Film Scene Spotlight: Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata

This will be the first in my series of posts where I discuss individual scenes in films. Ingmar Bergman’s film Autumn Sonata [1978] centres on the relationship between a mother, a self-centred concert pianist Charlotte Andergast (Ingrid Bergman), and her already grown-up and married daughter Eva (Liv Ullmann). One of the greatest film scenes in history takes place at Eva’s home when Charlotte asks her daughter to play Chopin’s Prelude op. 28 no. 2 in A minor.

Ingmar Bergman was a master of showing repressed thoughts and desires on screen and, here, Ingrid Bergman’s silent performance conveys brilliantly all the hidden emotions and thoughts brewing inside the character. In those few minutes as her daughter plays the Prelude, Charlotte is “living through things”… What memories cross her mind at this moment? What turbulent feelings arise in her? As she patiently listens to this “imperfect” performance of her daughter, what “judgement” is she passing on it? Are there simply criticism, pity and disappointment or also guilt, and touches of love, kindness and pride? Probably all of the above. This scene displays the level of subtlety and psychological depth which is simply rare in cinematography, and Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman truly worked something magical here.

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Soviet Winter Animation: The Mitten (1967)

This sweet stop-motion animation from the Soviet Union titled The Mitten (“Варежка“) was directed by Roman Kachanov (director of The Mystery of the Third Planet (1981), but who also worked on such animations as The Snow Maiden (1952) and The Scarlet Flower (1952)). The 10-minute silent animation is about a girl who longs to have a puppy or a dog but whose family is against … Continue reading Soviet Winter Animation: The Mitten (1967)

Actor Spotlight: Montgomery Clift

Today, 17 October 2021, marks 101 years since the birth of American actor Montgomery Clift (1920 – 1966). This supremely talented actor was a four-times Academy Award-nominee and is known for such films as The Search (1948), From Here to Eternity (1953) and Judgement at Nuremberg (1961). He often played smooth-talking, melancholy and mysterious men who rebelled against the establishment. Despite the immensity of Clift’s talent and charisma, however, Hollywood never seemed to know what to think of him and he was often portrayed “a black sheep” of the cinema business, a perpetually tortured soul who privately fought many mental and physical battles. Though never openly gay or bisexual, Clift always had his private life under wraps and struggled to fit into the image that Hollywood wanted him to fit into: the image of the Golden Boy who is after money, financial success and women. Though now often overshadowed by, and even compared unfavourably to, such cinematic icons as James Dean and Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift deserved and still deserves much more, especially since both of these actors looked up to Clift and was inspired by his image to forge theirs. Clift was one of the most talented American actors and, unfortunately, one of the most misunderstood ones, who valued the craft of acting above financial success or even critical/public opinion, who wanted desperately to retain his unassuming, independent and original inner core despite the environment that constantly wanted to mould him into something else, a Hollywood environment that favoured flashy displays of wealth, stereotypes and double-dealings. Clift’s story is as much a tale of one talented and intelligent actor following a tragic path as a story of Hollywood’s callousness and complacency.

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When Film Posters Mean Art: 10 Eye-Catching Alternative Designs

Designing film posters is an art in its own right and some films come up with rather ingenious ways to entice the public to watch their films. Cinematic fan art is also making some amazing contributions, and below I present ten film posters that have captured my attention recently; see also my posts Alternative Film Posters and “Minimalist” Film Posters, and for those who want to explore poster art in greater detail, I recommend this ten-minute lecture by James Verdesoto, film poster expert who designed that one famous poster for Pulp Fiction.

(i) I simply love how this clever poster to Michael Almereyda’s film Tesla (2020) both captures the character portrayed by Ethan Hawke and his distinguishable characteristics and says something about the main theme: electricity/electric power; (ii) I think the colour red suits this Amelie (2001) poster from Japan, hinting to us that the story will be all about eccentricities and passions, and we can’t wait to know more about adventures of this unusual character in the centre; (iii) I’m Thinking of Endings Things (2020) may have a story which suffers from lots of awkwardness and pretentiousness, but all of its posters is a thing of beauty. The poster to the very right designed by Akiko Stehrenberger is trying to bring out the psychological and otherworldly aspects of the film.

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Salvador Dalí-Disney’s Short Animation “Destino”

Destino is a Salvador Dali-Disney (John Hench)’s collaboration on an animation that first started in 1945 and only finished in 2003 when Walt Disney’s nephew Roy E. Disney found the unfinished project materials in 1999. The surrealist animation was eventually directed by Dominique Monféry, and the music was written by Armando Domínguez and performed by Dora Luz. The animation is one incredible beauty that mixes Dali’s artistic … Continue reading Salvador Dalí-Disney’s Short Animation “Destino”

La Fête Nationale: French Films

Today is 14th July and it is Bastille Day or La Fête Nationale in France, which means it is time to celebrate French films and French directors. Below I present a number of French films I reviewed on this blog, and this includes films from Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jean-Jacques Beineix, Julia Ducournau and François Ozon, as well as three French-produced animations: Grande Illusion, La (1937) … Continue reading La Fête Nationale: French Films

National Classic Movie Day: 6 Films 6 Decades Blogathon

As some of you already know, today is the National Classic Movie Day and I am participating in the 6 Films 6 Decades Blogathon hosted over at Classic Film & TV Cafe. The aim is to list 6 favourite films from 6 different decades, and my choices are:

  • The 1920sMetropolis [1927]

Truthfully, I can’t be too original in this category because I have not seen many films from the 1920s decade, but, from all those that I have seen, Metropolis is a definite stand-out. This German expressionist film by Fritz Lang is a sci-fi masterpiece made before any visual effects were even there to help underpin the futuristic concept introduced. Wonderfully acted and brilliantly directed, it tells of a wealthy magnate, Joh Fredersen (the master), who has a rift with his son Freder, who, in turn, feels uneasy about the oppression of people in his city. Meanwhile, a “mad” scientist proposes the unthinkable to the master just as Freder falls in love with a girl from the working class segment of the population. A very creative design of the film, its ambition and dramatic passages are just some of the highlights as the film also introduces a take on the Romeo & Juliet story, and works magically on both the hearts and minds of the audience. “The mediator of the head and the hands must be the heart!

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Classic Films

This week is the National Classic Movie Day (on 16th May), but because I am already committed to do a classic film blogathon on that day, I thought I would share today my own pre-celebratory post, listing all the classic (or just pre-1970s) films that I reviewed on this website. Click on the titles to see full reviews or tell me which classic film is your favourite.

The Lost Weekend (1945) Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Lifeboat (1944) 

La Grande Illusion (1937) Spellbound (1945) Psycho (1960) 

Les Diaboliques (1955) The Servant (1963)

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Short Animation: My Love (2006)

Since my previous post was about Russian animations, I thought I would share this 2006 animation coming from Russia. My Love, based on a novella A Love Story [1927] by Ivan Shmelyov, tells of a sixteen year-old boy’s sexual awakening one summer in the nineteenth-century Russia. Longing for a “spiritual union” and “pure love”, the boy becomes torn between a young and pretty servant girl Pasha and an older and richer woman living next door. Continue reading Short Animation: My Love (2006)

Recently Watched: Films: Dark Waters (2019) & Thank You for Smoking (2005)

Dark Waters (2019)

Directed by Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven [2002], Carol [2015]) and based on a magazine article that tells of a true story of one corporate lawyer who challenged a multi-billion chemical empire, Dark Waters focuses on Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) who travels to his home town in West Virginia to discover evidence of gross environmental damage caused by a huge corporation, DuPont. His neighbour’s cattle is dying, water is turning dark and people have health problems in the area. Bilott picks up a Tennant case, thinking it will be over in a matter of months, but the case snowballs over the years as more horrific secrets are uncovered. The concerned lawyer, who is always supported by his wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway), is passionately searching for answers and explanations as the corporation first refuses to admit responsibility and then makes it difficult for numerous victims to seek justice and restitution.

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David Lynch: “Rabbits” (2002)

Rabbits is a series of short surreal films with the overall running time of forty minutes. It features three humanoid rabbits (two female and one male) in one single room. They sit on a sofa, enter and go out of the room, talk to each other and recite poetry. Through eerie music, rabbits’ nonsensical dialogue and strange visions, the viewers may discern that something truly unsettling has happened, is happening or is about to happen. Rabbits is a good example of a minimalist experimental short which uses the lightning, music and the theme of inexplicability to create feelings of uneasiness and barely perceivable fright. Here, inexplicability is key. Uneasiness lies in the inexplicability. Watching the film, the viewers may start pondering: “what is that?”, “what is happening?”, “what is the meaning of all this?” The meaning just about escapes us, even though we definitely sense that the three rabbits are being terrorised by something. The precise cause of what is going remains unclear and the underlying fear is transmitted to us through the specific “trigger words and phrases”, including “coincidence”, “a man in a green suit”, “I hear someone”, “It was red”, “We’re not going anywhere” and “I’m going to find out one day”. These words and phrases stand for some hidden distress. David Lynch proves once again that inexplicability and strangeness alone will sustain the interest.

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10 Films Directed by Women

Today (8th of March) is the International Women’s Day, and I think it is perfect time to celebrate female directors and their achievements. Therefore, I am taking this opportunity to present 10 films by 9 great female directors which I previously reviewed on this website. There is a lot of talent when it comes to women directors, and I am glad that this year the following women are receiving their recognition: Regina King (One Night in Miami), Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) and Kelly Reichardt (First Cow). Some of my favourite female directors also include Jane Campion, Claire Denis and Sofia Coppola, and I previously made posts on Maya Deren and Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here). This year, I am also planning to draw attention to the following female directors on my blog: Penny Marshall, Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency) and Lucile Hadžihalilović (Evolution).

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Recently Watched: Films: The Servant (1963), A Kiss Before Dying (1956) & Isle of the Dead (1945)

I. The Servant (1963)

Directed by Joseph Losey, The Servant is considered by some to be one of the finest British films. It tells of Tony (James Fox), a flamboyant member of the upper class, who has just moved in to his central London residence after a period spent in Africa. He immediately hires a man-servant for himself, demure, respectful and knowledgeable Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde). Hugo not only knows how to cook and take care of a house, but he is also an expert interior decorator and has been a gentleman’s servant for many notable Lordships. This tale of a friction between the upstairs and the downstairs reaches the zenith of tension when Hugo introduces “his sister” (Sarah Miles) to the household and when Tony’s own fiancée (Susan Stewart) decides to make the house her own dominion. The Servant works delightfully as a satire on class differences and servitude, showing a thin line that often separates usefulness from a nuisance, and kindness from submissiveness. This tale of hidden corruption has a frightening change of dynamics.

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The Animation Tag

I got an idea for this post through winst0lfportal and his animation tag post. Borrowing some questions from it, I created my own tag. I love animations, and am a supporter and promoter of international animations (see my previous posts on Russian, French, Chinese and Japanese animations).

1. Favourite Disney animation?

Beauty and the Beast” (1991).

2. Favourite non-Disney animation?

It is tempting to say “Spirited Away” (2001), but I have a soft spot for “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004) and would like to make one day an in-depth comparison between it and “Beauty and the Beast” (1991) (a fun one since both are based on other source materials). I also love the works of Satoshi Kon and Makoto Shinkai.

3. Criminally-underseen animation you recommend to everyone?

The Illusionist” (2010) is a lovely, heart-warming animation from Sylvain Chomet (“Les triplettes de Belleville” (2003)). In “The Illusionist”, a French illusionist finds himself unemployed and travels to Scotland. There, he meets a young girl and their destinies collide.

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Alternative Film Posters

I would like to wish all my followers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! (Let 2021 be a happier and less stressful year for all of us!) Below I am presenting some of my favourite alternative film posters, which also includes a poster to Home Alone, a quintessential Christmas film. See also my previous posts – Minimalist” Film Posters and Movie Directors’ Styles Reinterpreted As Architecture. Do you like “film art”? What are your favourite alternative film posters?

I. The “House Architecture” Posters

These are some of my favourite alternative film posters and they often get quite intricate. They work best when a story in a film revolves around one house, but also when there are “layers” to a film story, as in the case of Inception below.

Inception by Chris Skinner
Home Alone by Adam Simpson
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Recently Watched: Films: Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Quiz Show (1994) & Close-Up (1990)

I. Raise the Red Lantern (1991)

Chinese director Zhang Yimou tells in his film, which is based on the novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong, the story of a beautiful nineteen-year-old ex-university student Songlian (Gong Li) who decides to become a concubine in the 1920s China. After her decision, Songlian finds herself in the palace of “red lanterns” which has “four houses” for her husband’s four mistresses. She soon gets acquainted with the elderly and indifferent first Mistress, with the friendly and seemingly happy second Mistress and with the still young and beautiful, but jealous third Mistress. All is well, or is it? The palace’s strange, centuries-old traditions and customs first bewilder Songlian and then force her most shameful qualities out, as her husband randomly shifts the power between the four houses. Songlian soon finds herself in a miniature society and under the patriarchal dominance which she has never imagined to exist, with her husband employing arbitrary and complex policies of rewards and punishments to keep the mistresses in line. In this dangerous game, Songlian realises that she must learn to handle not only the three previous jealous Mistresses, but also her hostile maid Yan’er and the realisation of a lifetime imprisonment. Raise the Red Lantern is a psychologically-intriguing film about one oppressive world where the competition for power, hopelessness, despair and the weight of guilt all mingle as the palace changes people and makes them into forms it desires and the master has planned in advance. With the exquisitely beautiful cinematography (by Zgao Fei), Raise the Red Lantern is one of the most important films of the 1990s. 10/10  

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Previews: “News of the World”, “The Last Duel” and “Deep Water”

I missed writing the kind of posts where I preview films to be released at some future date (I previously wrote only three such instalments, one in 2015, one in 2016, and one in 2017). Now, I am talking about three films I am excited to watch in 2021, and all three of them are based on books – Paul Greengrass’s News of the World, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel and Adrian Lyne’s Deep Water.

A poster to Paul Greengrass’s new film News of the World.

News of the World (2021)

Story: Based on a novel by Paulette Jiles, this film tells the story of Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks) who, in the year of 1870, travels across the US, spreading “the news of the world” to people. When he comes across a little girl, who has recently been an Indian native and is now left abandoned and homeless, he decides to take charge of her and return her to her real family in South Texas. The issue for the Captain, though, is that Johanna still considers herself a Kiowa, an Indian native, and, as the two travel together, they soon discover many things that bond them in the increasingly hostile and threatening world around them.

Director: Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips (2013)).

Leads: Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel.

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Sean Connery (25 August 1930 – 31 October 2020)

Sean Connery as Mark Rutland in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964)

It was with great sadness that I heard yesterday of the passing of Sean Connery, a Scottish actor and one of the film legends. He was a man of incomparable charisma whose acting and screen presence were always distinguishable and memorable. Possessing innate smoothness, gentleness and his very own recognisable sense of masculinity and vigour, he emanated the persona of a true gentleman and a real action hero on screen and both at the same time, inspiring warmth and a sense of awe in others. If there ever existed an actor or just a human being working in a film industry who personified the word “class”, it was Sir Sean Connery.

Sean Connery won his Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his role in The Untouchables [1987], but most people remember him as being the world’s first ever James Bond, which was also his breakthrough role. And, Sean Connery will always be the James Bond in my eyes. Gallant and almost too nonchalant, but caring, romantically-involved, but objective, Connery was the most perfect cast for Fleming’s famous Agent 007. With his incomparable screen presence, he could get everyone following his character, no matter the location or the plot. Dr. No [1962] and From Russia With Love [1963] were good films, but my favourite James Bond film with Sean Connery has to be Goldfinger [1964]. I think it was Alec Baldwin who put it best in his obituary article of the great man, saying that Connery had a “trifecta dynamic” and he knew [instinctively] “where masculinity, sensitivity, and intelligence intersected“. There had been other handsome actors before and after Connery, but I think it was Connery’s delicate combination of “masculinity, sensitivity and intelligence“, as well as his skill of presenting himself and his character’s actions as immersively as possible, that helped make him into a star.

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