is dying from an unnamed ailment.  She is closer to her maid that the oner two sisters though she (Agnes) tries to reconcile the problem after her death.  There are lots of heavy breathing, moaning and groaning and of course, crying and whispering, which I think could be quite laughable at times.  Religion is always at the forefront again.  There are hints of lesbian love and incest though thankfully Bergman spares the audience any sex scenes.  All a very sordid and gloomy affair.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Pw7FYex5pQ

FANNY AND ALEXANDER (Sweden 1982) *****Top 10

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

FANNY AND ALEXANDER is the film that has been on many a critics Best Film list.  Personally, its stands as my best Bergman film, even to say that it is one of my 10 best films of ALL TIME.  The film is pure delight from start to finish despite its over 3 hour running time (The film was originally made for television).  The first hour is light and cheerful (rare in a Bergman movie) as the wealthy Swede family celebrate Christmas among the family and servants.  This is Christmas in Sweden with all the food, decorations, dancing and celebration.  At the hour mark, the father, Oscar dies and the mother marries a wicked over-religious bishop who moves the mother and children into his own house, demanding that every personal possession be left behind.  “I worry for the children'” says the grandmother, prompting the worse to come.  Alexander, particularly suffers the wrath of the bishop.  The bishop’s household is also the epitome of evil.  I have seen this 3-hour film three times, and it is pure ecstasy each viewing.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkszXVEUHco

HOUR OF THE WOLF (Sweden 1968) ****

Directed by Imgmar Bergman

The HOUR OF THE WOLF is a bewitching hour.  As described by the Master, Bergman himself: “The hour of the wolf is the time between night and dawn.  It is the hour when most people die, when sleep is deepest, when nightmares are most palpable.  It is the hour when the sleepless are pursued by their sharpest anxieties, when ghosts and demons hold sway. It is also the hour when most children are born.”  His film captures this hour vividly through the life of painter on the verge of madness played by Max von Sydow.  It all happens when the painter mysteriously disappears and his pregnant wife (Liv Ulmann) discovers his diary and hence his thoughts of his affair with another woman.  HOUR OF THW WOLF traces the painter’s decent into madness (one of the film’s best segments involve him and his wife attending a dinner party where everything drives him crazy).  Bergman does what he does best here – shows the demons in an individual.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6aNUjm7Y2I

PERSONA (Sweden 1966) **

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

PERSONA, quite similar in tone to CRIES AND WHISPERS is again, one of the least favourite of my Bergman films.  The film follows an actress played by Liv Ullmann who is recovering in a hospital before being cared fro by a single nurse, played by Bibi Anderson.  The two move into the doctor’s beach house where the two continue the actress’s convalescence.  The actress initially never talks but slowly opens up, which gives the chance for the nurse to go on and on about her youth and adventures including an abortion and a sexual fling with a young stranger that gave her the best sex in her life.  Needless to say, the two torture each other.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rtSjV_gFkw

SUMMER WITH MONIKA (Sweden 1953) ***1/2

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

The lesser known work, SUMMER WITH MONIKA is Bergman’s teenage romance.  The film begins with flirty Monika (Harriet Anderson) asking for a match from Harry (Lars Ekborg) in a coffee shop.  This leads to an evening at the movies and love that soon blossoms.  In the coffee shop, an elderly mane warns of the turmoil of spring just as the teens laugh and prepare for good times.  The contrast of life’s outlook is so different from the old and the young.  But the you g eventually grow older and Bergman sows that misery is part of life, as Harry’s anther blurts out int one scene; “Suffering is part of life”.  The two lovers eventually escape on a stolen boat to spend a summer idyll in the archipelago.  Then life takes a turn as Monika finds herself pregnant.  The two marry, and matrimony rears its ugly head.  Bergman over emphasizes the emotions of his teen characters – Monika not only sobs during the teary moments in the movie but uses a hanky to wipe away tears followed by her blowing her nose.  Harry’s yawns by contrast are big ones.  Despite the lack of nudity, Bergman’s film is very sex and erotic.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S00-c-Rd-K4

THE VIRGIN SPRING (Jungfrukällan) (Sweden 1960) Top 10 *****

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

THE VIRGIN SPRING in retrospect plays like a classic art-house version of TAKEN where the father goes on an all-out revenge against the perpetuators of the crime committed on his daughter.  Bergman knows how to draw his audience into his story and by the time the father lifts up his weapon (a butcher knife) against the villains, the audience is right on the point of cheering him on and violently.  THE VIRGIN SPRING is the harshly beautiful rendering of a 14th-century legend.  While taking candles to her church, the virginal young Karin (Birgitta Pettersson) is brutally raped and murdered by three goatherds.  The assailants later unknowingly take shelter at the farm of her father (Max von Sydow), who realizes their identity when they try to sell his daughter’s clothes.   Bergman’s attention to detail is another reason this film is so perfect – from the eating utensils to the furniture of the 14th Century farmhouse.   The film won both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, and is Bergman’s most commercially accessible film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ea

 

WILD STRAWBERRIES (Smultronstället)(Sweden1957) *****Top 10

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Arguably Bergman’s best film, WILD STRAWBERRIES opens with Professor Borg’s voiceover describing his life, he a 79-year old widowed doctor with a son with no children.  He is looked after by a good housekeeper of 40 years service.  Bergman demonstrates his prowess at drawing the audience into his characters.  When the film begins, Borg has a nightmare – one that is classic Bergman.  Borg is walking down an empty street of deserted building when he looks up at a click with no hands.  He looks at his pocket watch, which turns out has no hands either.  A horse bearing  coffin comes around the corner with the coffin falling off right i front of Borg.  A hand reaches out from the coffin t grab his hand.  Borg opens the coffin to see the face of the corpse as his own.  This opening sequence is nothing short of genius.  The film then follows  Borg en route to receiving his honours in Lund as he is accompanied by his pregnant daughter-in-law Marianne who does not much like him and is planning to separate from her husband, Evald, his only son, who does not want her to have the baby, their first.  One of the best films eve made about old people facing death.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fs_j7y_QyM8

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Film Review: MANDY (USA 2017)

Mandy Poster
Trailer

Mandy is set in the primal wilderness of 1983 where Red Miller, a broken and haunted man hunts an unhinged religious sect who slaughtered the love of his life.

MANDY a futuristic horror is director Panos Cosmatos second feature after his ultra-pretentious futuristic drama that I absolutely hated THE BLACK RAINBOW.  RAINBOW was exceptionally slow moving, like the beginning of MANDY as if the director wanted everyone to remember the comatose, rhyming with his last name.  Panos is the son of Greek director George Pan Cosmatos, whose films I also generally dislike.  His most successful film is one I hated THE CASSANDRA CROSSING that starred Sophia Loren.

Panos Cosmatos reaches one step higher in MANDY that it has well-known actors Linus Roache (PRIEST, THE WINSLOW BOY) and Nicolas Cage.

MANDY begins really slowly, so one must be fully attentive as it is easy to doze off.  Consider the inane dialogue.  “Are you ok?”  “I am not ok.”  “Is it my fault?”  “it is totally your fault.”  The dialogue goes on and on without making much sense.  

Cosmatos’ horror movie MANDY pals like an art house horror flick.  Art and horror do not not go well together, as this exercise and Cosmatos’ devious film THE BLACK RAINBOW have proven.

The film is set in at futuristic looking 1983. But this story is a little more steeped in demonic myth than microchips.  

 Red Miller (Cage) lives with his enamored girlfriend, artist Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), in a cabin near the lake. Red works as a logger, while Mandy has a day job as a cashier at a nearby gas station in the woods. She creates elaborate fantasy art, and Red admires her work greatly. They lead a quiet and reclusive life, and their conversations and behaviour hint at a difficult past and psychological hardship. Red appears to be a recovering alcoholic, and Mandy recounts traumatic childhood experiences.

The film shifts to a weird guy (Ned Dennehy) lying on a bed yelling at his mother , Mother Marene (Olwen Fouere) (with the inane dialogue above)  followed by his brother assuring him “consider it done” to a request he has made.  The film then follows Brother Swan as he tries to kidnap Mandy with the help of the Black Skulls, a demonic biker gang with a taste for human flesh and a viscous, highly potent form of LSD.  Red Miller saves the day.  Watch out for the duel the chainsaws.

Cosmatos loves to play with visuals.  A lot of his scenes are coloured bright red and accompanied with a thundering soundtrack like from an electric guitar.

MANDY’s story is incredibly difficult to follow and really frustrate got try.

Nicolas Cage appears only after nearly half the movie has transpired.  Once he appears everything picks up.  He is at one point stabbed with a sharp knife through his sides with a crazy woman yelling: “Now you will legalize the the cleansing power of fire.”  Cage is so over the top, he adds the campiness that is seriously needed to life the film’s dreariness.

MANDY is not for everyone and it is also safe it is not for many.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI054ow6KJk

TIFF 2018 Review: RETROSPEKT (Netherlands/Belgium 2018) ***1/2

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Retrospekt Poster
Puzzle-like psychological drama about a domestic violence support worker .

Director:

Esther Rots

Writer:

Esther Rots

Retrospeckt by definition is the Dutch word meaning the series of events that occurred in the past.  Director Ether Rot’s RETROSPEKT cleverly puzzles together a timeline-jumping narrative of protagonist Mette’s relationship to work, life, and motherhood culminating in catastrophic events.  

In many films, a non-chronological narrative is chosen at the director’s whimsy but in this film there is a reason for it.  Mette (Circé Lethem) has undergone an accident that has jolted her memory and psychical condition.  The story unfolds just as she is fitting her past together.  It is an intricate puzzle narrative where the stakes only escalate with every new shard of revelation.  Mette is happily married and works in an abuse shelter.  They have a new baby added to the family.

  When she takes in an abused victim into their home, disaster occurs.  Rots has created a scary suspensor made even more tense from her jump-timeline tactic coupled with the perfectly eerie soundtrack of operatic screeching songs by composer Dan Geesin.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyLjZc1qgu8

TIFF 2018 Review: THE DIVE (Israel 2018) ***

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

The Dive Poster
When a family patriarch dies, three brothers must put aside their differences to carry out their father’s last wishes, in Yona Rozenkier’s tender yet analytical debut examining what it means to be human.

Director:

Yona Rozenkier

When a family patriarch dies,  prodigal son Yoav (Yoel Rozenkier) returns to the sparsely populated kibbutz where he was raised.  He is greeted by his mother, his elder brother Itai (Yona Rozenkier), and his younger brother Avishai (Micha Rozenkier), who is about to ship off to perform his military service in Lebanon. Yoav is an ex-officer traumatized by his experiences, while Itai remains a serviceman and believes fiercely in a man’s patriotic duty. Their conflicting perspectives generate a deep rift in Avi. 

 The title THE DIVE refers to the act that the three brothers must perform – to deposit their father’s remains in an underwater cave, an excuse for the film to exhibit some superb underwater cinematography.  

Rozenkier (his first feature) successfully captures the male chauvinist world of the three bothers and how their lives are adversely affected

The film is ultimately about something much more profound: what it means to be human, made more believable as the story is autobiographical.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysRi5yC2MRI

TIFF 2018 Review: THE OTHER STORY (Israel 2018) ****

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

The Other Story Poster
Strong female protagonists have been the mainstay of many Avi Nesher films. In ‘The Other Story’, two rebellious young women – one fleeing the chaos of secular hedonism for the disciplined …See full summary »

Director:

Avi Nesher

Writers:

Avi Nesher (co-writer), Noam Shpancer (co-writer)

THE OTHER STORY is one of the BEST Jewish films I have seen, succeeding for the fact that it has quite a good story, and one related to Jewish mores.  The film follows two rebellious young women, one fleeing the chaos of secular hedonism for the disciplined comforts of faith, the other desperate to transcend her oppressive religious upbringing for sexual and spiritual freedom, cross paths unexpectedly in Jerusalem — with startling consequences — in this empowering drama from Avi Nesher (PAST LIFE). 

 The film begins with Yonathan returning from the U.S. to Jerusalem, called by his ex-wife to do whatever crooked means possible to prevent their daughter Anati from marrying by defaming the groom.  Meanwhile, Yonatan’s dad gets him involved in another couple’s dispute over custardy of their child.   It is fucked up people doing fucked up things to un-fuck up their lives – a sort of dysfunctional family with a thriller element thrown in for good measure.  

THE OTHER STORY is totally unpredictable, hilarious while remaining smart and believable.  The best surprise in this crown-pleaser is the happy ending that had the audience applauding at the end credits.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/283720820

TIFF 2018 Review: JEREMIAH TERMINATOR LEROY (USA/UK/Canada 2018) **

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

A young woman named Savannah Knoop spends six years pretending to be the celebrated author JT LeRoy, the made-up literary persona of her sister-in-law.

Director:

Justin Kelly

Writers:

Justin KellySavannah Knoop (memoir) | 1 more credit »

Laura Albert (Laura Dern) writes tough, insightful fiction under a pseudonym, JT LeRoy. Her JT is not just a pen name but a whole persona, a teenage boy from West Virginia living a dangerous life as a truck stop sex worker.  Laura was born in Brooklyn a generation earlier, and grew up in New York’s punk scene.  Writing books such as The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things as JT gives her complete freedom to explore the darker regions of human experience. Readers and the media love it so much that they begin to demand JT in person.  

As journalists press for interviews with JT, turmoil mounts with Laura’s husband Geoffrey (Jim Sturgess) and sister-in-law Savannah (Kristen Stewart).  Partly from desperation, partly for kicks, they conspire to have Savannah don a wig and sunglasses, adjust her voice, and become the teenage boy author.   Despite everything being based on a true story, Kelly’s film is extremely dull.  He makes no attempt to make the events authentic or to make Savannah believable as JT.  Whenever she appears as JT, she mumbles all along and the media and everyone takes it in from Cannes to Paris to the U.S. 

 Worst of all is the pretentious bit at the film’s end where Laura preaches to the audience that everyone has to be the person he or she is.

TIFF 2018 Review: GRETA (Ireland/USA 2018) ***

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Greta Poster
A young woman befriends a lonely widow.

Director:

Neil Jordan

Writers:

Ray Wright (screenplay by), Neil Jordan (screenplay by)| 1 more credit »

Some films are best if seen without any prior knowledge of the plot.  Neil Jordan’s GRETA is one of them.  As in Jordan’s THE CRYING GAME, the shock occurs when the girl the protagonist is having sex with suddenly is shown with a penis.  The big surprise secret comes literally out of the closet at the 30-minus mark of Jordan’s latest psychological thriller GRETA.  

Set in NYC, Isabelle Huppert plays a widow developing a friendship with a naïve young woman, Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz).  Frances returns the handbag she finds on the subway to its rightful owner, Greta (Huppert).  Frances recently lost her mother and feels alienated by her father; Greta has lost her husband, and her daughter lives far away.   The two become fast friends much to the consternation of her best friend (Maika Monroe).  

Unfortunately, the film ends with a totally unlikely twist in the plot that could only happen in a one in a million chance.  This spoils an otherwise excellent thriller.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7SUePnsxWo