Bergman’s The Virgin Spring
The Virgin Spring seems to ask: Why are teenage girls perpetually dumber that we expect them? Tore (Max von Sydow) sends his daughter Karin (Brigitta Pettersson) out on a simple errand but within her little pilgrimage she does things that common sense would tell the audience not to do.
Why would she go into a dark forest without hesitation or go on without her escort? Why would she let herself get distracted by suspicious looking men?
This movie seems different from Ingmar Bergman‘s later, more excellent films because of its straightforward approach towards storytelling, but he comes up with a great formula nonetheless. He compartmentalizes every part of the narrative, the script firing off one section or character evenly.
And I know that Hollywood rules don’t apply to him but I also somehow applaud his decision to show a graphic sexual assault but not a murder. In 1960.
It has a straightforward enough of a message but we can also dig for the complexities within this cautionary tale. We can say that this movie exposes the arbitrary and cruel nature of violence, as she’s taken away without warning.
Instead of saying ‘bad things happen to people,’ we can say that God punishes a girl for her lack of judgment, innocence, gullibility, altruism and obliviousness.
They aren’t necessarily vices but I assume that contemporary audience’s eyes see her qualities as flaws working against her survival. We’re not looking at her merely as a victim because a victim is a blank slate and she is not.
And as much as it is about Karin it’s also equally about the people around her, and through them Bergman finds room for complex character studies within this simple movie. An example is Karin’s more beautiful yet pregnant escort Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom).
In the earlier part of their journey they argue about Karin dancing with the father of Ingeri’s child, being doubtful of anyone’s purity. She leaves Karin for a while, making a pit stop at a cabin and then running away to follow Karin from a distance.
Ingeri inadvertently watches as Simon and his cohorts assault her. Keeping her pregnancy in mind, she also behaves as if constantly troubled, and being a constant survivor doesn’t help her guilt and powerlessness.
There’s also Tore and his reactions towards the news of her daughter’s violent murder. As luck would have it, Karin’s murderers would ask to lodge in his home. He avenges her but his act doesn’t satisfy him.
The titular spring appears where her body is found, a sign of her family’s redemption. But since the movie has gotten to the point in depicting Tore’s part of the story, it shows a family with one less child, a community broken from a future that could have been.
- My 15 Favourite Moments in Ingmar Bergman Movies (via Southern Vision) (manonmona.wordpress.com)
Oldboy is a movie that shows the sloppiest fights I’ve seen in film, adding realism to the video game rules applied in most action films. Protagonist O Dae-su is imprisoned for fifteen years in an accommodating yet sadistic facility. One of the things he does in his stay in the facility is his self-training in martial arts, and has the callused knuckles to show for it. Nonetheless, he has to be hurt before he hurts the mob on the other side of the fight. And his lack of exposure to other human beings during 15 years hasn’t been an advantage to him in physical encounters.
It’s hard to find humanity in a movie that starts with blatantly Asian pop soundtrack and threats of violence, but the audience will find that treasure ten minutes into the film. His forced monasticism didn’t dull his mind but actually made him think and remember things. In the latter half of those years in his prison, he decides to write a list of all the people he’s hurt. He narrates ‘I thought I lived a normal life, but there was so much wrongdoing.’ There’s so much truth to that question on whether his past has come to haunt him and how his damnation starts in his adult life. I know that’s a Christian approach to an Eastern text, but the character did go to a Catholic school.
As he is released from the prison, he tries to find out who has taken him there and avenge himself, but that involves retracing his steps. Remembering his young self leads to flashbacks in the film, showing a young man with a shaved head and no resemblance to him. In one of the film’s final scenes he finally gets to talk with Lee, the man who has imprisoned him, also looking nothing like his supposed younger self. The scene show how withered Oh Dae-su as compared to Lee’s self-preservation. Eventually, the men and their younger versions are edited more closely into the scene showing that yes, they do look like their young selves, both of whom have no idea how their actions and obliviousness would anchor their fates.
- 15 Movies With Huge and Horrific Death Counts (popcrunch.com)
TIFF: Route Irish
Ken Loach‘s film Route Irish seems meditative for its 110 minute run. Every detail of Fergus’ own investigation of his best friend and coworker Frank’s so-called accidental death in Iraq is treated as a cold fact. There’s minimal non-diagetic music in the film, and Fergus’ eyes don’t light up when he sees a video or hears a statement that helps him piece the events together. He doesn’t ponder over any paper clippings posted on his minimal apartment walls. And scenes that accelerate his knowledge of the Frankie’s death is carefully paired with other scenes that show that he has a life outside of it. He goes to pubs, has interactions with Frankie’s widow, Rachel and takes his blind friend out to his ‘football’ games.
Fergus’ reactions in the days after Frank’s death is interesting as well. Generally, however, he’s more wrathful – one little thing can tap back into his raw emotions and he snaps at someone. The film tries to be an examination of someone getting personally affected with a friend’s death. There could be different reason and enemies for someone to have a fate like Frankie’s. Fergus tends to yell, an interesting knee-jerk reaction that I can’t get used to. He eventually stops listening to other people’s explanations of the events when someone misguides him to a different version of the truth. There’s a sensitive scene where he tortures his suspect and forces his to admit crimes, making one of the memorable frames within this mediocre film. 3/5.
- Today at TIFF: James Franco, James Caan and much more (theglobeandmail.com)
Confessions starts like a ‘taut,’ elegiac film about the eventual loss of innocence, with images of milk cartons and Japanese school children being rambunctious while their teacher meekly prattles on. She announces her resignation for being an ineffective teacher, writes on the chalkboard a huge calligraphic symbol denoting ‘life.’ She eventually gets their attention on a sad, dreadful, unforgettable lesson.
Director Tetsuya Nakashima sometimes uses traffic reflector mirrors to show the kids walking and meeting, or slows down to watch a softball hitting someone’s head. Muted colours dominate the film, only giving breaks of warm red and yellows when characters flashback into happy moments. The music balances out the children’s chaos and eventually is in tune with the teacher’s dread-filled lesson.
Confessions can be also read as a genre film, a revenge horror, comparable to the Noh-inspired examples within the Japanese canon. By revealing that her child’s murderers are two of her students, her calm demeanour turns her into a ghostly figure. She’s a woman both victimized by men and out for revenge, her little victims eventually depicted as incorporating abject elements into their lives.
In revealing that genre spin we can talk about the performances, any of the leads can arguably be best in show, whether it’s the teacher’s slow burning vindication or the students’ evil facades and psychological pain. The transformation and genre-crossing of the film isn’t a smooth transition and the film’s long scenes makes it drag and tonally imperfect, but Confessions is both artistic and engaging. 5/5.
TIFF: The Debt
A remake of an obscure Israeli film, John Madden‘s new film, The Debt, starts in 1965 with Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain), David (Sam Worthington) and Stefan (Marton Csokas) being congratulated for killing a Dr. Vogel, the Surgeon of Birkenau, a composite of three real Nazi leaders. These perfect-looking Mossad agents carry their celebrity spy status thirty years later. Rachel’s daughter writes a book about them, unfortunately only Rachel (Helen Mirren) and Stefan (Tom Wilkinson) survive, and elder Rachel comfortably makes the people think the story ends there.
What proceeds and dominates the film are both a flashback and a solid balancing act. Rachel’s the new girl in the field, David welcomes her as his wife, the three learn martial arts and live and eat with each other, cabin fever included. Chastain is the heart of her section of the film. Worthington portrays a multi-faceted David, loving fake husband, butt kicker, wounded soul. Csokas is a believable group leader without trying to mug for the camera. We also see great glimpses of Vogel (Jasper Christensen), who conveys empathy despite being an irredeemable monster.
We forward to the older, bitter versions of Rachel and Stefan, and both learn that they must correct their big mistakes in the mission in different ways. The willing suspension of disbelief is slightly lifted since the elder and younger versions of the characters are never perfectly in sync. Comparisons with Boys of Brazil will be inevitable. I gave it a 4/5, but yes, I was being too nice.
Pre-Thoughts: Harry Brown
My friend Matt once talked to me about this cinematic trend of old people beating the shit out of everyone. Awesome.
But the critics are supposed to our older brothers, holding our hands through contemporary culture and tell us that “Harry Brown” is either an accurate portrayal of the changing social mores of Britain/the West. Or talk to us like A.O. ‘Call Me’ Scott and Michael Philips in “At The Movies,” who threw around the words ‘gratuitous’ and ‘dumb’ in describing the movie. I’ll respect that. “Harry Brown” continues to be a divisive film for the critics from its festival runs last year until its theatrical release last week/today.
The two camps of opinions about this movie and the two ways of seeing it make me ambivalent. These days I just wanna sit back and let the movie happen, but at the same time I don’t wanna be manipulated.
It made the trailer rounds last week, and it looks decent. It shows Michael Caine talking to people who sound like grime rappers. ‘Bout time.
Speaking of Michael Caine, he’s made crap after making masterpieces, but he’s been the go-to British guy since “The Quiet American,” well, at least for those actors who had their first outing in the 60’s/70’s. He can pull of looking upper class but has a little Cockney tinge making him versatile. His status will probably stay with him no matter how this movie turns out. It’s the last round for the ‘go-to British guy’ battle to be honest, and I don’t know what the likes of Ian McKellen or Michael Gambon can do to surge ahead.
So I’m probably gonna get paid by the time this post goes on the interwebs but I do have bills. So will I see this? Sure.
May-December Series: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Mikael Blomkvist, a well meaning but scandal ridden journalist and Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) a young hacker with dyed black hair find themselves working on a forty year old cold case about the missing niece of an industrial magnate. Well, the journalist was there first until he realized the young girl was hacking into his laptop and decides to get her help. The missing girl’s other relatives, who ironically are the suspects of this familial crime and have Nazi pasts to boot, are a bit alarmed by this collaboration because the newspapers got a whiff of them and decides to call the girl “his whore.” Is their apprehension legitimate?
Well, they did sleep together.
It’s not as disappointing of a plot turn as it sounds. She comes on to him and it’s obvious that she’s looking for something more physical, but the movie doesn’t portray that clumsily. The shame that the Vangers try to attach to this relationship isn’t floating around it neither. They’re both cautious to fall in love and he thinks it a bit unfair that she’s so closed up and distant. It’s a bit one sided in that he looks at her with admiration and she has to muscle up to solve the case and save his life. But they’re taking their relationship one step at a time, and that seems very mature. The relationship feels unprofessional but not creepy, since she’s just as much as an adult as he is.
I’ll talk about Lisbeth the character and performance, that I was forewarned that Noomi Rapace looks nothing like the girl she plays made me concentrate on detaching the facade of ‘Lisbeth’ while watching the movie. That her face looks cheekbone-y and angular unlike the soft faces of most women in Hollywood. That she’s allowed to be an adult especially when meeting Henrik Vanger’s lawyer, and she exceeds expectations in this part. There’s just something about her mannerisms, her black clothing, her gait, the she smokes to escape tense situations. Everyone’s excited about Lisbeth because she’s not passive like many Hollywood female characters. But when I watch her I feel like I’m seeing another archetype instead of a full, nuanced character.
And I could have done away with one of the rape scenes. And done away with “fuck,” “evil motherfucker” and other ub-subtleties. And I’m not sure if people on probation in Sweden are that defenceless against their parole officers. And I don’t like the direction of the denouement of the movie. And I don’t like how the movie portrays certain sexual acts as punishment. And why is Clarice doing research while Crawford is with the killer? That’s not how it works although I respect the spin.
I also have issues with the trailer of the film, or at least the version that I’ve seen. It barely lets us in on any dialogue. Why hide the fact that the movie’s in Swedish?