Sommaren med Monika [1953)

This film hits a depth like no other.

Summer with Monika.

I should have said, nothing is more persistent than love.

There.

And the ups and downs of love are painted by Ingmar Bergman in their greatest glory and most miserable despair.

Two kids rebelling.

Such freedom.

There are moments which presage Pierrot le fou.

On the beach.

In the most carefree sense. And also in the Neil Young sense.

Two characters attracted to one another.

One freewheeling.  The other a more reserved being.

Several dreams interwoven.

Security.  Tenderness.  Camaraderie.  Courage.

Harriet Andersson is the star.  Shining bright.

Ice.

Pursuit of the elements.

“Slip inside my sleeping bag” as ZZ Top sang.

Two kids against the world.

Such a sparse recounting.

Quitting jobs.

The stress.

The harassment.

Bergman showing the unique pressures of young women.

But everything is so sweet.

With a girl not afraid.

To take the role of the man.

Not let life pass by.

This film made an immense impression on me when I first saw it.

Almost like Tropic of Cancer shuffled with Tropic of Capricorn and compressed to a pamphlet.

But it feels epic.

Film does that.

We can feel everything in an hour and a half.

We can shake our asses in three minutes.

Get the message in 30 seconds.

But life intervenes.

And we have to make some ugly choices.

We must pawn our scant comforts.

And aspire to one day again achieve “augmented survival”.

Debord again.

Monika wants nothing to do with it.

Her Henry Miller streak is longer.

And it’s pretty ugly.

Though she played the most beautiful hippie before beatniks even snapped.

Up and down.

Gives you the bends.

Few films capture the razor’s edge of pleasure and pain…the excruciating detail of ecstasy and sad panic.

Bergman was a master.  Along with Wild Strawberries, this is his true winner.

 

-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 naïveté.  This film is about aging.  Old age.

I would never have made the connection, but Smultronstället bridges the gap (somewhat) between its comrades in simpatico:  Umberto D. (1952) and The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu (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 Lăzărescu while being, himself, 68 years old.

And that brings us to the famed silent-film director Victor Sjöström.  For Bergman’s Smultronstället, Sjöström was invited aboard as an actor (in the lead role of Isak Borg).  Sjöström 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 Sjöström’s performance) which is unique in this film.  Beyond the surrealism befitting of de Chirico, beyond the hint of road movie panache which predated À 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

 

 

Umberto D. [1952)

Unglamorous stories.

That is what Italy brought us in the post-war years.

And every “new wave” which has followed owes a debt to the masters like De Sica.

Perhaps you know Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves).

Don’t stop there, dear friend.

Because here we have the precursor to Dante Remus Lazarescu.

Sure.  There is some humor in Umberto D.  A very, very dark humor.

As with Moartea domnului Lăzărescu.

But mostly there is beauty.

Sadness.

Reality.

Cinema.

There is the little dog Flike.  Not Flicka, but Flike (rhymes with psych).  Or bike.

Flike.  Like Céline’s cat Bebert.

And then there is the stunning (STUNNING) acting of Carlo Battisti as Umberto.

There are few performances which can equal it.

Ioan Fiscuteanu did it as Lazarescu.

And that’s about it.

Rarefied air…these two actors.

Let me put it another way.  Umberto D. was Ingmar Bergman’s favorite film.  Do you know what I mean?

The director of Smultronstället and Sommaren med Monika.

Picked one film.  And this was it.

Appropriately, this was Carlo Battisti’s only film role ever.

As the star of Umberto D.

He wasn’t an actor.  He was a linguist.

God damn…

It’s just unreal how good this film is!

But we must also give credit to the indispensable Maria-Pia Casilio.

It is through her eyes that we see the ants…formica in Italian.

In English, we think of a hard composite material.  Formica.  A table top.

But a sort of false cognate brings us back to the archetype which Dalí and Buñuel so evocatively exploited in Un Chien Andalou.  That was 1929.  A film.  The famous eyeball which gets “edited”.  And then the ants were back in La persistència de la memòria.  A painting.  Soft clocks.  You know the one.  And the only differences between Spanish and Catalan in this case are the diacritical marks.

But she burns paper.  To chase the ants.  And the stray cat prowls the roof at night soft as a snowflake.  And the grated skylight is her canvas to dream stretched out in her bed.  And nothing is more morose than a contemplative face at the window looking out on a dingy world.

We sense it did not go easily for Italy.  After the war.  Because when you choose the wrong side you will be punished.

And though Germany was divided and Berlin was the most surreal example of this (being wholly within East Germany…like a Teutonic Swaziland–a Lesotho leitmotiv), Italy still suffered.  We see it in Rossellini.  And we see it here.

Neorealism.  A update on the operas of Mascagni and Leoncavallo.  A continuation of Zola.  A nod to Dostoyevsky.

Verismo.

The star is an old man.  He is not really a hero.  He doesn’t save the world.  There aren’t explosions.

But (BUT)

he does something most extraordinary.  He survives…for a time.  What a miracle!

Ah!  The miracle of everyday life.  We have survived another year.  Another day!

Do you think there will be a war?

[Shame.  The shame of having to ask for help.  Begging for the first time.]

When your bed is a joke.  Newspapers and dust.  And there is a goddamned hole in your wall.  Perhaps.

A missile.  Or The Landlord’s Game (which became Monopoly).

When you are cold with a fever.  As an elderly person.  All your glamorous days have passed.

And you need your coat just to provide a little more warmth.  On top of the blanket.  To make it through the night.

As long.

As long as this film survives, humanity has a chance.

Really.

-PD

Le Gai savoir [1969)

Words:  0

Publish.  1:09 AM.  Enter your categories below.  Bellow.  Saul.  HTML.  HoT MeaL.

Words:  12

The Grand Budapest Hote…

?!

I cannot express this pictogram.  CATEGORIES.  We must categorize.

Juliet Berto.  I’m just warming up.  Preview.

Words:  33

1:12 AM.  FEATURED IMAGE.  Visual.  Yes, a film by Jean-Luc Godard.

This DVD could feed a village for a week.

No food on the table.  No table.

The plot is one-sentence long (!) on Wikipedia.  The Joy of learning.

71  :Words

Trash.  Keep on goin’!

Au lecteur:

Current Staus:  Saved Draft.  Le Gai savoir [1969).

1:15 AM.

How long is a second?  Krypton?  Cesium?

paulydeathwish

Moi.

Preview Post.  Not coming to a theater near you (and certainly not near me).

4/16/2015

My Site.  W.

LBJ.  Vietnam.  Dropping white phosphorus bombs on the silk factories of Hanoi.

Enter your tags below.

Toe.

This film has been a favorite of mine since I first saw it.  Like a Bible in the dark.  Smirking at how clever.

152  :sdroW

Publish Immediately.

CHANGE STATUS.  It’s complicated.  In that it’s not complicated.  Painfully single.

File   Edit   View   Favorites   Tools   Help

Windows on the World.  Risk Waters.

You ask who died.  And who didn’t.  Warren Buffett.  Charity golf and tennis tournament.  Offutt AFB.  Morning of 9/11.  Nerve center of American nuclear deterrent.  We know one WTC CEO who didn’t die because she was invited.  Who else was on that list???

I hear the whispers of a young, balding man.  Torn in half by war.  Risking it all.  To edit a film about the Palestinians.  And the film lab is bombed.  A scare tactic.  How dare you support those Muselmanns?  Muselmensch.

Disproportionate riposte.  Flip script.  ABC

sWords:  265

1:27 AM

Louis Le Prince – Wikipedi…

Add Media.

Two sentences.  I overlooked a period.

Lumumba and Rousseau.

Freud is the head and Marx is the sex.  Theory and practice.

Give him enough rope.  …

Derrida sideways.

It is the brilliance of the little boy–the touching presence of the crusty old beggar.

In school we learned about Nietzsche, but no one ever told me about Jack Nitzsche.

iPhone.  Pronounced “ee-fone” in French.  ePhone.

This iswas unknown territory.  1969.  1:36 AM.  You’re late.  You’re really not taking this very seriously.

Bob Dylan.  Jean-Pierre Léaud.

My love is smiling by the sea.  She has gone away.  Cruel.

She stares at me from a different time.

He is an old man now.  Wild Strawberries.

Shall we try again??  D’accord…

Batman.  The Incredible Hulk.  Spiderman.

She keeps dozing off.  Tap tap.  Perks up.  Dozes.  Again prodded.  But when she slumps left (her left)…a caress.  It works the same.  She opens her eyes.  More painful-eyes studying.  Some sleep with one eye open.  I read until only one eye cooperates.  And then no eyes.  Off to processing sleep.

Mao was still prominent.  But this is where the great art of montage was first born…continued and epitomized in Histoire(s) du cinema.  3.8/5.  My ass.  Rotten tomatoes…Léolo.

Ou Ou Ou

Ou Ou Ou

So what you’re saying is that this review is a failure.

Three moles on left side of face.

No one in their right mind is asking.

Mon martyre.  Montmartre.

Jean of Ork.  nanu nanu

Tannu Tuva.

What ever happened to Richard Feynman?

Don’t call me Shirley.  Andrew Card.

To enjoy a cigar by the water.

Une poignée de gens

Words:  538.

Attack on language.  Send reinforcements.

2:05 AM

ending transmission

-PD

The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014)

There have been two movies in my lifetime which affected me so that I saw them multiple times in the theater:  Life Is Beautiful and Genghis Blues.  Along with those two masterful films I would add three which have a similar effect on me and formed my pantheon of five as a college student and young adult:  Cinema Paradiso, Central Station and the original Willy Wonka.  Few films have ever touched me quite like these.  There have been a few:  Spirit of the Beehive, Wild Strawberries and even Amelie, but I didn’t feel the same level of “ownership” in the stories–the same resonant investment in the storylines and mise-en-scène.  But it has come time to add to the pantheon of five–a reservoir of naïveté which has remained untouched since at least the time of my reading James Monaco’s book on the French New Wave.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is an unqualified masterpiece.  It is not often that I even feel drawn to a movie theater whatsoever these days.  It takes a lot to get me out of the house as far as cinema is concerned.  My interest in this particular film owes to a job which I recently secured and ultimately quit (within a week or so) at an old, old hotel in San Antonio, TX.  I had initially intended to see the film ostensibly for “research,” but when I finally saw it (after quitting my brief stint as a hotelier) it took on a different and immensely significant meaning for me.

I don’t want to spoil the plot or ending, so I will refrain from giving away too much info concerning either.  I will, however, say right up front that the secret star of this film is Saoirse Ronan.  She is the Anna Karina of this movie and she enabled Wes Anderson to make a truly transcendent picture.  Ralph Fiennes is magnificent as Monsieur Gustave H., but it is Ronan as Agatha who embodies the film in such a way that I can only compare to Poe’s story The Oval Portrait (which played such a large role in Godard’s Vivre sa vie).  The movie really gets going in earnest when Anderson goes to a magical close-up of Agatha (Ronan) on a merry-go-round.  It is from the POV of her beau Zero (Tony Revolori) and its weightless, gossamer delicacy sets the stage for what will become (throughout the remainder of the movie) Wes Anderson’s best film to date.

Leave it to Anderson to give the beautiful, chaste Agatha a huge birthmark the shape of Mexico on the side of her cheek.  Perhaps it was a nod to Gorbachev, but the effect is such that the beautiful Ronan becomes even more adorable and perfect by way of her imperfections.  Indeed, it is when she is covered in flour at her job baking pastries that she reaches her highest peak of sublime cinematic presence.  Even in her “mug shot” (which figures into the plot), she exudes mystery and imagination in her smile-less stare.

The red-headed, fair-skinned Ronan is part of a color scheme on the part of Anderson which includes powder-blue uniforms and cotton-candy-pink pastry boxes.  Even The Grand Budapest Hotel itself is pink…like a giant pastry or gingerbread house (indeed, it is a model…a miniature…a favorite directorial device of Anderson).

But make no mistake, the royal-purple-clad gents whose acting makes this the coup that it is are Fiennes and Revolori.  To call it a “buddy flick” would be doing the entire creation a grave injustice.  Perhaps it is a comedy of manners?  Or perhaps sui generis.  Anderson’s “tricks” have never been employed to such successful effect until this film.  It is as if all his prior attempts were quite good practice runs at making this film.

Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe are integral to the fabric of this sentimental, yet razor-sharp tapestry.  Anderson manages to draw from so many influences (I seemed to notice Tati) such that the piece as a whole avoids being a puppy dogs and ice cream affair.  Goldblum and Dafoe play out a sub-plot of sorts (in terms of filmic references) which hints very strongly at Hitchcock.  It is just this dash of bitter verismo which holds the confection together and makes it truly delicious.

The story (not to mention the dialogue) would do a writer such as Ernest Lehman (North By Northwest) proud.  Monsieur Gustave is infinitely quotable and his character bears a striking resemblance to Cary Grant in terms of mannerisms.  It is as if Roger Thornhill somehow ended up in the maze that is Tati’s Playtime.  Indeed, Gustave H. is a man on the run (just as Grant’s character in NXNW).  And as per the Hitchcock motif of “the wrong man,” Gustave is, of course, innocent.

But the truly remarkable thing about The Grand Budapest Hotel is the expansive, somewhat metaphorical love story it encapsulates.  Wes Anderson succeeds in channeling not only Truffaut, but Bergman (particularly Ingmar’s bittersweet Wild Strawberries).  The overall narrative device of a recounting (Zero as an old man) and the framing of impressionable literary admiration (the student reading the “fictional novel” at beginning and end afore the canonical author’s statue) allow the film to operate on several levels simultaneously. The viewer is invited to hop on board the elevator at any floor and draw meaning from any of the many strata.  It is like a cake–a fine, layered pastry from the old world.

There is indeed an air of panache which wafts through the illustrious halls represented in this film.  It is, in some ways, a fairy tale and a morality play.  Do the right thing and you might just end up with Snow White.  And you might, with extraordinary integrity and compassion, get to have your cake and eat it too.

 

-PD