In the Ingmar Bergman film Winter Light (1962), Gunnar Bjornstrand and Ingrid Thulin are thespians of the first order. Bjornstrand is never false and always perfect in his timing as a suffering minister, Tomas Ericsson, who still grieves over the death of his cherished wife. Thulin plays his former mistress who will never win Tomas’s love. Put forward here is the concept of minister as nonbeliever, a man without faith. “God’s silence” disturbs him, but at the end he carries on with the hope that what Bergman adverted to as an answer from God will blessedly arrive. It may be that Tomas will stop surprising his ex-lover with the odd “indifference to Jesus Christ” which she says the reverend’s personality is marked by.
I believe most of Bergman’s films are failures, but Winter Light, albeit not flawless, succeeds. Typically it is directorially outstanding. Consider the naturalistic sequence outdoors, after a man has committed suicide, when wind-blown snow and the noisy rapids point to nature’s inexorable power and fascination. Consider the captivating scene where Tomas’s car is at a railroad crossing. The film is serious without being great, exquisite without being a masterpiece.
(In Swedish with English subtitles)
It’s increasingly hard for movies to be interesting. A Danish picture with a lot of English dialogue (as well as a lot of subtitles), Susanne Bier’s Love Is All You Need (2013) is wispy and largely unimaginative—in short, a yawner. Not at all is it redeemed by the southern Italy shots and the absence of sentimentality. The characters, especially the men (played by Pierce Brosnan, Kim Bodnia and others), are depicted not only in a shallow way but in a laughably, almost stupidly shallow way. The dialogue reveals so little about them you’re tempted to wonder why it even exists.
Bier has done far better than this in the recent past—with Open Hearts, for example—but it was slightly easier in the recent past to make interesting movies. I suspect audiences will not long tolerate being bored.
Artistically the 1973 sci-fi farce, Sleeper, is one of Woody Allen’s best films. Except for the physical comedy, it’s hilarious. Nevertheless:
Woody wants us to know 1) he is justified in his (1973) atheism, 2) sex is sort of the summum bonum in life, and 3) his movies do not always end well; sometimes the endings are flat.
In sum, I can’t say I really enjoy Sleeper.
With White Material (2009), French director Claire Denis has done an intelligent and provocative job of presenting the human inability to see things as they really are. Isabelle Huppert’s Maria, a white woman in Africa, is deluded about the danger posed by ferocious civil-war fighters. Her indolent son (Nicolas Duvauchelle) responds to the conflict by becoming a gun-toting troublemaker—much to his peril. In the realm they live in, human life could not be cheaper; no one can afford to be blind.
Denis’s film has a nervous energy and a real punch to it. It’s candid. If it had an MPAA rating it would probably be NC-17 because it briefly shows an actor’s impressive penis.
(In French with English subtitles)
M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (2000) begins auspiciously but eventually self-destructs.
It raises the question of whether a middle-aged security guard (Bruce Willis) possesses comic-book hero superpowers. A physically fragile, slightly annoying black man (Samuel L. Jackson) believes he does. Who this black man turns out to be—well, in truth I can’t make head or tail of who he turns out to be—constitutes one of the movie’s bothersome flaws. Shyamalan is fond of bizarre twists but he fumbles them, as witness his The Sixth Sense. The final beyond-the-grave stuff in that picture doesn’t come off, and neither does the Unbreakable wrap-up. Inspired camera use arises in our man’s thrillers, but this is certainly no Hitchcock fare.