I joined the Melbourne Cinematheque this year and recommend it as well worth the $150 ($130 concession) annual membership fee. I was lured in by the Ingrid Bergman season at the end of August. The Cinematheque runs ‘seasons’ of mostly six, sometimes four, films by a particular director or film star. This one was called Unadorned Radiance: The Many Faces of Ingrid Bergman. I love Ingrid, and that title is so apt. In all of the films shown the camera lingers on close-ups of her beautiful, expressive face. I loved the story told in one of the hand-out reviews available at each screening, that when she came to do an American version of the Swedish film that made her famous, Intermezzo, she refused director David O Selznick’s demand she pluck her eyebrows. She was 21 at the time. So, not just a pretty face.
In Notorious she plays a German good time gal (or is she really an American patriot?) prevailed upon to spy for America just after the Second World War amongst emigre Nazis in South America. Starring opposite Cary Grant – so debonair, so handsome, such a cad – or is he? The exotic South American locations don’t show up so well in black and white but everything else does. A nice feminist line surfacing from time to time in men’s attitudes to Ingrid’s character. An action packed roller coaster of a film. Then Gaslight opposite the smarmy, evil Charles Boyer as the manipulative husband intent on driving her insane. Should be compulsory viewing for people working in family violence settings – it’s all about power and control. The thing about both these films is how modern they remain in their sensibilities (if not costumes). And the economical story telling. The viewer is swept along at a million miles an hour. Exhilarating.
I was pleased to see a film Ingrid made with Roberto Rossellini. This was La Paura, made when their relationship was crumbling. Another husband treating his wife badly – the film I mean, although apparently Rosselini was doing likewise at the time. Wonderful moody settings for a story about blackmail and intrigue. Based on a story by Stefan Zweig (who I also admire). Another interesting thing was the industrial setting. Husband and wife owned and worked in a chemical factory – scenes in offices and laboratories, driving in and out of the security gates – all part of Rossellini’s neo-realism. Very effective. Intermezzo was also a treat, the Swedish version. Although to my mind Ingrid’s co-star Gosta Ekman really stole the show. He was a silent screen star and had a luminous face which was perfect for his tortured character – in love with Ingrid but with wife and family pulling him back. Ingrid was great too. The noble heroine.
There were two other films in Ingrid’s ‘season’. Elena Et Les Hommes, is a Jean Renoir film which was notable only in being a comedy (made to cheer up Ingrid after she’d left Roberto). It wasn’t successful when released (unsurprising) but it was fun to see Ingrid being a very good comedienne. Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata, made as a vehicle for Ingrid by her compatriot has not aged well. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer before it was made and died not long afterwards. I saw it when it came out. I love Bergman’s films – or did. This was overwrought almost to silliness. Hard to care about any of the characters involved.
I saw only one of the four films presented by the Czech filmmaker Karel Zeman, Journey To The Beginning Of Time and wouldn’t have minded if I’d missed it although one could see why people like Terry Gilliam were impressed. Apparently this is one of the earliest film animations and they were revolutionary at the time. But not now. I missed completely the six films of the Polish film maker Jerzy Kawalerowicz which I was sorry about. But getting to every Wednesday screening is hard for a working girl.
Which is why I only got to two of the French director Philippe Garrel’s films despite loving the first one I saw, J’Intends Plus La Guitare. It was the most intense portrayal of obsessive love that I’ve ever seen. That is, Gerard’s (a most attractive Benoit Regent) love for Marianne (an alluring – making the obsession understandable- Johanna ter Steege). Lots of close-ups and languid, murmured conversations to start with moving on to scenes of domesticity in grungy apartments. Then she leaves and he is devastated. Fantastic performance from him. She comes back. He is prepared to have her on any terms. Then descent into the depravity of drug addiction. She leaves. He’s saved by a different woman. Domesticity. Less grungy this time. A son – what he’s wanted since the first frame. She comes back. Oh no! He strays but not completely. Domestic life continues. He learns of her death – is devastated. Incredible performance from Benoit. An amazing film, that has stayed with me. Apparently based on the life of the director and his relationship with the singer Nico. Just wonderful.
The other Garrel film I saw was Regular Lovers which is about young people caught up in the 1968 Paris riots. A great evocation of that period – takes you out on the streets where actions are interspersed with long periods of waiting. Captures the drama, the comradeship and the boredom. A flight from police along rooftops is exhilarating. Later the students just hang out together smoking pot and hooking up. Ennui after the promise of change is unfulfilled.Beautiful performance by the director’s son Louise Garrel’s who has an arresting screen presence. It was good but indulgent at around three hours long.
The Hungarian film Red Palm by director Miklos Jancso was another highlight. This was a highly stylised telling of a peasant uprising that actually occurred in feudal Hungary. Incredibly powerful images. Famous for its long takes, it was incredibly lush. Drenched colours, incredibly powerful faces. You feel right in amongst the action. At the start you are watching people mingling, waiting for something, and there are horses being ridden in circles around the people, blurring your vision of what’s happening. Something is being negotiated. There’s a cart. Laden with bags. An official makes an offer. A woman speaks, then a man. It’s not clear from this what’s being transacted. The people – peasants – start to dance in circles. They link arms and sing. What is offered – bags of wheat – is being rejected. There are soldiers. Watching. The peasants entreat them to dance. The official is bundled into a sack. The peasants dance. The soldiers leave. The wheat and official burnt. The soldiers come again – more this time. A handsome soldier is passed a pistol. He circles around the dancers. Moving in and out. Will he carry out his orders? The peasants dance. Sing. The soldiers wait. Young women bare breasted move back and forth guided by older women, protected by the males. They move towards the soldiers then retreat. Will they prevent the soldiers attack. Night falls. A church burns. The young officer doesn’t attack. Is himself shot. The peasants move on to another farm. An old man is asked for advice. Their natural leader resists leading. The old man bares his forearm. Brown arm against white shirt. The people dance, sing. Loud cracking noises – soldiers? No, peasant horse men moving forward and back cracking whips. The priest comes. The peasants continue to dance and sing. The barn is blessed. Then burnt. The old man’s arm is cut. A funeral pyre. The leader agrees to lead. The soldiers advance and retreat. And so it goes on. Until the peasants dance in a circle on the plain, and are encircled again, and this time the soldiers shoot. A soldier stoops in a creek to wash his face and the creek runs with blood. Amazing.
So that’s my first year of the Melbourne Cinematheque. Maybe one more next Wednesday, Marcel L’Herbier’s L’Argent.