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Mrs. Harris (2005)
Bening's Performance as Harris ...
... Is among her best work: it is nuanced, studied and whip-smart. She has a flair for bone-dry humor that is on full display here.
HBO continues to show that it is the go-to network for actresses over a certain age, providing them with some bravura roles.
Jean Harris could have easily descended into caricature and vapidness, but Bening finds her heart.
When I first saw that the film was being made (it was first made for television with Ellen Burstyn as Jean in 1980), I thought "why again?" but the filmmakers have proved their case: the film works on every level, but especially the performances. They are compulsively watchable.
Her performance is expertly modulated and as the film unwinds she becomes very human: her crime is not such a surprise and her motives seem justified.
The actresses interplay with Kingsley is a wonder to behold.
If you are a fan of singular acting, this will be worth your while.
Mary McDonnell, Philip Baker Hall, Brett Butler, Frances Fisher, Cloris Leachman and the original Harris, Burstyn, all show up for great cameos.
This is not a film you will ever see in a theater, HBO has cornered the market on interesting, vital character studies.
Viskningar och rop (1972)
Conversation with a Legend
To say I am a fan of Ingmar Bergman would probably be a gross understatement.
Cries and Whispers, the director's 1972 masterpiece, a visceral and intriguing mediation on death and afterlife, family loyalty and feminine mystery is, without hesitation, my favorite film of all time. The art direction, script, cinematography, costumes and direction just really fulfill my cinematic taste buds. Combine these elements with the once in a lifetime, largely female ensemble and it all adds up perfectly.
Playing sisters Maria and Karin who keep watch over their dying sister, Bergman greats Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Thulin generate such heated emotion and subtlety in their characters, adding to the film's ethereal and haunting qualities. As the pained, desperate and deathly Agnes, Harriet Andersson gives arguably, the most triumphant, nuanced and fully realized performance of her nearly sixty year career.
Andersson was in Berlin, taking part in the Berlinale's Retrospective on "Traumfrauen", or "dream girls, literally (Andersson claimed it was not possible for her to be included with such a group of glamor girls as she didn't like getting up at four or five am to sit in the make up and hairdresser's chairs. Too much work to look like that, she said). She introduced a print of Bergman's 1952 classic, Sommaren mitt Monika (The Summer with Monika), an adaptation that launched her career, made her an international sex symbol and put a defining spin on Sweden as far as the world viewed the country at the time. On the eve of her 75th birthday, looking spry and lovely wearing flashy gold sneakers with fur, Ms. Andersson sat down with a small crowd at the Berlin Film Museum and talked about her career, her affiliation with Bergman and what she has learned as an actress.
Biographer Jan Lumhold began the discussion with questions about her first film with Bergman, which was also the beginning of a short sexual affair between the two. Andersson said she was terrified of working with the director as she had heard so many horror stories from other actors about his process. She did say that he usually only insisted on one or two takes, no more than three ever, on any film. She also said that to make actors do any more than that is cruel. She cited a nameless director who made her do upwards of twenty takes, when she finally asked him what exactly he wanted, the director had no answer other than "I need some extra material for the editing room". A clearly disgusted Andersson remarked "we are not dogs..." Andersson commented that her work on Through a Glass Darkly almost did not happen. She said it was the only time she considered not going to work. She was newly married with a baby when Bergman sent her the script, asking her to play a schizophrenic. The actress turned him down flat despite her curiosity being piqued by the brilliant script. She called this time of her "the saddest". Bergman convinced her to visit a mental hospital to talk to the doctors, to see if she could find a way to play the character. She thought the idea of people who are very disturbed and sick but not having visible tell-tale signs to be a very challenging and interesting acting prospect and quickly changed her mind, saying "it's very difficult to say 'No' to Ingmar Bergman". Through a Glass Darkly went on to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1961, immediately following his 1960 win for The Virgin Spring.
I was able to ask the actress the question I had been dying to since meeting her the night before at the showing of Monika, where I was actually able to tell her that her work and this film have been so important to me as a film lover: What was the extent of your preparation for playing Agnes in Cries and Whispers, physical and emotional? Andersson's insights into the film and the making of the film was something I will always value. She said, with a clear fondness and sadness, that she borrowed heavily for the role of the dying woman by dredging up memories of her father, who had a slow, horrible death from cancer. She said that watching him go through that was the basis for her entire performance. She said she did not diet at all for the part to achieve her look, which was actually realized more through make up than an actual physical transformation, though she said that for once Bergman told her to stay up late and not get any sleep, which was very opposite of his usual instructions. She said that she almost lost her lips because of the make up used to create her mouth sores. The corrosive mixture that was to go on her face ate through the cup it was mixed in! She said that as an actor, you must have discipline in your work and remember that it is a job, which helped her get through the wrenching performance and deliver what needed to be done. She also said there was pressure because funding was almost impossible to secure (as she put it, "who wants to see a film about three sisters, one dying, one promiscuous and one who puts glass up her Va-guy-Na"). She said she knew what the stakes were, so it made the performance come out more easily.
Someone in the audience asked about having room to improvise whilst working with Bergman and she said there never was any need to ad lib because his scripts were literally always perfect, there was no need for embellishment. She also said that Bergman was always open to the possibility of adding things. Lumhold pointed out that every role Bergman gave her was written specifically for her, with the exception of Monika, which was first a novel. Andersson said she was never surprised or shocked at the director's sometimes incendiary scripts.
The Proposition (2005)
western mind bender
So I just got back from The Proposition, an extremely upsetting and visually arresting Australian western written by Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat. The cast was amazing: Guy Pearce, John Hurt, Danny Huston, and above and beyond all, the stunning Ray Winstone and the always perfect Emily Watson...
The film was brutal, violent and like nothing I had seen before. When I say it was violent, I can't stress enough how violent it actually was. There were some stomach turning moments where I had to actually avert my eyes...and I have a pretty high tolerance for that sort of thing. The thing about the excessive violence, though, is that it is completely appropriate for the story, set, I believe in the 1800s, in desolate Australia.
The plot is a simple, classic genre plot: a band of outlaw brothers rape and pillage a good Christian family and then comes the more complicated revenge, loyalty and morality drama that will blow you away. Winstone's man of the law gives Pearce's criminal a proposition: bring home his third brother, responsible for a hideous crime, or he will kill his weak younger brother. The mythological overtones are perfectly done as are the inferences to Conrad's Hearts of Darkness. Huston's character is like a version of Kurtz. The characters are all ambiguous in their motives and every actor is game for the challenge...
Also of note are the indigenous people of Australia, who the director says contributed to some of the script. There is black on black violence, there are members of the tribes working with the white men on both the outlaw's side and the legal. All of the native people are wonderful in their parts, proving again that stereotypes are not to be believed...
Winstone plays the chief police man assigned to catch the gang responsible for killing a family who his wife, Watson, was friendly with. The gravitas and depth that Winstone conjures for this lawman who sometimes crosses the line is a wonder to watch, his character's arc is the most impressive. Watson, what more can I say about this actress?! I have loved her since Breaking the Waves and she is able to turn a "wife" role into something beyond any other actress' reach, a true original. She looks right at home in the period setting. Hurt, too, gives a master class in character acting as a bounty hunter...
The look of this film is stunning, just unbelievable. The director uses the landscapes and the colors of nature to paint a story of their own. Not in the way say, Terence Malick does and not in the way that compromises the integrity of the land. The land becomes the sets and seems perfectly natural and not at all contrived...the costumes and art direction too are really top notch...
Hillcoat was on hand to answer questions and talk about the film as well, which was cool. my boyfriend asked him a question about a disclaimer at the beginning of the film warning indigenous people that images of the dead were used throughout the film and he gave a great response about the cooperation of some of the Aborginal people and the opposition of others. He credited them with helping tell a story that hasn't yet been told in our time. He was very well-spoken and obviously knew the importance of handling the film's subject matter with compassion to all involved...
Cave's music score was also very effective and contributed to the tense, sweaty, fly-laden atmosphere of the dirty film.
I highly recommend this film to anyone...
Camille Claudel (1988)
Can we get a round of "Bravos" for Isabelle Adjani's tour De force performance as sculptress Camille Claudel? This is a richly deserved nomination for a foreign-language actress. The many layers she presents are stunning... Claudel was a very young woman when August Rodin (Gerard Depardieu, also great)took her under his wing. Stubborn and possessed of a magnificent gift for artistic vision, Claudel was not what most at the time considered a serious artist. Rodin even used her to do his work, taking all of the credit. They fell into a deep, passionate love affair, which ultimately would be Claudel's undoing. If anyone does French, period-film obsessive love the best, it's Adjani! (Check out the Story Of Adele H., if you don't believe me!). She ages from eager young visionary to jaded, drunk old hag. Dissolving into paranoia, some quite valid and some just plain crazy, Camille has some of her greatest scenes toward the end of the film, especially when she tells a gallery owner that she is afraid to leave the house because she's afraid she will be "robbed". It's haunting, brilliant acting. Showing the viewer how hard it must have been to be a female artist during this time, the actress shines.She was the Courtney Love of the turn of the century painters set, and Adjani does her justice completely. The detail of the period, the costumes and the sets, help move this visually appealing tale along swiftly. I was really caught up in the recreation, it was stunning. The studios of artists, the country homes of the wealthy, it was all just wonderful to look at.