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philipdavies

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11 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
Histoire d'eau - Godard and the ultimate cinema of flux., 21 November 2003

Stagily whispered narration, more like idle gossip than full-blown conspiracy.

Non-sequiturial loose-ends of non-communication between the characters, and conversations between the actors and the director which we are not allowed to follow.

Uncommunicative and unengaged philosophico-political maunderings of citizens who are floundering conceptually in a system that cannot sustain them, either morally or intellectually.

A view of Parisian building-sites as a social upheaval which yet represents the antithesis of any structural or constructivist manifestation of social progress.

A film that is, like the capitalist society that has the eye of the camera hypnotised, a profoundly blank and alienating surface, whose technique is only occasionally relieved by gratuitous scenes of meaning:

E.g. -

A woman trapped in a sink estate and yearning to be free, who is compelled by the desparation of her dream to entrap and enslave herself even further through prostitution;

The intrusion of a pimp-like meter-reader into the pure nakedness of private space;

A creche in a brothel;

A secular catechesis - The simple, non-sexual, non-manipulative dialectic of honest exploration that makes us human;

The still-birth of revolutionary thought as the spiral galaxy in a coffee-cup ...

All-in-all, the representation of a society which is profoundly inhospitable to the human beings who should constitute it, and which consequently does not permit the realisation of any aspect of humanity.

All we get are fugitive glimpses of life in the process of moral and intellectual decay. Thought and character remains unrealised, and the film is therefore also inchoate as the necessary reflection of this social unreality.

Here is a wan world, haemmoraging meaning as we watch. Here before us are the helpless ghosts of an industrial medium. They dance fitfully in the unchanging wind, the fantastic commercial simulacra in which we bind our free nature.

Strips of film, strung out like human fly-paper, where fluttering images stick only as they die. In place of creative pressure, an air of ennui, of carelessness: A drop-out film - a film of drop-outs, plot-holes in the threadbare social fabric, - neglectful of all appearances. The face of the film gazes basilisk-like out upon the viewer, resentful of our settled habits of non-involvement. Two frozen gazes cancel, the mutual incomprehension only verging on hostile irritation. No reaction. No drama. The light dies.

The hypnotic mirror of reproach whose conscience we yearn to assuage, that traps our humanity in the voyeur's dream, as it is projected back upon us in the Gorgon's gaze.

Desire is petrified - one's petty film-going expectations of this penetration of dark places disappointed. One escapes from the deathly spell of cinema into the real world.

Godard's lesson is that there is nothing meaningful in this cave of artificial shadows, and that he will bitterly wean us from our facile consumerist dreams, that we may the better engage with the harsh political realities of life.

The radically disillusioned auteur deconstructs himself. Le derniere vague flops exhausted on that endless strip where empty sprocket-holes run on aimlessly towards a dying sun.

The mechanism of dreams runs down.

We are not automata - we are made up by life. To live is the story we enact, without intermediary, and unmediated. The immediate and the authentic are alien to art. Art is a whispering empty shell left high and dry. Life is not the element of dead things: Do not listen to the shallow siren voice of le faux vague! Plunge back into humanity's proper medium.

Thus does a revolution in seeing strip out the gelatinous scales of our burned-out eyes, and there is no more interference with the wavelengths of light being broadcast from the nearest star.

Thus do the sighing bones of life articulate the bounds of existence.

We are the tides that wax and wane - the ocean that overwhelms itself, drowning its own waves in one flood of being.

Godard's film and films are under the influence of this larger movement. With his work, we are cast adrift from all anchors and familiar landmarks. We are 'all at sea'. There is a transition - a movement that is perhaps nearer to momentum than inertia - from whence we cannot recall to whither we cannot see. His is the ultimate cinema of flux.

58 out of 105 people found the following review useful:
'Hair was bad enough, but this is a load of dandruff.', 26 October 2007
1/10

I can't better Philip French's dismissal (above) of this film (from his 'Observer' column). I am embarrassed for Ms Taymor, who - on the evidence of 'Titus' and 'Frida' - is a hugely talented filmmaker.

But here the director's talents are only intermittently diverting, and cannot save what is an utterly pointless project.

As 'versions' of the originals the songs are often attractively delivered, though too often with a bland professionalism that entirely lacks any edge. The Gospel choir, and perhaps some of 'Sadie''s numbers, are quite powerful in themselves, but even these positive examples hardly rate a notice in the context of what heights cinema musicals have already hit. The song-and-dance routines - though fanatically well disciplined (as if that would subdue all opposition!) - are uniformly appalling, and would have instantly bombed on the stage of any professional theatre. They are all manic energy without real engagement.

It does not help that all the characters are annoyingly and rather dishonestly tangential to historical reality - like a reminiscence of the great originals ('Jude' = 'Paul Macartney', 'Sadie' = 'Janis Joplin' for instance), or merely inserted as an incarnation of a song (the otherwise pointless 'Prudence'), or of something wildly trippy in a cartoonish way (a brilliant Eddie Izzard completely wasted in a misfiring farrago entirely bereft of any identification with the hippy ethos - to call it 'pastiche' would be to wildly over-praise it).

Even the more 'down-to-earth' scenes back in Liverpool lack any substance at all: Even the Albert Docks location looks as gentrified here as it has become in reality, at the hands of the property developers. (One would have expected the well-known team of British writers to have got this right, at least.) In fact the whole picture suffers from a total failure to identify with the time and culture it is feverishly and showily pursuing.

And the more it pursues, the further off is that authentic psychedelic rainbow.

Perhaps Julie Taymor is in pursuit of her own lost girlhood, which would explain the self-indulgence in the unspeakably trite American family clichés ... But surely better, in such a case, that she should have created or commissioned a more focused screenplay: This one seems hopelessly hung-up on squeezing in the absolute max. of Beatles songs.

And we don't even get a decent pastiche of Dick Lester's witty style of early Beatles' music-video, for God's sake! Humour is indeed direly lacking - how the team of Clement and la Frenais, the writers of the gloriously funny and characterful 'Auf Wiedersehen, Pet' saga, could ever agree to pen this flat, bland, po-faced, Americanisation of a major part of their own popular cultural heritage from the industrial North of England is beyond me! And the hyper-Hollywood style of 'musical number' sits very ill with the naivety at the heart of the subject. The truth is, I am afraid, that the film is ludicrously over-ambitious in terms of mere personal grandstanding by the director at her most showy: 'Look at me, isn't this brilliant?' Actually, 'No, Ms Taymor.' As director she neither reveals nor evokes any love for her subject. It is indeed a really stupid movie, whose ambition is all for the perfection of the surfaces, but which possesses not one spark of inspiration whatsoever.

But the biggest mistake of all was to portray the whole era as some kind of alternative reality, existing 'Across the Universe,' which actually lacks inspiration and magic in direct proportion to its distance from the original milieu that inspired the songs (a kind of Anti-Oz one might say). Crucially, since the film's entire mise en scene is set neither in any convincing 'then' nor in any engaging 'now' it is difficult to see what possible relevance or attraction it possesses for any audience.

Taymor has been lost in this No-Man's-Land, which is the result of exposing the inadequate simplicities of the sketchy plot to the whole industrial panoply of Hollywood: She wanders through a scene of artistic devastation, amongst groves of burnt-out and songless trees. And were that (or something like) a defining image of her own creation, we might at least have had a half-decent anti-war movie! As it is, even Cliff Richard's safe old 'Summer Holiday' vehicle seems more relevant and punchy.

And what sublime madness could a Ken Russell in his reprobate heyday have wrought with such a subject ....! But we torment ourselves with such 'might-have-beens.' Or rather, these things have been before, and far better done, and there was absolutely no reason for this film to exist in the first place. It is a completely misbegotten enterprise and will be utterly forgotten by next week, if not sooner.

Aprili (1961)
18 out of 22 people found the following review useful:
Old in experience - young at heart., 13 October 2004

This short film, from Iosseliani's apprentice years during the Soviet era in his native Georgia, is a charming, humorous, yet barbed, contemporary fable of modern life and traditional values.

It shows the age-old tension between the tender intimacy of young love and the blundering officiousness of serious adult society. Along the way it shows the public mobilization of Labour in conflict with the private need for space in which to cultivate the personal, be it physical or musical culture, or the mutual rapture of intimacy. Indeed, the film may be said to deplore the increasing 'meuble-isation' of Soviet society, as its 'embourgement' proceeds apace to stuff the clean modern apartments of the new worker's housing development with heavy black furniture and fragile glass ornaments.

As little old men dressed in dingy black overalls and flat caps begin to infest the streets and corridors of the lover's home town with the increasingly distracting noise and bustle of unwanted deliveries of unwanted, ugly, old-fashioned, furniture, Iosselliani's whimsical yet shrewd penchant for Tati-esquire comedy is given much scope. But there is a native Georgian poetry in his heart, also.

The young couple move into one of the new apartments, and are delighted with its clean, uncluttered modernity: All the modern conveniences of daily living, such as the running water on tap in the kitchen, the large gas-range, and the electric light are welcomed with the same innocent wonder as the traditional beauties of Georgian nature, in which the lovers originally had their tryst. Indeed, so magical are these socialist goods, that the bulb lights, the water flows, and the gas rings leap with flame merely in sympathetic response to the lover's desire!

But all soon goes wrong, as the couple sit, alienated from each other, in their now hopelessly cluttered flat, by the obstacle of possessions, with a jail-like array of locks and padlocks and chains and bolts on the entrance to secure the imposed paranoia of this materialist burden. No longer do the bulb, the gas, and the water glow and dance and sparkle at will for them!

Sadly, the ancient tree, where lovers must have met for generations before ours were born and came to meet there themselves in happier days, is chopped down by the little, Kafkaesque, human furniture-beetles, in order to inflict yet more hideous appurtenances of an uncomfortable existence on the already cramped lives of the people.

However, in a joyous rebellion against all such pointless and restricting formalism, whereby the most trivial details of private life have somehow been unsympathetically dictated without any prior consultation, the inhabitants begin throwing their furniture out of the windows, satisfactorily reducing it to matchwood below! (The Soviet censors took a dim view of such anti-social waste.)

Even the young Iosselliani has a wonderfully keen eye, and there are wonderful scenes, both comic and piquant. He also possesses a remarkable cinematic intelligence, demonstrating here a superb technical finesse in the construction and cinematography of his film. The use of sound, in what is essentially an example of 'Cinema muto,' is particularly brilliant, and orchestrated to a degree that again puts us in mind of Tati. The use of people as mimes of the director's intentions, rather than as actors in their own right, is also reminiscent of Tati's approach to film performance.

The whole effect is dreamlike and magical, leaving one with the sense only folk-tales can give, of having recollected the story from somewhere - perhaps one's earliest years - and never really forgotten it. I had the strange feeling that I had seen it somewhere before, long ago ... and yet I know this cannot be possible.

There is a timelessness in the world Iosselliani has conjured up here which has been patiently awaiting our return to consciousness of it. And thanks to Cahiers du Cinema and 'blaq out' it awaits anyone who wishes to have it, since it has been issued in France as part of a wonderful boxed set of 7 DVD recordings of a lifetime of Iosseliani films.

7 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
War in Heaven, 10 August 2010
10/10

This remarkable series passed me by on this sublunary sphere. It did not descend to the terrestrial regions where lesser work crawls.

So I bought the boxed DVDs to see what all this distant thunder was about ...

Now I know: Sky's little satellite had picked up the distant waves of a War in Heaven.

Not an ordinary science-fiction shoot-em-up, you understand, but a metaphysical battle for the soul of man, set afar-off in those remote regions where this fragile organic life somehow exploded out of the dust of unstable minerals.

Taking us on a visionary journey through the mind-bending creative forces first discovered and harnessed by Cosmonaut Tarkovsky and Astronaut Kubrick, we are brought to appreciate, by the time we have been exposed to the double episode "Resurrection Ship," that "Battlestar Galactica" is one of the greatest epics realised since Milton's "Paradise Lost" burst upon an astonished world.

I do not care if idle pedestrians jeer at me in the street for a zany...

Because I have seen a manifestation of something marvellous, a creation touched by genius, and that mad stare you see in my eye is Dr. Gaius Baltasar on a good day, perfectly in his right mind and filled with love, and wonder.

To speak more scientifically, my 'Peak in Darien' is the soul of the Hubble Space Telescope - or it is the wandering spirit of Voyager - and it is a sensation of being filled with the wildest surmise that ever came out of that hissing, scratching box in the corner where the electric tiger was penned in an ocean of white noise.

I sit in the electric snow of stars as Lee Adama falls in love with easeful Death, and I feel the fatal, ecstatic embrace of Heaven ...

This Truth will be known in years to come.

There's nothing like tragedy for sobering you up., 23 October 2002

The cruel machinery of Capital and Macarthyism savages Selma, handicapped single mother and refugee from Communist Czechoslovakia, until her naive American dream is cruelly and comprehensively destroyed. Yet, out of the total ruin of her impossibly romantic vision there arises - through the miracle of her (literally) blind faith in her dream - the hope of a new generation, when she succeeds in bequeathing to her son a Promised Land that must forever be hidden from her own darkening prospect.

[PARAGRAPH]The hyper-reality of the musical escapes, which Selma's mind is forced through the harshness and disappointment of her impoverished life in America to indulge, deploy an impressive range of cinematic tricks. Von Trier is thoughtfully demonstrating the unhealthy nature of the culture that Hollywood services. This is a machine-culture, just as the Soviet model which Selma sought to escape is a Robot culture, and her tragic fantasies of transforming such crude machinery into the stuff of dreams - a la the American musical - are no better than escapist delusion. There comes to mind the famous reflection of Marx, regretting another cultural 'opium', that was such a need of the People in a hostile capitalist culture.

[PARAGRAPH]Ultimately, the film deliberately follows Selma's saving intuition that fantasy-closure is a false closure: Both the character Selma and the director insist that the 'last' musical escape from unbearable reality is nothing of the kind. Just as, in childhood, Selma loved to leave the cinema before the last number, so as to allow the film to play on into her everyday experience, so von Trier refuses the musical's traditionally crafted formulae of neat closure. As in the theatre of Euripides, we are given only the appearance of intervention by some reliable mechanical agency external to the ineluctable logic of the action, and are left with a chilly realisation of the irrelevance of all human artifice and contrivance.

[PARAGRAPH]It is with this understanding that it is only the striving for absolute integrity that can hope to redeem humanity that von Trier vindicates his own oft-quoted Dogme manifesto with a moral dimension. In that much misunderstood document, a responsible film-maker just seeks to remind himself and anyone who cares to listen that creative falsity should be avoided: He declares himself to be an enemy of the facile and the formulaic, which are the stock-in-trade of the industrial manufacturers of mere entertainment.

[PARAGRAPH]Thus, the musical 'escapes' are the cruellest parts of the film, and the audience's manufactured pleasures are predicated on Selma's pain. It is deliberately contrived that the execution suite reminds us of the tiny amateur rehearsal stage for Selma's beloved 'Sound of Music': The ultimate escape, for us as for Selma, is from man's vicious contrivances. The spectacle of dancing in the dark finally seems like an access of shame and guiltiness on the director's part for his complicity in this relentless tragedy of a blameless, if perhaps mistaken, life: A complete aversion of the agent of sight, in a kind of upward-rolling cinematic faint, obliterates the uniquely visual nature of the medium. No shallow theme-park shudder can shake off this existential horror. And yet ... this juddering fearful monster is the breathing human heart: Terrible, but irreduceably it is Life, it is what makes us human.

[PARAGRAPH]It strikes one that there are themes here that could be pursued also, with some benefit, in a study of Kubrick's 'Clockwork Orange', recently re-released. From a Dogme point of view, it has recently struck me that Kubrick sees his own film as just another clockwork orange - just another disappointing toy, drained of all substance. Where Kubrick employed an increasingly abused Beethoven (and his misguided 'disciple' Alex) as an epic measure of modernity's meaninglessness, so von Trier gives us Bjork's child-like musical grace as a comparable measure of the terrible Fall of Man. It is neither the abominably misguided Alex, nor the naively confused Selma ('Silly Selma' as she calls herself) who are to blame for the state of this world. Of course, they are its necessary victims. They are both subject to cultural formulae of near-diabolical power, that influence them in ways they do not understand. The crude commercial materialism of Kubrick's Dystopia is as much the villain of his piece as is the 'happy-ever-after' Panglossianism that has so nearly seduced Selma, in von Trier's.

[PARAGRAPH]In both films, we are appalled by the reductive effect which modern culture, and even the very medium of communication, has upon the individual. This is the surest demonstration of the necessity of such unblinking creative honesty. Such individuals purify human experience, by their lonely willingness to confront the dark places of human experience. We are not far from the Aristotelian notion of 'catharsis', or purgation, in thinking so. Ours is a society sickened by a surfeit of addictive trash. Well, there's nothing like tragedy for sobering you up. It is a paradox often observed since the days of the earliest Greek dramas, that the spectacle of horror - conveyed not crudely, but with humane empathy, be it understood - is morally purifying. In this context, it is the censors who are the immoralists. Kubrick, of course, spared his film from the fate of being regarded as smut only fit for suppression, by withdrawing it himself. It had become a clockwork orange in the hands of the cultural arbiters. And its disappearance was another act in the tragedy of Alex - as the refusal by von Trier to conform to the commercial demands of the entertainment industry finds its dramatic counterpart in the musical delusions of Selma.

Dawn (1928)
5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Book-of-the-film, 23 April 2003

The notorious case of the English nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed by the German invaders of Belgium during the First World War, because she helped retreating allied soldiers to evade capture, was the basis for this film, which was (incredibly) banned in Britain.

As a viewing of the film seems unlikely to all but a privileged minority of archival professionals, the original 'Book-of-the-film' may still be obtained from second-hand booksellers to give some idea of its approach to the subject. It is:

Dawn / by Reginald Berkeley. - London : The London Book Co., 1928] - The Novel Library.

This novelization of the film is 240 pages in length, and includes 8 production stills.

3 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Wim Wenders' meandering bore of a film., 22 January 2004

Pretentious self-indulgence. An incomprehensible, rambling doodle that was based - for some inexplicable reason! - on a thriller scenario (for goodness' sake!). The thriller is definitely not a wise choice for the naturally discursive Wenders. Not here the mercurial brilliance of the French New Wave, re-imagining the quick-fire cynicism that plays over the sharp, obsidian surface of Hollywood noir. The film that suited Wenders' talent was his later 'Wings of desire,' the dreamlike stream-of-consciousness of which conjured the eccentric poetry of a certain place and time.

Please take just one look at any of the often crazy but always disciplined, focused, films of Werner Herzog, and see exactly the cinematic intensity that is missing from Wim Wenders' meandering bore of a film. Or look at Dassin (Rififi) - or Melville (Le Doulos) - Godard (A Bout de Souffle) - or even Truffaut (Tirez sur la pianiste) - or such sharp modern naturalisations to a French ambience of the American gangster genre as Leon (Luc Besson) - and then, watch that wildly futuristic-looking re-invention of the legendary father of the Surete, Vidocq: In these wonderful movies the intellectual and cynically playful Gallic intelligence creates genuine originals out of the radical re-invention of their hommages, whether the hommage be to an alien cinema genre, or to an exotic broadside entertainment from the streets of a vanished Paris.

Wenders' fellow countryman Herzog can still do darkness and nastiness with real style; Wenders admits to having considerable trouble portraying baddies. The whole project was doomed from the start.

Eldra (2003)
4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A miniature masterpiece, 29 January 2007
8/10

The matter-of-fact acceptance by the Romani of the wonderful truths of their traditional beliefs is beautifully played out, in this miniature masterpiece, against the equal hatred and fascination of the settled modern community which surrounds them, under the looming industrial backdrop of the slate-tips of Bethesda, in nineteen-thirties North Wales.

The excellent ensemble of Welsh actors have completely identified with this nostalgic, yet still relevant, glimpse of a famous harpist's girlhood. This Eldra of the title is beautifully realised by the young Iona Jones, in a performance of simple honesty. John Ogwen's grandfather ('Taid') is noteworthy as a gently feral goblin of a man who comes and goes like the fitful promptings of a race memory. The creative sympathy of Robat's (Gareth Wyn Roberts) encounter with these strange and exotic folk reveals the strength of a fine soul, already secure in his diminutive frame, and provides moreover a tragic contrast with the fearful aggression of his siblings, already wholly identified with an Americanised culture of capitalism and cheap sensation. The contrast with the gentle family relationship which Eldra's people seem to maintain with the whole of creation could hardly be greater.

Indeed, it is a shock to see Robat's brothers, in one scene, force him to play a despised 'Indian' to their fearful lynch-minded 'cowboys' in order to punish his race-treason. It should, however, be noted that the implied critique is probably more pertinent to the unformed characters of young lads, than intended as any wider sociological observation of the adult world which they inhabit: The quarrymen were generally a rather civilised lot, and it is perhaps the absence of any fuller presentation of their cultural background that limits this film. Lord Penrhyn is also perhaps too much of an old-fashioned top-hatted Marxist caricature.

It is of course possible to see this simplistic view of the dominant 'Gorja' culture as a representation of little Eldra's still unquestioning acceptance of her own people's mythic rendering of the shifting cultural and historical scenes around them in terms of their own ancient experience: Fascinating it is to see how she naturally recasts the 'Castle' of Lord Penrhyn in terms of the vanished feudal world of kings and peasants. This vital mythology is not a game to her, as 'Cowboys and indians' is only a game for the local lads - however revealing it may be to the observer. It flows from the childhood of the race, rather than from the latest Cowboy film at the local cinema.

The great strength of the film is, in fact, its location of 'fairyland' in the most powerful intuitions of our common human nature, and in its ability to show how the simple goodness of such a natural world is equally accessible to the two children, who befriend each other across the great cultural divide which so troubles the relations of their respective peoples.

This naturalism in the presentation of childhood puts this film into the same distinguished class as 'Fairy tale: a true story', that wonderful meditation on private childhood and public trauma in an England bereft of all certainties by the Great War. By the same token, 'Eldra' also stands as a quiet reproach to the rootless and empty biopic 'Miss Potter', which touches on its themes only to falsify them by the sort of frenetic dramatisation more suited to such barbarisms of shallow wish fulfilment as are enacted in American shoot-'em-ups; for be it ever so genteel, 'Miss Potter' is just the kind of film to perpetrate unthinking formulaic violence on an innocent subject! 'Miss Potter', with its intrusive animations, presents a Beatrix Potter who is to be understood and justified as a precursor of Walt Disney; 'Eldra' presents a child of nature, to be understood on her own terms, and in her own time. Eldra's animal companions - the fox and the owl - are themselves. Like an icon, the Welsh film extends its reality out into the world, from where it came. The big-production feature draws us into a manufactured make-believe masquerading as reality, and traps us in its world of airless contrivance.

Perhaps the most abiding image of 'Miss Potter' is her young brother impaling another moth for his collection, whilst crying 'Die, you devil.' The film has stirrings of an uneasy conscience.

Eldra's Brown Owl seems to fly off through the artificial night which supervenes after the final credits at the end of the Welsh film, magically transforming that impenetrable silence with one surprising cry. The 'smaller' film clearly has a grasp of something far grander than the posturings and muggings of the mainstream offering.

You only need see the natural face of Iona Jones and then the mannered and grotesque over-acting of Renee Zellweger, for comparison, to know instantly which is the greater film.

28 out of 44 people found the following review useful:
Life-affirming Bergman., 8 May 2003

Perhaps the most impressive feature of this wonderful film is the humility with which its creator presents it to the world, as if it were no grander than the old-fashioned Nativity-play shown in the early scenes at the Theatre.

At the end of this experience - to term it with any mere technical tag, like 'movie', would be inadequate - Bergman's profoundly grown-up disillusionment has transformed into the pure spirituality of abnegation and acceptance. His intellectual pilgrimage, through possibly the greatest career in films, finds the director arriving back where he began, with the great simplicities of life. But there is a difference with his return, which is that his prodigality over the years has burnt the rage out of him, and finally allowed him to 'enjoy what may be enjoyed' (as one of the Ekdahls says), without further fretting over the puzzle of human existence. From all this human folly (he clearly feels) comes the only wisdom, which is - simply - to be human.

It is, indeed, a film like no other for allowing the pieces of experience to settle into their appointed places. There is a beautiful quality of selfless resignation, in this last of his works for cinema, which finally and forever excels the sadistic disciplines of The Bishop.

This perverted creature confesses, to the new wife whom he has lost, how it is impossible to 'tear off the mask' as it is 'burned into my face': He is become an authoritarian '... a rite, a law, a custom - not a man'. [Shelley] Having put the notional love of God before that of humankind, there is nowhere for his personality to be re-enacted in the bosom of any kindly recollections that will survive him. Except in that of Alexander/Bergman, where his two, each-in-their-own-way terrifying, fathers, both the White and the Black opposites of an imagination flickering with the director's haunted vision, will project forever onto his Cinematic arena of stark absolutes the inner strife where each of us is locked away, struggling to endure the turmoil of these eternally irreconcilable truths.

The White Knight and The Black Bishop: These are phantom moves in our great game with Death, and pieces that will be returned into play for as long as humanity continues. How like Chess Life is: Just a game we play, with arbitrary rules, and yet whose progress is of supreme and abiding concern to each and every one of us.

This great work is a monument to play, in all its senses, not least the play of light and the play of ideas, both equally insubstantial and yet the essence of reality, eloquent as the silence of a great, roofless Cathedral. Out of the Ruin of Faith, Bergman has wrought a Peace that passeth understanding. And it is in this ultimate by-passing of the relentless structures of intellect that Bergman finally achieves the resolution of his productive neuroses, in a truly magical film whose every phase is as inevitable as breathing, or the changeable and unimpeded weather.

As the grandmother reflects. at last, 'I don't want to put Life together anymore. I just leave it broken. Strangely, it seems better that way.'

Death, in the end, is not a calamity, but the choice of all who have truly known Life. In other words, to choose Life is to accept its Dark partner, Death. And to accept each as part of the family group, even though they seem complete misfits there.

The old lady, with Strindberg's Dream-play in her lap, knows at last that the whole history of her family is only a personal reverie. And yet how much more real it seems than her son Carl's immature and somewhat absurd, angst-ridden railings against 'cruel Fate'!

Had he only accepted his patient wife's gently sympathetic injunction to 'Never mind' the Professor would have been both wiser and happier, enduring with patient fortitude the oceanic inconsequentialities of life's real Mystery, and attending far less to the trivial pseudo-mysteries of his solipsistic men's club. All his morbid rationalising is precisely as much use in real life as the usual state of alcoholic befuddlement which is the only serious pursuit of this club.

Reason as befuddlement; The sleep of reason as deliverance. With saint-like humility, Bergman gives us back our ordinary human life, as he surrenders his exceptional life in films. But he knows that the ghost of this life will always be with us. His anguished worldliness will haunt us - as the Ghost of Hamlet's father must haunt Alexander - forever.

Frida (2002)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Breathtakingly life affirming, and intellectually gripping., 8 May 2003

Both 'Frida' and 'Titus' reveal Taymore's concern to put a female perspective on male-driven systems that - both metaphorically and even literally - consume their own children. Trotsky's Goyaesque revelation atop the sacrificial site of the Aztecs of his children's murder by the Revolution cuts deeply through to a profounder critique than could be provided by any dry fidelity to outmoded politics. To Taymore, Kahlo was a one-woman revolution, and thus remains relevant, as a representative of what begins to emerge as the major strand in this director's ouevre: Woman as survivor and mentor in a destructively male world.

Here, Taymore once more pits primal female identity against mechanical male power. The truly extraordinary quality of this female engagement with male power is that it represents the consequences of that power far more forcefully than any male director now living. The late Peckinpah, for instance, could engage with extreme violence and death at this moral, passive, slow-motion level, where the sudden vision of personal agony and extinction leads to profound reflection, and not to the shifting glance of escapist cliche.

Kahlo's mono-brow, and Taymor's monocular, gazes are fixed, as one, unflinchingly upon a man's world of shattering illusions. Rivera's political dream, as expressed in the mural commissioned from him by Rockefeller, is broken up by Capital; Kahlo's broken body is the intimate and inalienable metaphor of authentic suffering, whose expression brooks no more denial than a mother's cry of labour. The fragmentation of her son's body by surgical intervention only intensifies the colossally brave creativity of this diminutive and challenged person.

We are given a spectacle of female energy continually putting the horrifically broken world back together, without claiming any creed for reforming the incorrigible. This courage, expressed in the patient healing of the broken vision that is life, is the very soul of art, and the only true human creed.

And perhaps not since Ken Russell has there been a film director so identified with an artist in another metier. As a stylistic interpretation of one person's view of another's life, this film is a true cinematic expression. The use of puppetry, trompe-l'oueil, and Soviet-style montage are dazzling extensions to the tired language of modern cinema. Symbolism is integral, and not an irrelevant post-modernist ironic pose. Tavmor has a mind, not just a fashionable mood, and her films therefore have a structure that is far more significant than a puzzle for bored but knowing cynics.

The superbly realized, horrific yet beautiful and dream-like tramcar accident is only one of many brilliantly cinematic passages in a film that contrives to match integrity of vision to genuine audience-appeal.


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