Before even seeing Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal,” we’re probably already aware of the iconic images of Death (Bengt Ekerot) extended, cloaked right arm and his game of chess with a knight named Antonius Block (Max von Sydow). These are the kind of scenes you save from the ending of a movie but Bergman makes the momentous meeting between Death and his challenger in the beginning. Like what can Bergman possibly give us for the rest of his movie’s 92-minute running time? How many times will Death and Antonius meet again, and how is it going to involve a coast village full of actors (Bibi Andersson and Nils Poppe) and the occasional blacksmith (Aki Fridell) and witch (Maud Hansson)?
I must say that I’m more of a Bergman fan when his work was grounded in more recent settings as well as more contemporary emotional and psychological concerns. Although I’m not saying that his work before “Persona” had no merits. “The Virgin Spring” hit me hard but like it, “The Seventh Seal” have the same primitive, storybook-like air and pacing to it, the characters having the same abstract dimensions within a unique yet helplessly dated environment.
But while it might lack the kind of articulation of character that I’m used to in his work or in other works, it does show all of them within this cultural fabric that’s obsessed with death. It is the medieval Europe after all, after all, when people equally feared God and the Bubonic plague. And with the actors and fresco painters as characters in this movie we can see art making these zeitgeist-y questions more permanent for future generations to see and remember. Maybe it’s this distance between my culture and the one I’m watching, a distance I lamented at one point, comes to the movies benefits because contemporary eyes will always see something fresh with the time capsule what Bergman puts on-screen.
A Plague-filled country isn’t the best one that anyone could return to, especially Antonius who has just fought valiantly during the Crusades and has thus seen his own share of multiple deaths. One can read his return and his meeting with death with suspicion, the seemingly noble, well-intentioned man inadvertently bringing death wherever he goes. But we don’t necessarily have to blame colonialism or other countries for bringing death home. Death is inescapable.
Since we’re on the topic of culture and widespread death, notice Bergman’s sober perspective on how the characters form quick grudges and bonds. Men switch territories, actors change visions, women cheat on their lovers. Yes, sometimes, people and their trust for each other are their worst enemies, as Death consistently tricks Antonius with his disguises. And yes, it’s easy for other storytellers to blame other humans or the necessary evil of interpersonal relations on the deaths occurring during the movie’s time frame. But despite of its implications of human passiveness, Bergman lets these characters bond and forgive each other, setting necessary boundaries to keep the really bad people out. The movie also stars a younger, rougher Gunnar Bjornstrand as Antonius’ squire, belonging to a set of actors whom Bergman will continue to use.
- Oscar Horrors: ‘The Virgin Spring’ (thefilmexperience.net)
Ingmar Bergman‘s Fanny och Alexander is not just a pretty gilded portrait of a well to do Swedish family, the Ekdahls, who face constant threats towards its dissolution. Interpretations of this movie are boundless, whether we’re looking at it in terms of class, religion, life reflecting art, human fortitude and intentionally terrible child rearing.
I also see the widowed actress Emilie Ekdahl’s (Ewa Froeling) second marriage to Bishop Edvard Vergerus (Jan Malmsjo) and their inevitably toxic relationship as a metaphor for the austere nature of mourning.
Critics have applauded the film’s lack of neuroses but let’s be tools and look at it in that perspective anyway. Besides, this is about Emilie’s son Alexander’s (Bertil Guve) childhood and the events in that stage of his life will be the one he would most likely recall as a functioning yet fractured adult would. The spirit of Alexander’s father Oscar first appears while playing the piano and seems to rest after he gives his son advice. What haunts me the most is when Edvard visits Alexander. As if by helping killing Edvard off – there’s a part of me that wants that scene remade so that I can see what Jessica Chastain, who so really needs more work, can do as Ishmael, Alexander’s mystical ally – Alexander replaces his father with his strict stepfather. ‘The horrible, dirty life engulfs us’ as Alexander’s grandmother Helene says as she wipes her tears and leans on her Jewish paramour Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson). But the Ekdahls are a well-natured bunch and their happy moments cushion the movie’s scary message.
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?