Thursday, October 13, 2005

Saraband by Graham Buchan

Saraband, written and directed by Ingmar Bergman

Liv Ullman has a face at once so sympathetic, so understanding, so intelligent and so lived in, that one could wish for her to be mother, lover, psychiatrist and nurse all rolled into one. In Saraband she plays Marianne, the ex-wife re-visiting her husband Johan (Erland Josephson), a retired academic now in his mid-eighties, for the first time in thirty years. And this film is the first for cinema that Ingmar Bergman, now 87, has made for twenty-three years.

From the 1950’s to the 1980’s Ingmar Bergman wrote and directed films of great intensity which were mainly concerned with spiritual and psychological conflict. Almost all set within his native Sweden, he explored, more persuasively than any other director, themes of personal identity, of love (and its associated difficulties), of man’s relationship to God, his relationship to art, and the dominance of death. Usually keeping to a small band of trusted actors, his characters were often at breaking point. To put it glibly, Bergman was the very embodiment of Scandinavian gloom. Yet the films, often shot through with the fine clear light of that gentle northern land, were also strangely uplifting, in that they explored these concerns with such searing honesty. If one felt that human existence was difficult, then at least this perceptive artist was on the same journey.

Saraband is a return to some of this territory. The film concerns Marianne, Johan, Johan’s middle-aged son (from a different marriage) Henrik, who lives in another cottage on the same country estate, and Henrik’s gifted 19-year-old daughter Karin. Johan and Henrik loath each other, but are both fiercely protective of Karin. They are also both mourning Anna, Henrik’s wife who died two years previously. Henrik, an overweight, failed musician, is coaching Karin in cello, with plans for her to audition for the conservatory. Marianne, the intuitive outsider, senses the intensity of the power struggle of the two men over Karin’s future, and Karin confides to Marianne that, although she loves her father intensely (and there is at least a hint of incest) she is being suffocated by his protection.

There are ten scenes, with only two characters in each scene (a saraband was a 17th century dance), and the whole is framed by a prologue and an epilogue in which Marianne addresses the camera directly. Bergman’s genius is to make all his characters compelling and three-dimensional, even when they are palpably unlikeable. He is assisted by a quartet of actors (in particular Borje Ahlstadt’s Henrik should be mentioned) who inhabit their characters with such fierce conviction, it is impossible to imagine them relaxing between takes. Though bleak in the extreme, by the end one senses a certain hope as Karin, at last, makes her own choices for her art and her life.

Music of course plays a central role, and one remembers Bergman’s previous titles include The Autumn Sonata and The Magic Flute. For this director, it is no surprise that the least conscious of all the arts has a special importance.

The disappointment of the film is that visually it is so conservative. Confined almost entirely to interiors, it represents a superb piece of writing for television, but not cinema. Bergman’s truly great films – one thinks of The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The Shame and Cries and Whispers, but there are many others – all left one with haunting images which would sit in the mind for weeks. Apart from the faces, that is not the case here.

This is very likely to be Bergman’s final film. It is not his greatest, but compared to the vast majority of today’s fare, it is gripping, intelligent and important.

© Graham Buchan 2005

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by x&al danzabel

Here comes another of myreview attempts - I got
fantastic feedback about the review of THE

x&al danzabel's comedy attempt at a Review about

" The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy "

Directed by Garth Jennings Starring Martin Freeman
Sam Rockwell Mos Def - and BEST of all M A R V I N !

It is supposed to be a comedy - THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE
TO THE GALAXY - Earthman Arthur Dent is having a very
bad day - what a laugh ! His house is about to be
bulldozed - what a laugh ! He discovers that his best
friend is an alien - what a laugh !Planet Earth is
about to be demolished to make way for a hyperspace
bypass - what a laugh ! Arthur's only chance for
survival: hitch a ride on a passing spacecraft - what
a laugh ! For the novice space traveller, the greatest
adventure in the universe begins when the world ends -
what a laugh !

Earthman Arthur sets out on a journey in which he
finds that nothing is as it seems - what a laugh ! He
learns that a towel is just about the most useful
thing in the universe - what a laugh ! He finds the
meaning of life - what a laugh ! He discovers that
everything Earthman Arthur needs to know can be found
in one book: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Anyway - I fell in love with M A R V I N - it is a
round and white and dainty and sad robot - After the
film I went to nearby Woolworths store and wanted to
buy a model of Marvin - I patted the silent and sad
robot and left - I did not pay £ 8.99 for it since I
am still a Virgin Grandmother which means I dont have
a grandchild to bring Marvin to when visiting next
time around. But I saw in a window in Ottokar's
bookshop in Greenwhich near Cutty Sark a large poster
and as soon as they redecorate they will send a
message into myemail box and I can have it for free -
what a laugh !

I remember having had a look at the book and found it
not tempting and I remember going to the cinema
version without temptation - I just wanted to be an
IN-Person because I am a galaxy fan - what a laugh !
With 24.387 days on this Planet Terra I am all ready -
steady - gooooo ! for my next starhopping session -
without any body at all -

I recommend this film and wont tell you more about it
- for I want you to have a laugh ! honestly !

With a Marvinesque smile I am
x&al danzabel