Tuesday, July 25, 2017

1961 Winner, Through a Glass Darkly

Through a Glass Darkly

Director:        Ingmar Bergman

Distributed by:  Janus Films

Released:  October 1961

Country:  Sweden

The idea of a family vacation can often be far superior to an actual family vacation.  Someone gets the idea that it will be great to spend days together in a little cottage near the water somewhere to get away from the pressures and boredom of regular life at home.  A lot of the time, the vacation is just what was needed, but going home to sleep in one’s own bed is a concept that should not be underestimated.  There is something confining about spending time in a little house with people who don’t have jobs to go to or errands to run.  A week in a cabin isolated from the rest of the world might just lead to a bit of craziness.

In Through a Glass Darkly, 1961’s Best Foreign Film by legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, we have a family of four off on a getaway to remote island to spend some quality time together.  There indeed is craziness, but the kind that existed before this get-together and goes deeper than a few days of isolation. 

Martin (Max von Sydow) and Karin (Harriet Andersson)
The family consists of four:  There is the father, David, who is a novelist and an absentee dad always away working.  There is his son, Minus, who has an inferiority complex that reflects his unfortunate name.  David’s friend Martin is with them, a man roughly David’s age but married to David’s daughter, Karin, who initially seems like the stabilizer in the family, but in reality is certainly not. 

The four of them joke around and make conversation like any family would at the start of spending time together.  Things get a little dicey when Minus, who is an aspiring writer, and Karin put on a play for the other two.  It's something Minus wrote with the thinly-veiled message that Minus thinks Dad is a bigtime jerk.  David has a hard time relating to his kids and only shares his deepest feelings with his friend Martin, played by Max von Sydow (who also stars in 1983’s Pelle the Conqueror, and the soon to be reviewed The Virgin Spring).  Cryptically, they discuss Karin’s previous illness. 

The Exorcist:  Max von Sydow has had to deal with worse
And Karin’s illness is the center of the film.  It seems she is having difficulty keeping a grip on reality, and things don’t look promising that she will get better.  And perhaps because she is a key relationship for each of the three men around her, things don’t really look promising for this family.  Even though Karin’s mental illness is the subject, to me the real story is how it affects the other family members, both tragically and with an ounce of hope.

Through a Glass Darkly is a talky film, centering on the individual relationships within the family and how the family exists as a unit.  But this is an Ingmar Bergen movie, so the subject matter is much broader than a summary of the film would provide—like in Fanny and Alexander, Bergman's 1983 Best Foreign Film winner (released in 1982), religious themes abound, carefully woven into the story and into the characters.   In the end, though this family endures the tragedy that mental illness can bring, since a God exists, there is always hope that will endure.

The Title:  Såsom i en spegel, which literally means, “as in a mirror.”  The title is a reference to 1Corinthians 13, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.”  This is from the “love” epistle of Paul, frequently used at weddings, with the chapter ending with: “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Things often go wrong on a family vacation
The culture:  The movie is set on Fårö, a Swedish island popular to vacationers and a location to a number of Bergman films.  The island may be quite beautiful, but the black and white photography makes it appear stark and devoid of warmth, reflective of the family and of the mental illness that isolates Karin.

Agenda danger:  The movie is grim, but the message is less so.  In some ways, mental illness is not only confined to the daughter, but to the entire family, both individually and as a group.  But the relationships survive, and especially redeeming is the final conversation between Minus and his father.

Best Picture that year:  West Side Story

Rating:  The film is essentially a three-act play with lots of dialogue and little action, and if you go into this understanding that, I think it is quite good and thought-provoking.  A nice short little film by a master director.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

1962 Winner, Sundays and Cybele

Sundays and Cybele

Director:        Serge Bourguignon

Distributed by:  Columbia Pictures

Released:  November 1962

Country:  France

In the movies, it’s very common to see love stories in which the man is significantly older than the woman.  Somehow it doesn’t seem as unrealistic as it is in real life—imagine some grandpa who looks like Humphry Bogart (56) ending up with a young girl who looks like Audrey Hepburn (25)—it of course happened in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina (1954).  Honestly, it would probably be weird to see a post-1980 movie with Jack Nicholson hooking up with anyone in his general age bracket.

1962’s Best Foreign Film Sundays and Cybele gives us a relationship in which the age difference is a little more on the unacceptable side, with the guy in his mid-30’s and the girl being a lot younger.  As in 12-years-old.  Now that’s weird.  But this movie isn’t like Lolita, the Stanley Kubrick dark comedy of the same year.  Oddly enough, the man in this relationship, Pierre, isn’t a perv like the old man in that book by Nabakov, and this is definitely not a comedy but an out-and-out tragedy.

Pierre and Cybele
The film starts with an action scene:  Pierre is a fighter pilot in Indochina (now Vietnam, and the subject of 1992’s Best Foreign Film winner, Indochine, starring Catherine Deneuve), flying over a small village and finding he will have to crash land right on a little Vietnamese girl.  We next see Pierre back in France some time later, having a pretty nurse girlfriend, Madeleine, but greatly damaged by his past.  He doesn’t really remember who he is and despite Madeleine’s best efforts, it seems he’s lost his sexual mojo.  But in 1962 France they don’t have Viagra or side-to-side-bathtubs, so Madeleine, faithfully in love with the vacant Pierre, has to take up knitting or kick boxing to work out her frustrations.  She has a male doctor colleague, Bernard, who is more than willing to step into the adjoining tub with her.

But the main focus is on Pierre.  Pierre meets a little girl, Cybele, who is being dumped by her father into a convent to be raised.  It seems the dad was stuck with her somehow and wants nothing to do with her.  Pierre learns of this and feels bad for his new friend.  He poses as her father and picks her up one day so that she can have some time away from her new hated home.  Soon, they make it a regular thing, with Pierre taking her to the park and hanging out and chatting with her for hours every Sunday.

Pierre and Madeleine
He is very innocent about it, no creepy hugs or lingering looks or anything icky like that.  Still, this is a romance of sorts—Cybele calls Pierre her fiancé and he gets intensely jealous when he sees another 12-year old, a boy, chatting with her.  As clueless as he is, Pierre knows to conceal the relationship from Madeleine.  Still, they are out in public all the time, so you know this isn’t going to end well.

Sundays and Cybele is really a sweet movie, and you cannot help hoping for the best for these two lovebirds.  It’s not Pierre’s fault where he is mentally, and Patricia Gozzi as Cybele is such a charming and intelligent girl, it seems odd any father would want to dump her off at a convent.  Hardy Krüger plays Pierre perfectly, a completely sympathetic figure having a relationship that would seem so abhorrent to an outsider.  French composer Maurice Jarre, who won an Oscar for Best Score for Lawrence of Arabia that same year, was also nominated for “Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment” for Sundays and Cybele.

"Grandpa, you smell like whiskey and cigars"
The Title:  Les dimanches de Ville d'Avray (Sundays in Ville d'Avray).  Ville d’Avray in the suburb where Pierre takes Cybele to hang out every week.

The culture:  France was out of Vietnam after 1954, when Dien Bien Phu fell, so this must take place sometime in the early 1950’s.  Given Pierre’s state after his crash, this movie can be construed to be one of the earliest anti-Vietnam war movies, in a way.

Agenda danger:  Whatever your view on the vast changes in the past decade or less on American views on sexuality and appropriate relationships, the views on pedophilia largely remain unchanged.  This movie is not an attempt at normalizing this kind of relationship.  The point is, Pierre is really a child like Cybele, and Cybele needed someone who cared about her. 

Best Picture that year:  Lawrence of Arabia

Rating:  The story is as unique as the relationship between Pierre and Cybele.  Honestly, I didn’t much buy into Pierre’s relationship with Madeleine, as it didn’t really make sense to me why she was with him in the first place.  But as potentially disturbing as relationship between the adult man and girl is, they both were realistic about who they were.  Cybele talks about them getting married years from now, when they are both of appropriate age, and for his part, Pierre seems to never have an untoward thought about her in his head.  For my money, their relationship seemed a lot more likely than Grandpa Bogart and fresh-out-of-cooking-school Sabrina.