Thursday, August 29, 2013

David's Top Ten - #2 - Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)

2.  Citizen Kane - Orson Welles, 1941

  Citizen Kane is so commonly called “The Greatest Film Ever Made” that it is tempting to scoff at this label out of hand and stubbornly defy the pressure to conform to such widespread applause.  After all, few are apt to admit their tastes align with so many, and certainly no film could deserve such uniformly lofty praise.
  This contrarian impulse is, of course, rather silly considering the film’s daring aesthetic, dark subject matter, and real-life muses had little mainstream appeal at the time of its release.  It certainly was not a film that set out to please the masses.  It was quite simply the work of a new and exciting genius.  And sure, the film was appreciated critically upon release, but it was only truly championed later by those who saw the genius of Orson Welles and fit this film into a grander narrative of Welles’s jilted cinematic career.  Its acclaim is, at least in part, a consolation for one of cinema’s most abused artists.  As the story goes, Welles was a man ahead of his times, a misunderstood and mistreated prodigy, and oh what skill he showed in this most excellent debut!  If only he were given such freedom again!
  Yet, while all this makes a great story, the reality is that Welles had a long and fruitful career.  Despite being a renowned divo, he worked in many varied genres and created many so-called “great” films.  No, Citizen Kane is not great because of its place in the life of its tragic creator – it is great simply because it represents a damn near perfect piece of filmmaking.  Welles employed so many new visual and sonic approaches to relay his ideas that it is breathtaking to see them married so seamlessly.  There is not enough space here for a survey of these many techniques (besides, enough ink has been spilt a hundred times over on that), but it is safe to say that there is no doubt Welles understood his medium in a way few had or ever will.
  However, no film can be great simply because of its ingenuity.  For example, Birth of a Nation may be influential and important, but its narrative contrivances and outright immorality preclude it from such a title (for this critic, at least).  It is the fact that Welles combined his creative genius with challenging themes of identity and perception that makes this film memorable.  By questioning our ability to truly know one another from simple appearances and interactions, the film further questions the utility of film in relaying truth, for it also relies on images to convey meaning in the stories of others.  Who cares if Welles was ahead of his time with such themes, too?  The truth of the matter is that no matter when this film was made, or who made it, it would be a masterpiece.

Chelsea’s Response:

  It is impressive that, truly, Citizen Kane still feels ahead of its time.  Orson Welles’s personal narrative may be incorrectly romanticized, but so much of the legend is true – he was, in fact, a mad cinematic genius, more than capable of making incredible, cinema-defining film after incredible, cinema-defining film.  And Citizen Kane, indeed, may well have been his masterpiece.  Although I personally prefer Touch of Evil, there is something about Citizen Kane that is so crazily ambitious that any viewer is left in awe of its craft.  Orson Welles was also gutsy enough to portray a man who was alive at the time of the film’s release; a man with an incredible amount of power to wield.  This is one of the reasons for the legend – many said that the film flopped as a result of a smear campaign against the film by William Randolph Hurst, the man Kane is based on, and the man who happened to all but control the media at the time.
  Citizen Kane takes the character study and turns it on his head.  Instead of an intense look inside the head of its protagonist, we view Kane through the lens of each and every person who interacted with him in some intimate way, but we never see more than a mysterious glimpse of his own view of himself.  It’s daring for Welles and alienating for the viewer, who is always kept at an arm’s length.  Of course, that is all part of the intrigue and part of the brilliance of the film.  Featuring a strong lead turn from Welles and excellent work from Joseph Cotten (who I also love in Shadow of a Doubt, and you will too), Citizen Kane is a film landmark, and it’s awfully good to boot.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Blue Jasmine

By Woody Allen

            Despite setting nearly all of his films in the world of the bourgeoisie intelligencia and inhabiting that world himself, Woody Allen has always had an affinity for the blue color and an itching disdain for the sourness of excess.  This is never clearer than in his most recent triumph, Blue Jasmine.  Telling the story of a rags to riches to rags socialite whose wealth vanishes after revelations of white collar crime, the film pits classes squarely against each other and clearly favors the frankness of common folk over the pretense of the wealthy.
            His thesis is that, well, money is the root of all kinds of evil, and this is mainly because it feeds a consuming pride rooted in all of us.  Early in the film, it is revealed that the film’s titular figure Jasmine (an entrancingly haggard and possibly Oscar-bound Cate Blanchett) changed her name from Janette to divorce herself from her lowly beginnings, and throughout the film, Allen builds a narrative motif of deceit to highlight the tendency to lie to ourselves; an inclination to wear facades in the hope they one day become reality.  Though Jasmine knows deep down that she is actually the adopted and ordinary Janette, this very fact is the primary source of her debilitating anxiety.  With the evidence of affluence, she once could much more easily convince herself of her superiority to others, but without it, she has no definition and desperately fights against the reality of her normalcy.
            Allen’s point, perhaps, is that wealth many times traps its victims by forcing them to justify their excess, and this subconscious shame and misplaced ego automatically builds a stubborn resentment for those without.  For Jasmine, she is trapped either way – either she must meet the vain and lofty requirements of exorbitance or she must move forward by admitting her many wrongs and cruel slights.  What Allen so movingly shows us is that many times people who lose meaning found in material things have the strength to do neither.

A strong ***½ out of ****

Blanchett is simply phenomenal as Jasmine.
            Like the sadly overlooked 2011 film, Young Adult, by Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Juno), Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is unafraid to feature an unlikeable, unchanging female protagonist.  Both have tall, blonde, gorgeous women as their leads, and both leads are so self-centered that they never see (or admit) their own shortcomings, instead frequently picking on the flaws of others.  Both films also, wonderfully, don’t succumb to any audience pressure to “resolve” their issues and the character arcs in tidy, traditionally satisfying ways, choosing instead of allow their characters to remain static, as people frequently do in reality.
            Although this choice may prove alienating to a wider audience, it perfectly fits with the story Allen is telling about a woman who refuses to let go of her past and allow herself to recognize any of her own faults as attributing to her downfall.  And instead of providing us relief by giving us peripheral characters that we can better relate to, Allen provides other flawed characters who make often poor choices that seem to highlight and underline all of the interesting ideas he presents.  Cate Blanchett does bravado and Oscar-worthy work here, stripping her character completely naked (not in the physical sense) and revealing the delusion and sadness beneath as Allen takes us into his protagonist’s inner workings, through the memories of her past life.  Other actors are also excellent, including Sally Hawkins as her sister Ginger, who you should also check out in the fantastic Happy-Go-Lucky.  Allen riskily and masterfully tells this strikingly bleak story that is a study of how people rarely change and reminds us that we must look honestly at ourselves if we are to improve.

***1/2 out of ****

(Per usual, we agree.)

            I appreciate you pointing out the common anthem of many in calling for tidy resolutions and nicely packaged answers.  I, too, have noticed this impulse and if I had to guess, I would say it stems from a discomfort in having unanswered questions.  The very fact that this film (and Young Adult for that matter) leaves its characters’ arcs in a state of flux forces viewers to process the film and postulate what would happen next.  In doing this, whether they like it or not, viewers are assessing the characters and dissecting motivation.  This, to me, is far more valuable than the simple moral slogans of many more popular films, for it asks people to be more involved in the viewing experience.  Films like this force us to ask questions and critically process rather than swallow and regurgitate pad answers.

Deep in memory.
            Not only was this film a bit harder-to-swallow thematically, it also told its story in an interesting and unusual way.  Each time the protagonist has something particularly powerful happen in her life, she flashes back to a parallel memory, and then often snaps out in a way that shows how unstable a person she really has become.  There was story in the present day as well, and that is told in a linear fashion, but much of it happens in the past.  I thought the structure was perfect, as it captured the mind of its protagonist both in memory and how she thinks about those memories.

            I thought that Allen’s use of flashbacks were masterful here.  There are so many filmmakers playing around with timelines in an excessive and distracting fashion that we forget this sort of crosscut storytelling can be very effective filmic shorthand.  Allen has never been one to over-complicate his films, and I think that is why he can be so prolific, and also so hit-or-miss.  His dramatic films either have a very solid thematic core or they don’t, so his trademark stark focus on character and dialogue hinges heavily on the substance of the ideas he presents.  Luckily, here, the ideas are both interesting and challenging.
Ginger, your hair!
            It was instructive to see Jasmine in her previous life as a wealthy socialite.  It reminded me of the importance of context, for without the juxtaposition of her current struggles to her past indulgences, these indulgences would not have been as clearly misguided.  I have, for example, seen many a movie set amongst the wealthy and not thought twice about their excesses, but this film did not allow this luxury, and it is richer because of it.

            I didn’t read the film as so much of a judgment on the wealthy as you did.  Certainly, there is a social critique of this particular type of aristocratic lifestyle in the story, but I think Allen is much more interested in the minds of the characters themselves.  I felt like Jasmine’s coming into wealth was just the inciting incident that brought out her worst characteristics and fed them, but it could have been any number of things that revealed her pride: fame, talent, etc.

Alec Baldwin is really good at playing rich men.
            Allen’s central focus is definitely on his characters rather than any sociopolitical lessons, but I still cannot escape the feeling that he was also indicting capitalism in some sense, or at least what it does to the people it blesses.  Jasmine’s unfaithful and amoral husband Hal, played by a fittingly type-casted Alec Baldwin, clearly represents an impulse to hoard resources from the government because, gal-darnit, those are hard-earned greenbacks.
            In other words, by virtue of the film using wealth as the impetus for Jasmine’s sourness, Allen implies that this is bound to happen in any culture that prioritizes personal agency in creating wealth.  Individualistic societies simply feed selfish human impulses because they very easily preclude humility in success.

Ginger and her decent, but hot-tempered boyfriend.
            While that may be, I thought Allen was more interested in revealing how people never change, although he was certainly able to critique the excess of the wealthy as he explored the circular nature of peoples’ lives.  This particular theme was also a big part of the subplot involving Jasmine’s sister Ginger and her relationships with men.  Ginger seems to be the type of person to never be without a man on her arm, and frequently chooses men with tempers.  Even when she tries to break out of the cycle a little bit, she is disappointed and discouraged, so she returns to the life that she knows and is comfortable with because it is familiar.

            The film definitely comments on the habits we form and the inability of many to find new patterns.  I think this feeds into the motif of deceit, for just as the characters hope their facades will transform them into their own ideal, they also deceive themselves into believing the same paths will work out better next time.  Pride keeps them from taking the onus themselves, so they see no issue with making the same choices.  Allen is commenting on the difficulty in admitting fault, and the destructive ease at which we blame others for our own shortcomings.

A new romance.
            I agree 100%.  I found it fascinating that Jasmine turns a blind eye repeatedly to what is happening in her life with her husband, pretending she didn’t know anything is wrong, and deflecting any blame for her problems.  People constantly call her out on this, but she refuses to see any truth in their criticisms, focusing instead on her recollections of telling people she knew nothing or being completely aloof when it came to finances.  She recalls those memories of aloofness over and over again until she confirms to herself that she is blameless in the financial faults of Hal.  She clearly thinks she can do this again with future romances, asking so few questions and jumping so quickly into relationships that she will once again willingly be in the dark to anything unpleasant, able to be innocent in her own mind.
            Allen perfectly presents a compelling and depressing argument that people rarely perceive their own faults and seek to change, choosing instead to lie to themselves.  It’s a fantastic film, and a story that will hopefully challenge its audiences to reflect on their own faults and perhaps escape any of their own negative cycles.

Two-as-One Rating: ***½ out of ****


Monday, August 12, 2013

Taking a Breather

Despite the monumental disadvantages of not being paid to write and lacking sufficient time to write as well as you would like, there are at least two distinct advantages of writing for your own website.  One, you have complete creative freedom.  Two, you can take a break when you need one. 

With this second benefit in mind, and considering we have yet to allow ourselves to enjoy this freedom, we have decided to hang up the ol' keyboard for a couple weeks.  We'll see you soon!

Now, would someone please find us a hammock and a beach with a cool ocean breeze?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Chelsea's Top Ten - #2 - Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)

2.  Vertigo - Alfred Hitchcock, 1958

                When I was about 8 years old, my parents introduced me to the great Alfred Hitchcock by scaring the pants off my little brother and I with The Birds.  Following that, they continued to show us some classics, and we begged for more: watching North by Northwest, Notorious, Rope, and more.  We loved them all (although we thought Rope was boring), and I forever considered Hitchcock one of my favorite filmmakers and Vertigo one of my favorite films.  I revisited it years later, early in our relationship, having agreed vigorously that it was excellent, a wonderful thriller.  Little did I know that I remembered only half of the riches that awaited me.  When I was young, I only really processed and somewhat understood the thrilling, suspenseful first half, completely forgetting that anything happened after that pivotal scene at midway.  I was thrilled to discover that not only was Vertigo a well-crafted suspense film, but also an incredible exploration into obsession and one man’s psyche.
                Featuring an excellent lead performance from Jimmy Stewart, Alfred weaves together a tale that consistently plays on expectations.  It follows an ex-cop (Stewart) who is hired as a private investigator by a man who wants him to track his wife, believing she is possessed.  As Stewart follows her around, he becomes entranced by her and falls in love.  Hitchcock creates a mood throughout that seems as if everyone, including the viewer, is under a spell.  As the plot twists and turns, Hitchcock then examines the psyche of this man under a spell, allowing us to question what, exactly, this man really loves.  It’s thoroughly engrossing and feels extremely personal.  It’s one of the most human films Hitchcock ever made, and its ability to be both suspenseful and intimate so perfectly is why it’s one of the best films of all time.

David's Response:
Visual feasts!
                Unlike Chelsea, I did not see Vertigo until I was an adult (okay, young adult).  I had, however, seen other Hitchcock films and knew something about his aesthetic.  He made a name for himself as a filmmaker by telling stories that engaged on multiple levels.  Most enjoy his works as well-crafted visual feasts and simply appreciate his impressive ability to grab viewers and guide them on the edge of their seat through convoluted mysteries and adventures, but for those who wanted something deeper, Hitchcock many times provided more meaningful themes.  Such themes were sociological (Rear Window, Strangers on a Train, Rope) or political (Notorious, Saboteur, The Lady Vanishes), but their success (and failures) would always rest on the psyches of their characters.  At his best, Hitch always captured something innately human in his films, no matter how ridiculous the plot.  This is why I think his films resonate with a wide range of viewers – they are populist tales, but his successes were always crafted with an attention to the characters they involved rather than a simple reliance on plot.
Our protagonist.
                What impresses me about Vertigo, and why I think it is his best film, is that rather than doing what most of his films do in capturing what a person does in response to circumstance, it follows a character who creates a circumstance and explores the compulsions behind this.  This is a very different tale for Hitchcock to tell, and as such it stands out from the rest of his works.  The plot flows from the mind of its deeply troubled protagonist Scottie Ferguson, and its mystery does not reveal anything more interesting than his own psychoses.  It economically dispenses of its salacious intrigue by the end of its first half and turns its attention to the depths of Ferguson’s obsession and misplaced hope.  Indeed, when the film’s secrets are revealed, it is not an “a-ha” moment for viewers, but rather a moment for introspection and lament.  In other words, this film had some serious depth and could not be discarded as a simple amusement.  It is also, perhaps, why despite the film’s initial commercial failure, it continues to resonate today when many of his other box-office successes have quietly faded.  

Vertigo comes in at #8 on David's Top Ten and is the answer to this mystery film.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Conjuring

By James Wan

Note:  Because Chelsea is a scaredy-cat and likes to have control of the situation when watching horror films, her mother, Marge, is guest blogging with David today.  Marge loves horror movies, and we think she has done a bang up job of offering her perspective on this particular one.

            With a healthy respect for the forerunners of its genre, James Wan’s The Conjuring skillfully utilizes the tricks of the horror trade rather than lazily relying on them.  This film leaves little doubt that Wan is well versed in this genre’s rich history, and he does not hide his affections for the filmmakers who did it best.  To him, this means borrowing the slow zooms and establishing frames of Kubrick’s Shining, the foreign sounds and patient pacing of Freidkin’s Exorcist, and the canted mirrors and crooked hallways of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby.  The opening titles borrow typeface from such era films, which for this film buff brought a tinge of eager excitement.  Effectively spun frights are all too rare, and the prospect of a film that openly respects and borrows from such horror masters is refreshing.  In a sea of uninspired slashers and torture flicks, this film stands apart.  It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it knows the blueprint and uses it well.
            The film’s story is familiar – a happy family moves into a country home and starts experiencing strange ghostly events.  These happenings become more and more violent until they are forced to seek help, which comes in the form of paranormal specialists (Ed and Lorraine Warren, of Amityville fame) whose calm expertise leads to a quick assessment of the situation and a rescue plan.  This plan, of course, comes with complications, which ratchets up the intensity and provides the film’s climactic set piece (or should I say showdown?).  There is nothing new here, but Wan lovingly milks every inch of his film for optimal suspense, showing patience in timing and an impressive attention to detail.  We all know the drill, but his reverent craftiness introduces anew the exhilarating frights of darkened corners, crooked pictures, creaking cellar stairs, and bumps in the night.

A strong *** out of ****

Is that you Mrs. Bates?
            I love a good scary movie and The Conjuring did not disappoint.  I must admit I struggled with the beginning and how it would fit in with the plot, but it did not take long for me to move beyond that and become totally involved with the film’s country setting, the family of characters and the emotions that accompanied the story.  Thankfully, my doubts about the beginning were later assuaged by what I saw as a clever blending of subplots.
            I am not a film critic, nor do I have the background of David and Chelsea to truly judge a film from an artistic viewpoint.  But even I can agree with David's thoughts about the director's love and appreciation for the horror genre and its unique use of the camera.  This film’s use of upside down camera shots and disorienting zooms had me on the edge of my seat, and I found myself holding my breath until the lens became more familiar and I could gain my bearings.  I couldn’t rest long as the movie’s scares clipped along at a good speed, and the people around me had to contend with my ragged breathing throughout the viewing.
            I enjoyed the movie; it was a nail biter.  In spite of some questions of believability and its muddled idea of demonology which niggled at me after I caught my breath, I would also give it a hearty recommendation.

*** out of ****

            You mentioned the film’s opening, which introduced a fittingly creepy possessed doll that comes to play a minor role in the film.  While I didn’t love this aspect of the film (I thought it felt somewhat superfluous), I can say one good thing about it – it worked to reinforce the film’s theme of corrupted maternal instincts by bringing danger to the Warren home as well.  In that sense, I appreciated it, if not only because it added some deeper emotions to the film.

Vera Farmiga
            I am embarrassed to say that I can really get carried away with the human emotions of a story and that held true for me here.  The actors portrayals were excellent, especially that of Vera Farmiga as a fragile expert in demonology and clairvoyance.  The smallest of hand movements in descending cellar stairs gave her character's sensitivity more depth.  It was also great to see Lili Taylor again.  Her portrayal as the possessed mother was haunting!  But it was her portrayal as a mother who loved her children that clicked with me; she embodied that tender mother- child bond which  can be impenetrable.


Lili Taylor
          While I agree both Vera Farmiga and Lily Taylor act the hell out of their roles and effectively communicate the horror of an inability to protect their children, I wish the film would have given us more time to explore their panicked and petrified psyches as mothers.  As Wan so openly references The Exorcist, it is hard not to watch this film with that classic in mind.  And as a straight comparison, this film seems like a sterilized version of its predecessor, taking its stylistic elements and leaving its thematic depth at the door.   What do you think – would a deeper exploration of a mother’s terror improve the film, or was this communicated well enough as it was for the purposes of this film?

            I don't know that exploring those maternal characters would have worked, at least not without making a very different movie!  A mother's psyche is complex, and I think delving into this subject within the context of a "horror" film would have simplified it to the point of invalidation.  Leave that to a documentary or something else where educating takes precedence over entertaining which, in my mind, was the purpose of this film.  Horror films, to me, are not for education; they are for good old fashioned fun - a scaring the pants off you kind of fun!

            I think the reason I was somewhat disappointed the film didn’t delve deeper into the psychology of its horror is that the films it so openly pays homage to do just that.  The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby are, for example, mainly about the internal terror of the women in them and utilize frights to supplement these more deeply disturbing ideas.
            That being said, you make a solid point and this may be an empty lament, as for better or worse, it seems the modern horror movie is more concerned with experience than ideology.  There once was a time when thoughtful auteurs tried their hand at the genre and elevated it to something meaningful, but nowadays, the horror genre is mainly about cheaper thrills.  As such, it would probably be unfair to criticize this film for being simply really good at “scaring the pants off you.”  And it deserves some form of applause for achieving its relatively uncomplicated goals of doing just that.

Why does ANYONE buy houses like this?
            The only real lesson I could glean from this film is to be wary of buying an old house out east.  The notions of hauntings and exorcisms challenge my sensibility and my spirituality to begin with, but especially here, as they were sensationalized and, in some scenes, bordered on silly.

            I am glad you brought up the film’s demonology – a topic that most everyone, including Christianity at large, seems to avoid completely.  As a Christian, I find this topic to be interesting and, like you said, very complex.   It should be taken seriously by Christians, especially since most of the public is introduced to such concepts with the bogus and sensationalized theology of films like this.  Demons seem to hit a nerve with many, which to me hints toward a fear in the possibility they really do exist, so proper information is vital.
            The main concern for me with films such as this is that they make Christianity look very strange and clearly mythical, while the reality of such things is far more distressing, simply because evil forces are far craftier.  While Scripture teaches that demons are mainly concerned with diverting God’s grace, this film seems to communicate they are primarily concerned with creating pain (and apparently hanging around old farmhouses).  I kept thinking that if anything, the tortured family in this film would be driven toward God rather than away from him, which would make this particular film’s evil forces pretty dumb.

            I guess this further clarifies the need for good judgment and common sense when viewing these films.  I still maintain, though, that this movie should be seen purely for entertainment. Perhaps this is because I can see the inherent dangers in walking into the theatre thinking it might answer some questions regarding theology, morality, psyche etc.  In other words, this is not a film for the gullible and definitely not for children.  Parents take note!

Pedicure, anyone?
            If it weren’t for the fact the film presents itself as a “true story,” despite the fact the Warrens were essentially exposed as frauds years ago, I would have little issue with using false tales, or even false theology, for the purposes of creating cinematic thrills.  Yet, I have to say that while you or I can see the dangers in allowing Hollywood to shape our worldview, I think many people do not have an understood worldview and can’t help but be shaped by the schlock they consume.  They may understand it is just a story, but it could sway their beliefs anyway.  How else could you explain, for example, the number or people who wrongly believe that people become angels after they die?  Such silly things come from popular tales, not Scripture.

            Well, I think we could go on and on... and, contrary to one of my original premises, we have used the film as an invitation to a pretty courageous conversation.  The bottom line, I guess, would be if you were to view The Conjuring at face value and simply accept it as a scary horror flick which enjoyably pays homage to its predecessors in its genre, you won’t be disappointed.  Just don’t try to learn anything more from it.

Combined Score: *** out of ****

Thursday, August 1, 2013

David's Top Ten - #3 - Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957)

3. Wild Strawberries - Ingmar Bergman, 1957

            For Ingmar Bergman, disappointment is perpetual and the precious joys of life are fleeting.  No film more personally portrays this concurrent despondency and hope than Wild Strawberries.  It is in this film that we see Bergman move from agnostic angst to an empty nostalgic surrender.  It is in this film that we see him relent to the void of atheism rather than resentfully grapple with it, and what results is a desperate attempt to trace the comforts of memory.  Less than a year after making The Seventh Seal, a film intensely fixated on the end of all things, this film looks regretfully and longingly at what once was.  It is a reluctant acceptance that if you reject God, you have only this life to live for.
            In a way, you can sense Bergman trying to console himself with this film.  The film’s ending, for example, suggests that the grouchy Dr. Isak Borg has learned and turned away his past callousness in favor or a new respect for the value of life in community.  To write this narrative, Bergman, too, must have had such a resolution.  In tracking the remainder of his filmmaking career, it is clear from the increasingly gloomy relationships in his narratives that he found no such solace, but what I appreciate in this film is the honest reflection it gives of him at the time.  What is so attractive about Bergman as an artist is that he was never afraid to say what he thought, and despite his worldviews being in constant flux, this never changed.  It makes for some truly great, albeit heartbreaking, cinema.
            Films like this show that, in cinema, honesty is more important than thematic certainty.  It shows that films, like people, can be a process rather than a thesis.  Rather than provoking malice, his films captured his own deep sense of existential confusion and any anger was directed at God rather than other human beings.  He never posited to have the answers, but due to the impressive fluidity of his work, we can all, Christian and atheist alike, learn from his sincerity.

Chelsea's Response:

              Wild Strawberries was the first Bergman I ever watched, and it’s a beautiful film, but reading what you wrote about Bergman’s evolving belief system and the themes running throughout his entire body of work, I wish it wouldn’t have been.  This simple film follows its hardened and egotistical protagonist Isak Borg as he journeys through Sweden with his pregnant daughter-in-law to receive an award for his work as a physician.  During his journey, he encounters people who remind him of his youth, soften him, and allow him to figure out how he can age gracefully and contentedly before death.  I wish I would have seen this later so that I could better appreciate how it fits into Bergman’s canon, as you have so eloquently put.
                Truth be told, I don’t remember much of the film, as I think it was something you showed me before we were even married (five years ago today!), but I do remember several things.  One, it was a joy to listen to, and the Swedish language made each moment and character sing like a babbling brook.  Two, it is a film brimming with peace even as the character faces the end of life and death.  You have included two films in your top ten that explicitly grapple with death, generativity, and legacy.  Each of these films was made by a filmmaker who was hovering around the age of forty, oddly enough, and this points to the fact that these themes are frequently on the minds of many people.  Although they are end of life topics, they touch each of us in a personal way as we all seek to make peace with ourselves and our Creator.  Watch this rewarding film, and see if you aren’t touched to do a bit of wrestling today as well.

Also notice:  Both of us have a Bergman film as our #3 of all time.  We are, apparently, two peas in a pod!