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© 2018 by James Clark

 

    Our striking film today is not what it seems to be. And it signals something along those surprising lines by its title, You Were Never Really Here (2017). The elsewhere, where our leading man, Joe, chooses to be, lands him in late 19th century Sweden. He, portrayed by actor, Joaquin Phoenix. along with filmmaker extraordinaire, Lynne Ramsay, proceed to the extremities of the filmic communications of Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007),  in particular, his film, Cries and Whispers (1972). Whereas we see onscreen a burly, bewhiskered, kill-for-pay, frenetic bottom-feeder, he’s galvanized by a maxim, produced by a long-ago patrician of Bergman’s invention, namely, Karin: “It’s all a tissue of lies…” Joe’s not the sort who would bat around remarks like that; but he does very deeply know what it means.

Both Joe and Karin (the latter being one of a triumvirate of sisters) have been burned by violent parenting. But it is how they cultivated that rather mundane handicap which distinguishes them as thoroughgoing thinkers, forming a bizarre kinship which can tell us a lot. We see in tenuous flash-backs Joe’s mother being assaulted by her husband by means of a hammer smashing her head and Joe being terrorized (including sexually) and frequently hiding in a closet. (We also see, in the earlier film, in that same way of flash-back, how two of the sisters, Karin and Agnes, are slighted and intimidated, by their mother, while the third [and prettiest], Maria, is spoiled rotten. Soon we will hear of a pretty young girl, Nina, basking in her mother’s affection, but losing that, perhaps dubious, gift on the latter’s death, which sends her frequently running away from home to seek a revival of the right stuff, or the rich stuff.) Fathoming the heart of You Were Never Really Here means transcending its scabrous comportment per se, for the sake of disclosing the massive rigors of lucidity and love. Despite its façade of Grand Guignol melodrama, we are expertly guided to something far more rare and important—the patrimony of Bergman, re-branded for an age of iconoclasts.

Joe’s mother, quite far into dementia, can introduce us to the nature of advanced perception. We first see her, late at night, after Joe returns from Cincinnati, where he has  murdered, by a ball peen hammer, the principals of a child prostitution ring, one of the captive’s parents being eager to recover their child for a significant payment. What catches our attention first of all is the affection between the youngish beast and the old beauty. He finds her asleep in front of the TV, and as she wakes up she smiles and tells him she wanted to stay up to see him (having no idea what his job entails). Her carefree laugh is echoed by him. She refers to the late-night screening of Hitchcock’s Psycho—“Oh, boy, it’s scary!”—and he joins the edgy fun by simulating Anthony Perkins’ slashing Janet Leigh. Over and above the robust conviviality, this moment establishes their being more contemporary than the cloying domesticity mentioned above. The hot jazz sax solo doubling down on her radio takes us to Lynch’s Lost Highway—something closer to what’s in store for Joe. He helps her into her bed and she doesn’t want what she sees to be a gem of a night to end. “Hey, Joe, stay a bit…” In reply, he twigs on to her fear of being murdered, flaring up due to Hitchcock. “Well, if you must watch scary movies…” (more…)

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 © 2018 by James Clark

      We’re off and running with another breathtaking film by Ingmar Bergman, namely, Cries and Whispers (1972). The nature of this production entails, as usual, thrilling motivations most of us had never thought about. And here we must put into the mix, as never so emphatically before, that the uniqueness of that delivery entails being without any effective allies. We have encountered, in the films by Bergman so far, a species of more or less thriving upon that neglect, a warrior sensibility. But enfolded within that tang, we are also alerted to partaking of the powers implicit in cooperation, cooperation with those who don’t and never will, give a damn for what a figure like Bergman would live for, however chaotically.

Our film today attends remarkably to that estrangement, and, as a result, lingers with the personnel in such a way as to garner from (some of) them a direction to love. The film’s saga involves two protagonists; and we choose here to spotlight one, a woman, namely, Agnes, who has already died from cancer in the earlier part but conveys her golden moment at the film’s final seconds, by way of a diary, read by Anna, her long-time housemaid (though presented by the diarist’s voice-over). The event recorded involves desultory Agnes being paid a visit to the family manor (under her keeping) by her two sisters whom she has allowed to more or less overtly treat her as a non-entity, as she was treated by her mother. Braced, as the latter were, by her long-term illness, there is a moment of vision emanating from their ramble upon the palatial grounds, strewn with golden leaves. “It’s wonderful to be together again… Suddenly we began to laugh and run toward the old swing that we hadn’t seen since we were children [when kinetics were at least as favorable as frozenness]. We sat in it like three good little sisters, and Anna pushed us slowly and gently. All my aches and pains were gone. I could hear them chatting around me… I could  feel the presence of their bodies, the warmth of their hands. I wanted to hold the moment fast, and thought, ‘Come what may, this is happiness. I cannot wish for anything better. Now, for a few moments, I can experience perfection. And I feel profoundly grateful to my life which gives me so much…” (Those visiting angels having—along with Agnes’ skittishness—tossed divided but meritorious Anna to the sharks.)

The full-color composition (unique up until this time for Bergman) needs to be broached, along with the previous films, as a positioning of the urgency of fearlessness. With this particular vehicle, however, we’re on the hook to attending most closely to the apparatus required to fully show what’s ticking here. Therefore, as usual (but not quite the same), we posit, “How new is new?” You’d never have gotten from him anything explicit about the possibility that gigantic and unprecedented change has begun to make inroads and that that uprising (but tempered) is where art attains its stature. Apart from playing the movie game that the single work on tap must stand entirely on the basis of the screen being watched, there would be, however, the understandable discomfort that—unlike the folk reservoir of normal filmic presentation—matters of reflective complexity, generally assumed to be the purview of science and other academic disciplines, have become necessities. Just because the entrenched classical rational experts would utterly dismiss any validity not certified by their practices, does not disable a figure like Bergman to take matters into his own accomplished hands, in his own medium of communication. As such, his work being an extended research of sensibility, the various steps of his disclosures comprise, unlike the normal, disparate  entertainments, a constant, expanding investigation, very germane to earlier discoveries. Unlike conceptual building blocks of a technical nature, Bergman has at his disposal, not only a manifold of dramatic sensibility by way of his screenwriting and Sven Nykvist’s cinematography, but a cadre of performers the varying roles of which, from-film-to-film, increase a current of intent or temper a performer’s previous apparition, for the sake of comprehending the volatility of discernment and its creative capacities as a co-host of the cosmos. (more…)

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© 2018 by James Clark

 Our film today is, even by the standards of Bergman’s shoot-out-all-the-lights iconoclasm, over the top. Whereas his other films hop to it to embed, near the beginning, uncanny startlements sending out for those on the wild side a shot in the arm for the duration, Winter Light (1962)—its very title a threat to creativity—dares us to keep viewing a tedious melodrama dribbling toward soap opera.

Of course, those few who have found their way to the mother lode of the work’s endeavor, could apply the acrobatics and impossible juggling apparent in absentia. But there is no getting past the thunderous deadness on display, seemingly intent on entrenching an insurrection. Thereby, the viewer has been obliged to muster tons of patience toward the bad old days, in the expectation that this nightmare will end. And end it does, but only at the narrative’s very last scene, where a meek hunchback sexton, Algot, takes aside the reigning clergyman, Tomas, and tells of his discovery that the Bible’s real sense pertains to one sensibility, Jesus, whose sensual virtuosity was never grasped by anyone as realizing that the spirit driving it all has nothing to do with human immortality. After hearing this mountainous and—from the point of view of exegesis, totally daft—heresy, the pastor finds it right on! The only thing left to do with Bergman’s structural acrobatics here is to go back to the beginning in order to savor the singular passion of Tomas.

Let’s start, though, with Algot’s surprising and incisive amateurism. We hear him first, not as a revisionist metaphysician but fussing about his prosaic caretaker duties, which almost magically manage to run to poetry—no small accomplishment, in the wake of our being pelted, over the preceding hour, with routine disappointments. “Those bells rang for twenty seconds too long. Unfortunately I was busy replacing the candles” (seen on-screen to be disorderly but still a feast for sore eyes in the dark church). “ I usually turn on the bells, light the candles and make it back on time. But today I bungled it. An unfortunate mishap. But those candles were tricky to light,” [trickiness being a trope for this campaign—particularly in view of the virtual impossibility of reaching another, importantly; reaching, in a process of “juggling” between prose and poetry, on a basis of uncanny sensual timbre, “acrobatics,” reaching a startling level in the form of Elisabet’s ceasing to speak, in Persona [1966]]. The sexton continues his generous lament, with, “Probably a factory defect,” [the trick that matters not apt to be found on an assembly line]. “And I guess my broken-down body is slowing down my actions. The reason hardly matters.” You’d have to say his broken-down body is doing very well. But “reason,” and its factoids, are—stellar results, notwithstanding— not doing well in their imperial guidance. “I leave the temple in semi-darkness until just before the bells start… I believe electric lights disturb our spirit.” (Algot, an impressive practitioner of “spirit,” would have spent long hours about the timbres of fire and the timbres of electricity. Perhaps his reading of the latter has compromised something new and useful as to “juggling.”) (more…)

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© 2018 by James Clark

      In some ways, the output of films by Ingmar Bergman could be called an early rendition of serial drama, minus the TV and plus the theatrical rhetoric. That medieval couplet, The Seventh Seal (1957), and, The Virgin Spring (1960), introduces an “impossible” and necessary “trick,” pertaining to acrobatics and juggling. And the rest is about how the hell it’s done.

The weighty reflective saga therewith, coincides, for us in the new millennium, with a film market allergic to “weighty reflective sagas.” Getting on with bucket lists becomes a particularly insidious concern, insofar as the temptation to dip into a so-called masterpiece (and nothing else) is exactly anathematic to the tenor of the work. This difficulty requires an acrobatic feat in order to prime the spectacle to its best futurity. Included in this maneuver, therefore—and we have to admit that even in the 1960’s when the supposed Mona Lisa, namely, Persona (1966), was making some noise, no one, including Woody Allen, had a serious clue—would be pretty much disregarding the pretenders and watching for the few who well know what investigative popularity is worth on this questionable planet.

Persona is not a one-off and any effort to approach it that way is doomed. The opening passage of the film entails a young, bespectacled boy, played by child actor, Jorgen Lindstrom. His action spans a corpse in a morgue and a fervent stroking of a large portrait of a beautiful woman’s face. In the film, The Silence (1963), that same child, called Johan, encounters, with those same schoolboy, round-lens glasses, turbulence in trying to come to a harmony with his attractive, dangerously reckless mother; and, as a default choice, his beautiful, careful aunt. The painful and obscure action of Persona cannot come to coherence in the absence of a rigorous examination of The Silence. As it happens, Elisabet, the protagonist of Persona and a famous stage actress, stages a many-months refusal to speak and refusal to deal with her husband and son—sharply curtailing her paying career but getting down to business with the unfinished business of reckless, elusive Anna, in the film of three years before, where interplay shatters upon irreconcilable intentions. Whereas Anna shoots the works and hopes for serendipity, Elisabet, the occupier of designs, has a plan. Seemingly inert, particularly at the first stages when she is bedridden, she will soon  be more overtly acrobatic, in her own eccentric ways. Moreover, despite Olympian disdain, she will, with characteristic undemonstrativeness, endeavor to put into play a juggling act whereby seemingly errant trajectories become welcomed constituents.

In order to fathom this peculiar action, we must highlight, in the spirit of the four Bergman films we have touched upon in previous blogs, the remarkable cinematic physicality raining down upon figures whom the unwary might assume to be in the midst of a fairly common medical treatment regime. That prelude, locating the same player in two films, has been designed as an introduction of the dynamics of the cosmos (which humans play an important part in), not the kick-off of a melodrama of rational souls being troubled and thereby—hopefully—rescued. One close look at the abysses of this storm, and the idea of rescue has been obviated. (The continuity of risk-takers having reached a showdown whereby a new plateau of outrageousness must be explored comprises the real “narrative” here, and everywhere Bergman chooses to aim. The Silence and Persona constitute a conclave of badass mommies fumbling the gentle love intrinsic  to their heresies. So, too, Claire Denis, carrying the Bergman crisis in our century, with, for instance, her White Material.) (more…)

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 © 2018 by James Clark

      Ingmar Bergman’s film, The Silence (1963), is generally understood to be part of a trilogy upon the issue of an absent God. Though it does raise affinities to the film, Through a Glass Darkly (1961), it also swarms with the discoveries of the decidedly non-sixties earlier films, The Seventh Seal (1957) and The Virgin Spring (1960). Instead of packaging 3-packs like that, I think we’re well advised to notice that every one of his films (or every one of which marked his graduation from hack duties) deals with the same obsessive shock that world history has boarded a train going nowhere.

That the train going somewhere is far from transparent may be inferred by the fact that the most unlikeable figure, in The Silence, happens to be also the only one with a taste for integrity. This so-called person of interest, perhaps predictably, comes to us as totally upstaged by her sister, Ester, in the First-Class compartment of the train, they share, along with a boy, Johan, of about 10, whose mother, Anna, feeling the heat of the well-appointed but not air-conditioned cell, fans herself with a magazine. Ester does not feel that heat pressing upon her sister. She’s dressed in a tasteful suit, and she could be taken for a middle-management bureaucrat. But she feels heat nevertheless.

The nature of distribution of heat is as important as it is obscure; and it needs clear-sightedness on our part, a take going beyond the flabby pundits who slide off the rails in claiming that Ester has been stricken by a plague-like, devilish biological killer. She does have, several seconds into the first scene, some kind of fit, bending over and vomiting and needing Anna’s help to reach the washroom. But the irony of the very beautiful actress, Ingrid Thulin’s, vivid portrayal of Ester—forbidding the notion of her being eaten by microbes—never becomes a question. Anna, played by actress, Gunnil Lindblom, though having a handsome face, is overweight and has no taste in apparel. The credits have been accompanied by the loud and racing ticking of a clock. The moment of Ester’s cracking up had been accompanied by the pronounced rushing and ringing of the train. Johan had, in asking Ester the impossible question of what the signage in and out of the vehicle meant, underlined to the adults what it feels like to be visited by a range of action foreign and solidly indifferent to them. But perhaps it was the universe they had inhabited all their life. That the next station finds them stopping over to allow Ester to deal with her malaise, once again introduces a current of foreignness they seem very unprepared for. (more…)

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 © 2018 by James Clark

      Sometimes it pays to be ridiculously late. Years ago, I saw two or three of the films of Claire Denis, and  wrote them off (figuratively) as overwrought, Grand Guignol melodramas pertaining to the outrageous predations upon Africans. Failing to heed the well-known predilection of auteurs to sermonize bullshit about their efforts seeing eye-to-eye with politically correct dullards, I left that hidden and unbeknownst treasure to pursue the singularities of quite untrammeled sensibility within the wheelhouses of the likes of Wong Kar Wai, for instance (his, Happy Together [1997], recently posted).

Having also been a latecomer to the skills of Ingmar Bergman, there were notions about Denis’ extremities which began to make much more sense. Since her film, White Material (2010), is copiously woven with the cosmic elements to be seen in Bergman’s, The Seventh Seal (1957), that seems to be a good starting point. It is fearlessness, not salvation, being the essence of Bergman’s work; and it is fearlessness, not foreign aid, of the essence of Denis’ work. Therefore, our first step has to do with our protagonist, Maria, tempting the fates by refusing to get away from the collision of rebel and French colonial militia forces in mid-century Africa. At a road on her coffee plantation she is visited by a hovering French Army helicopter, from which the following one-way dialogue screams: “Madame Vial! The French Army is pulling out! We’re leaving! You’ll be completely cut off! Think it over, Madame Vial! Think of your family… We’re pulling out… You must leave immediately.” Madame Vial swishes away as best she can the reddish soil kicked up by the chopper, which resembles a dinosaur, especially its image as a shadow in flight (a fossil), a commotion whose time has passed in a peculiar way. The retreaters shower down many black containers with the words, “Survival Kit,” prominently inscribed. Maria, after lifting one up, tosses it away contemptuously. (more…)

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 © 2018 by James Clark

      Many folks swear by exotic travel to lift themselves out of doldrums. The duration may be as brief as a week and as long as years. By and large, the voyagers adopt a passive disposition for experiencing welcome change, particularly with the matter of igniting an avenue from which to bring their skills to bear.

Though it might seem impolite, we have to entertain the possibility that the world as such does not smile upon those intent upon letting others set the pace. Wong Kar Wai, in bringing to light his film, Happy Together (1997), about two young men from Hong Kong, Lai and Ho, looking for magic in Argentina, trains his high beams on exactly that exigency. As such there is the figure, Lai, after having been driven to distraction in the course of looking for the easy way up, who eventually gets down to business as a very non-white-collar-worker in an abattoir where you don’t disregard guts. The minutiae underway, of Lai’s odyssey on behalf of hard employment, constitute, therefore, a sort of anti-holiday none of us can do without. And, this being a Wong Kar Wai movie, those twists and turns put into play moments of sensibility not merely striking but haunting. (Although “explanations” by auteurs are usually understandable mischief, in the case of Wong’s insisting—against the narrative’s surface—that this film is not concerned with tendencies of homosexual men, a rare accuracy occurs. A degree of caressing and anal sex comes to pass; but in this vehicle Lai and Ho are under scrutiny for the honorific cool side of their tastes, not for biological imperatives.)

Soon after arriving in Buenos Ares (now having to live alone, after one of their frequent divorces) Lai takes a job as a doorman/ greeter at a tango bar, “Bar Sur” [above the norm]. We see briefly a man and a woman, in severe apparel and coiffure, demonstrating the fussy dynamics of the dance, conspicuous for its intimacy bereft of joy and affection; but flush with belaboring those in attendance with their own superiority. (Ho, we shall soon come to realize, having in his scant repertoire of skills, being adept in that dance-style, in addition to nymphomania and prostitution.) But, much more than that self-consciously risqué bohemianism, there is Lai, out on the street, being the first responder for one of many overassertive party animals and snapping photos for the ladies. His motivation, which he will soon deny, is (despite the de rigueur circus-barker tone) suave and good-natured as only Wong-stalwart, actor, Tony Leung, can mix amusement and devastation. (Ho, portrayed by Leslie Cheung, sets in relief, with his peevish peasant appetites, thereby, the aristocratic cravings of Lai simmering in such a proletarian zone.) As that shuffle of narrative overtures spins downwards, Lai takes morosely to Mickeys at the club’s entrance between visiting awesomeness and soon severs his involvement with the juvenile Sur. (more…)

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