Busy Bodies [1933)

Here’s where you can see a link to Jerry Lewis.

Julius Kelp knocking from beneath a horizontal door after a disaster.

Some great gags.

The record player in the car.

Good idea!

The window bit is great.

So awkward ūüôā

But the paintbrush glued to the chin might be the highlight here!

Such hilarity!!!

These films really are good for the soul ‚̧

 

-PD

Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang [2014)

I bet you thought I stopped writing about film, right?

ūüôā

Me too.

Sometimes.

I think…

“Am I still a film critic?”

With all this Trump this and Trump that.

With these tableaux.

This lazy poetry.

But I am back with an actual film.

And it is a masterpiece.

But I don’t know what to call it!!!

It’s a Chinese film.

Sort of.

But not really.

Because it’s by a Brazilian film director.

But not just any Brazilian film director.

Someday I will get around to reviewing one of the best exemplars of¬†na√Įvet√© ever made.

Yes, one of the best FILMS ever made.

Central do Brasil.

Central Station.

A formative episode in my filmic life.

But back to this Chinese film directed by a Brazilian.

I didn’t even get to his name yet ūüôā

Walter Salles!

Yes…two masterpieces are enough to make an auteur!!

But we can’t use the Chinese title here.

For the film.

Under consideration.

Because that would be disingenuous (and we will get to Trump).

[Or we will try.]

{so much…stuff…in the world}

Let’s paint the picture…

Three Gorges…no.

We must wait.

Central Station was a fiction film.

A beautiful masterpiece which stretches even up into the sert√£o.

But¬†Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang¬†is a documentary…about a guy from Fenyang…named Jia Zhangke.

Messrs. Baggini and Fosl (Julian and Peter) would call that a “spectacularly uninformative sentence”.

And Kant, the less-colorful–less-candid “analytic proposition”.

But we hit an impasse.

The film I am reviewing is so little-known (apparently) that it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.

Worse, it has a strange, butchered title on iMDB.

There it is called Jia Zhang-ke by Walter Salles.

Hmmm…

I must admit:  it appears some people in marketing over at Kino Lorber are dicking around.

But we press on…

Just who the fuck is Jia Zhangke?  And why should you care about him?

Well, first: ¬†he’s a film director.

And second: ¬†he’s as good as Jean-Luc Godard.

Did I just say that???

Yes.

I just put someone on an equal level with my favorite director of all time.

What’s more, a Chinese guy you’ve probably never heard of.

Of whom.

And what about this Fenyang business?

Well, let’s get out our maps.

First, we must find Shaanxi Province.

Northern China.

The capital is Xi’an.

But we must get to the more obscure.

Fenyang.

Home of our subject auteur:  Jia Zhangke.

So we don’t exactly know the title…here to there…from this platform to the next.

But we will say this.

If you are in the U.S., this film is currently streaming on Netflix under the title Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang.

Or something like that.

This is the confusion of a lack of standardization.

Where’s ISO when you need them…or Zamenhof!

Ok…so why should you watch a 105 minute documentary about a filmmaker of whom you have likely never heard?

Because Walter Salles compels you.

He says, “Watch my story… ¬†Pay attention to this little self-deprecating Chinese man. ¬†He’s a cinematic genius.”

Wouldn’t it be great if all artisans and artists helped each other out in such a way?

A filmmaker, age 57, decides to make a film about another filmmaker, age 46.

Actually, that is quite an honor.

That an older filmmaker would help in the career of the younger one.

So we heartily praise Salles for his mise-en-scène as well as his morals.

But then we hit another impasse.

Because words cannot express the brilliance of Jia Zhangke’s grasp on cinematic language.

And so, why should you watch this film?  I ask again.

Because it gives you an introduction (not dumbed down in any way) to the works of a contemporary film artist who is leading the cinematic medium into this new century.

Likewise, it gives you an introduction to Chinese film at the same time.

These aren’t kung fu flicks (for the most part).

These are art films.

Similar to Breathless

Born of the French New Wave.

But also born of Raj Kapoor.

Indeed, as a young boy…Jia Zhangke remembered an early film which extolled thieves. ¬†And it was this Indian film shown in China. ¬†And the Chinese kids remembered the melismatic melodies for decades…to rip off a shred and a few threads of a melody which bound them as enfants terribles.

Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang is a bit like Cinema Paradiso.

The big director returns home.

And there’s a sadness.

Maybe you can see your childhood home.

And hit the wall one more time.

You can imagine the family bed and the father’s desk was there.

And the books on shelves along here.

So many books.

That there is a sadness of being from Fenyang.

I feel it being from San Antonio.

And Jia Zhangke, all throughout this film, ideates thoughts which have now and then wisped in and out of my dreams.

Jia is very calm.  Thoughtful.  Serene.

A true artist.

And as he talks about the process of creation, I find him to be an exceptionally dedicated artist.

We hear about Xiao Wu (1997).

Pickpocket.  Starring Wang Hongwei.

I mean, this bloke…Wang… ¬†His clothes hang on him in almost a magical way.

He’s a good-for-nothing bum in the Chaplin mold, but still puffing away like Belmondo in¬†Breathless.

But Jia was right.

It’s the gait.

The way Wang Hongwei walks.

Body language.

Brilliant!

And the shots we see of Platform are really moving.

It’s like being from a place like Kiruna, Sweden.

Gotta get there by train.

Up past the Arctic Circle.

And the kids…they don’t have a lot of entertainment.

Maybe even the sight of a train.

But in China…………….far more vast.

These remote places.

Like the Three Gorges area where Jia made Dong and also Still Life.

But the joke’s on me.

Because the whole world knows Jia Zhangke.

The whole world of cinema.

And me, with my insular approach, not so much.

Because Jia won the Palme d’Or in both…wait.

We have the wrong envelope.

Ok…so maybe he’s not that well know.

His films have been screened in competition at Cannes, but no hardware yet.

With the exception of his Golden Lion from Venice.

But none of that matters.

What matters is that he’s making great films.

What matters is that he has the potential to best us all.

This was a very moving film for me.

Because it speaks to the obstacles of life.

Of the unhappiness.

Of the solitude which must be for creations to ferment properly.

To mix metaphors, we need the darkness in which to screen our masterpieces of light.

We cannot screen them in a glass house…at 2:30 p.m.

Finally, this film will give you invaluable insights into the recent history and current state of China.

All the people on Weibo (like Twitter).

The market system which has been kicking ass since the 1990s.

And crucial periods such as 1976-1989.

The restructuring period right after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

WE NOW JOIN PAULY DEATHWISH NEWS NETWORK…IN PROGRESS: “…

Xi Jinping.  His father purged in 1963.  His father jailed in 1968.  Xi was sent without his father to work in Shaanxi Province in 1969.  [The remote province from which film director Jia Zhangke hails.]

This was a time of immense violence in China.  Being purged.  Being jailed.  Being sent to the countryside to work and be re-educated.  All of this was suffused with violence.

So when President Xi got the message from President Trump himself that the U.S. had just launched 60 Tomahawk missiles into Syria minutes earlier, President Xi was met with the shock of surrealism…a perfect steak…beautiful ladies…the glitz and glamour of Mar-a-Lago…and the throat punch of an actual tiger. ¬†No paper.

“Get North Korea in line, and fast!” ¬†Would have been the message.

So that, in these times, to truly appreciate that which is unfolding around us, we need directors like Jia Zhangke.

These are our new philosophers.  Our new poets.

Thinking about social media.

Fooling around with it.

Inventing new artistic forms.

And finding new types of loneliness.

And desperation.

Jia came from a very poor area.

He loved his family very much.

The Chinese don’t like violence.

We Americans don’t like violence.

See this film.

Then get back to me on¬†Dereliction of Duty¬†ūüôā

-PD

Chronique d’un √©t√© [1961)

Capture capture capture.

Always capture the emotion of what you’ve just seen.

You have to take a piss?

It can wait.

[ok, sometimes it can’t]

But here it must wait.

Because Chronicle of a Summer is beyond the level of masterpiece.

For so long, I wanted to see a film of Jean Rouch.

Et voil√†…ici!

Joined by another genius = Edgar Morin.

Where Nuit et brouillard fails, Chronique d’un √©t√© succeeds.

The reality (yes) of the Holocaust is in Marceline.

Marceline who does not want to sleep with an African.

Marceline with the concentration camp tattoo.

Marceline and her memories of her dear papa.

In this moment, the Holocaust becomes true.

We believe it…because it is not the same bullshit propaganda we have heard a million times.

Propaganda meant to amplify a truth can actually succeed (fail) in negating a truth.

Such is with the Holocaust.

It is where Spielberg fails with Schindler’s List.

It’s the Titanic of Holocaust historiography.

Titanic might be a good film (I believe it is), but it is certainly not cinema.

It is popcorn viewing.

That’s what Spielberg (of Jaws) did with the Jews.

He knew no other way.

He made a pop song out of Berg’s Violin Concerto.

Not even that.

Worse.

But Rouch (rouxsch) and Morin (more on, not moron) do the opposite.

Here we see all the techniques which would dominate the work of Jean-Luc Godard in the 1960s.

And Godard has admitted the debt to Rouch.

Ethnography.

What is that?

Ethnic and graphs?

Might be some false cognation in there.

But yes:  this is a film from the social sciences.

Morin, the sociologist.

Rouch, the anthropologist (always mentioned as an “ethnographic filmmaker”).

It you want to see a film that doesn’t suck, see this one.

It has everything.

But it is not forced.

It is Paris, but it is also Africa (C√īte d’Ivoire, Belgian Congo, colonial Algeria, jungles, leaves over the “sex” [genitals]).

Yet, all of this is merely talked about.

We are taken there by dialogue.  Language.

Immigrants.  Africans.

High and low.

A Renault factory.  Saint-Tropez.

Up and down.

Youth happy because the sun is shining and they are young.

Elderly who have lost their spouses or siblings.

Down and up.

Immigrants from Italy.  Depression.  REAL FUCKING DEPRESSION.

But beauty.  La bohème.  Attic apartments.

Bullfighting.  Rock climbing.  Bananas.

Fruit and //furniture forgeries.

Cooked books.  Accounting irregularities.

Leisure.  The revolution of doing nothing. [or at least something surreal]

You can’t just buy one book and expect to have it tell you “how the French think”.

No, my friends…

You must work at it.

You must study for years.  Study a culture.

And that’s what I’ve done with the French.¬† Because I love them.

 

-PD

 

La Belle et la B√™te [1946)

We return to old wounds.

First tastes.

Last glimpses.

I told her, but she did not believe me.  Belle.

And I have rejected several metric tons of noise to be a dedicated son.

Asks for a single rose.

Saved by a fire beneath a sturdy mantle in the cold countryside.

One of the first French films I saw.  Maybe the very first.

Where my eyes were open.

King Lear and filial piety and the prodigal.

But daughters who are pure.  Rare.

1001 nights.  The same question.

The persistence of memory.

We must visit.  We must move.  We must be there.

Magic mirrors before Skype or Facetime.

Back when coups involved messengers on horses.

It should be Cupid firing the arrows.

And not chess against Deep Blue.

Folger’s instant karma.

Here’s your svelte reward.

And your big fat penalty.

It would be nice.

To finish my penance.

And in these tests to feel the peace of Mother Teresa.

That we can call on a saint and ask translation.

Guidance.

We don’t need the whole fairy tale.

Mostly the arms with candelabras and the blinking statues.

 

-PD

#9 Do-It-Yourself Mr. Bean [1994)

When you’re having a crappy night.

One thing after another.

Life is beating you with a one-two combination punch.

And a couple of jabs.

You must go to your contingencies.

When the situation is not good, you must move forward.

No laissez faire nor wu wei at this point.

So you push on.

And everywhere you go you get lame.  Rudeness.  Snobby.  Ageist.

Walking on hot coals for capitalism.

Which is to say that the two Starbucks I visited tonight were worse than lackluster.

Starbucks chokes the American market.

But there is variance from store to store.

There are a lot of problems to be witnessed.

As a daily customer.

With no better options.

But Starbucks isn’t improving.¬† They are happy where they’re at.

And so they are ripe to be made obsolete.

How would that happen?

Who?

What ideas?

Most importantly would be to hire Mr. Bean.

Not the actor.  But the real guy.  The character.

The inspiration.  The gaggle which became one.

And please test in San Antonio.

Because our fair city is lethargic and uninspiring.

We never have what we need.

How can we remain happy?

Mr. Bean.

I remember a time in my life that was so fair.

Humorous.  Laughful.  Lifefilled.

A time when a girl’s laugh meant ANYTHING IN THE WORLD’S POSSIBLE.

She’s married now for a second time.¬† Was never my wife.

But something much more.  A love.  A love for which Rembrandt or Van Gogh would have fought.

And so I must tell myself that maybe someone in this world will find me charming.

It’s a sad clown to be used up.

Limelight.

This is, of course, a great episode of Mr. Bean.

They’re all pretty damn good!

Nobody’s like him.

And nobody’s like me.

But I’ve been beaten.

You know the law enforcement dealing with the burkinis?

They are fashion police.  Not completely unprecedented.

But never nearly as absurd.

I’ve been beaten up.¬† And so I have a little pile of clothes.

The machinery has ripped into my forearms and tendons and screwed up my hands.

I already needed something happy.

And then it got bad.

And bad progressed to worse.

But I fought the good fight.

Reading in the dark.

Prussian blue.  Watteau.  Niantic.

Keyhole.  In-Q-Tel.  NGA.  KH recon.  Corona.

Pokémon Go.  And Google at every stage.

John Hanke.¬† “Foreign Service”.

School of hard NOCs.

Twigs dipped in Marmite.

 

-PD

Twin Peaks “Lonely Souls” [1990)

Holy shit.

New shoes.

New shoes.

That this ever made it on TV.

Good lord.

Goddamned genius!

The Pepsi/Coke challenge.

It was indeed David Lynch who directed this episode.

The scariest moment in American TV history.

Eclipsed.

Because the owls are not what they seem.

Truly possession.

It…would be a lot easier not to give a shit.

And so this isn’t a paranoid statement.

THe owls.  Everyman.  Conspiring for truth.

Histoire(s).

That the French gave the world film criticism.

But Hollywood provided Hitchcock with just the right concoction.

An unknown drug.

In my corner, I am meaningless.

So that we must know the giant.

Maybe the evil of the Bilderberg Hotel.

Carel Struycken.

But really the eveil of which we all know we are capable.

How’s that?

It is the family of man.

We learn from every source.

The genius of James Joyce.  Blind prematurely.  Scribbling.

What Beethoven called it.¬† The “late” quartets.

Not his own program.

Scratching.  Fiddling.  John Carson.

Looks like a “D” this time.

And should we be surprised?

It is the cosmology of drama.

No creators dared.

Till David Lynch and Mark Frost.

But Lynch proves who the real killer is.

Power center.

Category killer.

Television which shames cinema.

Never been scared reading a film review?

Think TV is pap?

I did too.  Never.

It means much more that I don’t give you the words easily.

What would be the healthy thing?

Harmony.  Community.

But we live in perpetual hell.

And so Baudelaire takes his place among urban poets.

Muck of milkshake.

If…we know the secret to illusion.

Then we are not as scared.

But the real thing is positively chilling.

Effect.

Several messes.

Remember Finnegan serialized.

Histoire(s) televised.

I am but a lonesome hobo.

Luke the drifter.

But we want our entertainment to contain everything.

And Hitchcock achieved it first.  And best.

Set limitless parameters.

So that Lynch could step in.

Nature morte.

Exquisite corpse.

The song doesn’t exist.

 

-PD

Un condamn√© √† mort s’est √©chapp√© ou Le vent souffle o√Ļ il veut [1956)

I wanted to write last night, but the Internet fell asleep.

This is one of my favorite films ever.

But I needed to rewatch it.  As I always do.  Every movie.

Real fear.

Real danger.

A long project.

Extracting yourself from the superjail.  The prison planet.

A Man Escaped.  We have it easy in English.

But witness the fullness of the French title.

It speaks to care.  Rope.  Hooks.  Months.  Of planning.

And it all started with a spoon.

Tin nor aluminum will do.  Neither.

We must wait for iron.

Steel?

Iron.  Hardness.

It’s World War II.

Today.  World War III.

And for the CIA, World War IV.

Chemists.  Physicists.  And now mathematicians.

Computer scientists.  Statisticians.

No, that’s post-War.¬† Japan.

But for now we are locked in a room of our own making.

If we can only get through the door.

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

tap tap tap tap

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

Which isn’t to say, taps.

We must succeed at this chess game.

Playing against an adversary with few weaknesses.

Multiple layers of defense and surveillance.

Doors and locks and gates and bars.

And silence.

It is the silence which will betray us.

And so, Dr. No, we must slip our shoes off for a little putting practice.

It is a real battle.

CIA vs. FBI.  Refereed by the NSA.

NGA vs. NRO.  Chantilly lace vs. a pretty face.

A girl and a gun.

ASIS vs. DIGO.  Or dingo.

Rich.

ASCAP vs. BM.I

But let me back up to the kebab organization known as SHISH.

Apologies to Belgium.

But it is worth noting SV/SE vs. CSIS/SCRS.

Scissors.  Suckers.  A scissor.

A pair of scissors.

He would need more leverage.  The most overused word in business.

And as meaningless as “innovation”.

What they mean is “interesting”…that’s innovation.

And by false flag, “not what it seems”.

Dear NEADS in Rome (NY) uttered collectively the phrase of Baudrillard’s lifetime:

“Is this real-world or exercise?”

But we have remembered it as simulation.

Going over his escape a million times in his head.

With poor reconnaissance.

Except the dead would-be escapee.

“He’s practically free.”

“No one’s practically free.”

Jessica Lange, incredulous.

But she’s not in this movie.

She’s headed to Roswell.

Named after Yale graduate Roswell Rudd.

A little town in New Mexico.

Out of time.  Mind.

CSE vs. GCHQ.  Or CSEC.

An animal with five eyes has no competition.

Within himself.  The owls are not what they seem.

Fifth wheel.  Hokey pokey.

Valuable antipodes.

And RCMP vs. FBI.  Horses.  Or moose.

Hippopotamus.  POTUS.  Not amused.

DND seems incorrect.

What was Fontaine in for?

And Jost?

DIPOLCAR.  Position.

MSS vs. RSS.  Seems so simple.  Really simple!  And so complex.

Pledged őöő•ő†.

But the division.

ÚZSI vs. UZI.  Sounds dangerous.

With PET we get to canned milk or breaking wind.

A lovable Lego intelligence agency.

Of one.

Just one?

KaPo vs. capo.  Vs. ligatura.

Hitchcock’s rope vs. Bresson’s rope.

For this is Robert Bresson.  The movie.  Under consideration.

SUPO vs. sumo.

But we really get fired up by DGSE.

And it’s only appropriate.

DGSE vs. BND.

The only war which has ever been fought.

Das Fenster vs. la fenêtre.

The most delicate element of escape.

A crack in the breeze.

SIN vs. voodoo of all sorts.

GRLS.  Girls?  Gorillas?  Scalded ape?

When you need headache relief quick.  Choose BAINTELKAM!

A Buddhist temple with a surrounding population 95% Muslim.

Amazing.  Elton John.

MOIS.¬† Ooh…¬† Now we are getting serious.

Putting the me in month.

And of course “the Institute” (moving alphabethically).

Lisping along.

How will you project your escape.  Like Desargues.

And Poncelet.

The movie camera.

Go directly to jail.

Whale song matryoshka.

AISE.  Must be the coolest.  Standard issue Ferraris.  And meals in Modena.

Like Matthew Broderick’s brief moment of cool in Election.

Gid Tanner and his Skillet-Lickers…coming to the Kingdom of Jordan…real soon.

SREL.¬† Sreally?¬† That’s SRAL.¬† Like SalvaDali.

CISEN as s√≠ se√Īor.

Not quite hermeneutics.

FIB vs. SIN.

PST.  Masters of recruitment.

And FOST vs. SIE.

The big daddy ISI vs. ailleurs.

The canal of SENIS.  Central American zipper.

Could have been Lake Nicaragua.

AW ūüôā Georges Sand approaching Chopin with flowers.

He was a woman.  Mr. Sandman.

SIRP vs. usurp.

SVR vs. GRU. [now we’re making some sense]

And DEVGRU vs. GRU.

GIP is priceless.  One letter from perfection.

VOA vs. VOA.

NISA vs. NASA.  And the incomparable skills of PIS.

In joint operations with SENIS.

CITCO vs. Citgo.

Must it be?  It must be.  It MUST be.

And back to our MI6 and DIA and ONI.

These are the thoughts of a man in jail.

Where having a pencil is punishable by firing squad.

And so he builds his hope on escape.

From the mundane.

He is a true soldier.

Though he be stripped of any recognition.

Wisdom is that final step.  On a journey which started with mere data.

 

-PD

El √°ngel exterminador [1962)

Dear friends…it has been awhile.¬† And I have been stuck inside a nightmare.

A party, but a nightmare all the same.

On this New Year’s Eve when so many rush to their engagements…I have thanks to give…yet it all seems so surreal.

For many of us we battle mental demons.¬† Usually, we don’t mean demons literally.¬† And I certainly don’t.

Yet, the world is so strange that we can’t help wondering whether there is something beyond science which is driving certain events.

These sentiments…these questions, are the stuff of El √°ngel exterminador.¬† This is not a relaxing film, but it is absolutely essential.

It is a work of art which is irreplaceable in the global canon of creative thought and philosophy.

Luis Bu√Īuel had immense courage to make this film.¬† And yet, he was an old hand by this point.

His first film (made in collaboration with fellow-Spaniard Salvador Dal√≠) was 16 minutes which shook the world:¬† Un Chien Andalou.¬† That was 1929.¬† The slicing of the donkey’s eyeball.¬† Before the stock market crash.¬† And verily, the cinematic parallel of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps.

Outrageous surrealism.¬† Think of his collaborator’s La persist√®ncia de la mem√≤ria.¬† The same fount of Freudian cess.¬† From the pool of the taxed mind comes melting clocks…(and in the case of Un Chien Andalou those familiar ants).¬† We will always see Dal√≠ as ants…as ants on James Joyce’s egg-yolk universe…Humpty Dumpty having represented the fall of man (“…sat on the wall/…had a great fall”).¬† [Or as Joyce so singularly put it:¬† bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!]

Luis Bu√Īuel had the mad genius of Joyce.¬† In 1930, he followed upon his famous 16 minutes with 60 minutes in L’√āge d’Or.

I had the privilege of knowing Bu√Īuel by way of his first two films and (in bookend fashion) two of his last three films:¬† Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972) and Cet obscur objet du d√©sir (1977) [his final creation].

But none of this could have prepared me for the devastating, scathing critique of Western civilization that is El √°ngel exterminador.

The genre known as “comedy of manners” becomes a grotesque apocalypse the hands of Bu√Īuel.¬† In that sense, El √°ngel exterminador is closest in spirit (or subject matter) to¬†Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie.

But it is very important to note that El √°ngel exterminador is operating on multiple levels.

Is it a damnation of the rich?  Sure.

Is it a mockery of polite culture?  Of course.

But the lethargy and incapacitation we see in El ángel exterminador are the result of very mannerly people being reduced to complete inaction because routine convention has been circumvented.  We see the short-circuiting of well-meaning people who do not know how to cope with change.

And on that level, this film is universal.¬† It just so happens that the overly-precious manners of the bourgeoisie serve best the filmmaker’s purpose.

Not to disappoint the more visually-stimulated among you, but there is no swooping angel of death in this film.  There is, however, a tense, suffocating masterpiece which makes Hitchcock gems like Lifeboat and even Rope look like the products of lazy philosophy in comparison.

One last thought…¬† For those who think that the wonderfully-bizarre Alejandro Jodorowsky appeared out of nowhere, El √°ngel exterminador¬†sets the record straight.¬† Bu√Īuel was taking aim at the impotence of religion before Jodorowsky was in short pants.¬† In this film we see the kernel of imagery (lambs, a smashed cello, bits of debris…) which would make La monta√Īa sagrada the beautifully freakish creation it is.¬† Both were, incidentally,¬†shot in Mexico.

Though Bu√Īuel (a Spaniard) and Jodorowsky (a Chilean) came from different corners of the Spanish-speaking world, their lives would both include important time spent in Mexico and France.¬† Jodorowsky is, in some ways, still the future.¬† But to know the future, we must first know the past.

 

-PD

 

Smultronstället [1957)

At some point during the viewing of this film I turned 39 years old.  That is significant because there is a moment in this masterpiece by Ingmar Bergman at which a character is described precisely as 38 years old.

And so a mostly unimportant question arises:  was I 38 or 39 when I heard that line?

To be sure, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Wild Strawberries, but seeing it on the cusp of my birthday as the world spits me back into the cosmic cuspidor makes a poignant movie absolutely devastating.

You must understand, by “devastating”…I don’t necessarily mean bad.¬† In my film lexicon I reserve the word devastating for films which reduce me to a weeping mess.¬† This, now, is one such film.

My memory of it was as a sweet film…wild strawberries…youthful love…summertime.¬† And indeed, all of those things are there.¬† But this film is more than just na√Įvet√©.¬† This film is about aging.¬† Old age.

I would never have made the connection, but Smultronst√§llet bridges the gap (somewhat) between its comrades in simpatico:¬† Umberto D. (1952) and The Death of Mr. LńÉzńÉrescu (2005).¬† In the former, Carlo Battisti set the gold standard for this micro-genre.¬† He was 69 when he portrayed the titular Umberto Domenico Ferrari.¬† In the latter, Ioan Fiscuteanu brought a razor-sharp accuracy to the likewise titular character Dante Remus LńÉzńÉrescu while being, himself, 68 years old.

And that brings us to the famed silent-film director Victor Sj√∂str√∂m.¬† For Bergman’s Smultronst√§llet, Sj√∂str√∂m was invited aboard as an actor (in the lead role of Isak Borg).¬† Sj√∂str√∂m was, almost exactly with the two previous actors mentioned, 68 years old when he assumed this immortal role.

But there is something which Ingmar Bergman did (thanks to the magic of Sj√∂str√∂m’s performance) which is unique in this film.¬† Beyond the surrealism befitting of de Chirico, beyond the hint of road movie panache which predated √Ä Bout de souffle, Bergman keyed in on an absolutely defining characteristic of old age (for many):¬† loneliness.

I recognize it because it is an absolutely defining characteristic of my own life.¬† Sometimes I wonder if anyone out there is as lonely as me.¬† I send out my signal.¬† I comb through the tags.¬† “Lonely” is a young person’s emotion.¬† “Loneliness” is a lifelong complex.¬† An articulate, stark reality.

And how does it happen?

Well, you will just have to see this film.  Really, there are few movies I could more strongly recommend than Wild Strawberries.  Everyone will see it differently.  For me it brings back memories of Sweden (and even Denmark [though I should probably wait for Dreyer before admitting that]).  Girls named Kaaren and Anna and Saaarah (ok, maybe not that many As).

That is the route of this unlikely road movie.¬† What could have been…¬† What might have been~~

Sometimes a dream rights our ship.¬† But these bad dreams…we are one credit hour short, she doesn’t remember us, we’ve forgotten the first rule of being a doctor…

In our wisdom we will think of the good times.¬† For me, it is as hard as breathing.¬† I don’t breathe well.¬† I think too much.¬† About it.¬† Everything.

Wisdom lets us go back to our old neighborhood…our old play friends…some ball in the street.¬† We must have some good memories somewhere.¬† Psychology urges this.¬† A safe place.¬† A mental image.¬† A way to calm down.

In the fray of life this often isn’t practical.¬† Indeed, we forget everything.¬† Is there or isn’t there a God?¬† I would say yes, but I’m not going to arm-wrestle you over it.

That is a bit of wisdom.  You can go home again.

 

-PD