Visages d’enfants (1925) Faces of Children

visages d'enfants (faces of children) film review

A few French filmmakers in the early twenties utilized rapid-fire editing montage techniques that would later be taken up by Russian filmmakers, most notably Sergei Eisenstein. The earliest example I’ve yet to see is Marcel L’Herbier’s El Dorado (1921). Abel Gance’s La roue (1923) took the technique even further. Jacques Feyder’s Visages d’enfants, which was begun in 1923 but not released until 1925 due to a conflict with a distribution company, also opens with a visually arresting montage sequence before settling, like the other films mentioned, into a more conventional storytelling style. The story is about a young boy who has a difficult time adjusting to to his father’s remarriage after the death of his mother. His father and new stepmother are insensitive to the boy’s profound and unresolved grief. His resentment grows when he is moved to a shabby back room in the house while his new sister is given a nicely decorated room. He breaks down crying when he sees his stepmother wearing his mother’s brooch and spitefully destroys one of his mother’s old dresses when the stepmother decides she’ll make new dresses for her daughter with the material. Eventually the boy’s resentment leads to near-tragic consequences. The film is beautifully photographed in the Swiss Alps and its realism and naturalistic acting, especially by Jean Forest, who played the boy, make the film feel more modern than other films from the era. The DVD is one of a set of three from Image Entertainment featuring outstanding restorations of films by Jacques Feyder and includes an exquisite newly commissioned score which complements the story and atmosphere perfectly.  

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

Visages d’enfants at imdb.com

As of December, 2016 Visages d’enfants is available to rent on DVD from Netflix.com.

The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)

bitter tea of general yen film review

“I know it didn’t make money, but it has more real movie in it than any other I did.”

Frank Capra, who in the early 30’s desperately wanted to win an Oscar, realized that the commercial romantic comedies he had been making would never be considered by the Academy and chose to make, in Columbia studio head Harry Cohn’s words, “arty junk” that usually wins awards. Despite his cynicism, Cohn allotted a million dollars to the project, the biggest budget so far for Columbia which was still considered a Poverty Row studio.

The story of unrequited love may also have had an appeal for Capra due to the fact that he had been rejected by Barbara Stanwyck, who is the star of The Bitter Tea of General Yen, and whom he fell in love and began an affair with during the shooting of their first film together, Ladies of Leisure (1930).

This may be Capra’s and frequent collaborator, cinematographer Joseph Walker’s most visually striking film. Its bold lighting and compositions often dominated by darkness seems closer in style to Josef von Sternberg than most of Capra’s other films.

The screenplay is based on a novel by Grace Zaring Stone in which a young American missionary, Megan, confronts her own racial prejudices and notions of white supremacy when she travels to China to wed her childhood sweetheart, also a missionary. As the film opens, a group of missionaries prepare for the marriage oblivious to the pain and suffering all around them. The story is set in Shanghai in the late 20’s during the Chinese Civil War. The missionaries make condescending and derogatory remarks about the Chinese for whom they’ve come to convert to their so-called superior way of life and values. Probably a large percentage of Western film audiences in 1933 were in agreement with the sentiments of the missionary characters and though it may seem at first that the film is reinforcing racial stereotypes its real mission is to shatter those stereotypes and show that the Chinese are human beings just like everyone else.

Before the marriage can take place, Megan and her fiancé rush off the save some orphans that are in danger. In the chaos of the war they’re separated and she’s knocked unconscious. When she awakes she finds she’s been rescued/kidnapped by General Yen, a Chinese warlord. Yen is ruthless when it comes to dealing with his enemies but he behaves with Megan like a perfect gentleman. Though she rebuffs his attempts to seduce her, a dream sequence reveals that she harbors a sexual desire for the General. He manages to reveal Megan’s hypocrisy more than once. On one occasion after she states that “we’re all of one flesh and blood”, he puts his hand on hers but she quickly withdraws it.

This miscegenous aspect of the story was probably the main reason it failed at the box office. It probably couldn’t even have been made after the Hays Code went into effect the following year. In 1950 when Columbia tried to reissue the film the Production Code Administration found that the subject matter was “very questionable” and it wasn’t rereleased.

Besides the interracial love affair they also objected to the characterizations of Americans in the film. Yen’s financial advisor is an American war profiteer who is the personification of American imperialism which has always used the pretext of spreading liberty while pursuing hidden agendas. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that at the time even Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) was thought to be communist propaganda by the FBI and the HUAC due to the fact that it portrayed a banker in an unfavorable light.

Capra managed to win Oscars and help Columbia on its way to becoming a major studio the following year with, ironically enough, the romantic comedy It Happened One Night. He would return to the theme of east meets west in Lost Horizon (1937) where once again the perceived superiority of the Western way of life is called into question.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

The Bitter Tea of General Yen at imdb.com

As of October, 2016 The Bitter Tea of General Yen  is available to rent on DVD from ClassicFlix.com.

La roue (1923)

la roue film review

Akira Kurosawa: “The first film that really impressed me was La roue.”

Jean Cocteau: “There is the cinema before and after La roue as there is painting before and after Picasso.”

French director Abel Gance is probably best known for his epic 1927 film Napoleon. After the international success of his 1919 anti-war film J’accuse, Gance was considered one of the finest and most innovative directors in France and possibly in the world. With the financial backing of the Pathé studio he embarked on La roue (The Wheel), which took three years to complete and in its original form ran for seven and a half to nine hours (sources disagree). During the production Gance was deeply affected by the fact that his companion Ida Danis was dying of tuberculosis and his friend and lead actor in the film, Séverin-Mars, was also severely ill. Both died shortly after shooting completed. Like Erich von Stroheim, Gance insisted on authenticity which meant sets were built on location; railroad yards for the first half of the film and on Mount Blanc in the French Alps for the second half though the decision to shoot in the Alps has been attributed to Ida’s need for alpine air.

The film is notable for its groundbreaking cinematic techniques, especially the use of of rapid montage which was studied and implemented by Eisenstein, Dovzhenko, Pudovkin et al at the Moscow Academy. It appears that Gance was the first filmmaker to utilize this technique in order to represent an extreme state of mind or build tension though the opening Marcel L’Herbier’s 1921 film El Dorado makes similar use of rapid cutting but not to the same degree. The story, however, is a rather maudlin melodrama about a widower railroad engineer, Sisif, who rescues a little girl from a train wreck and finding she has no parents, adopts her as his own. Flash forward fifteen years and the little girl, Norma (played by English actress Ivy Close), is a stunning beauty with whom everyone is in love with including Sisif and his son Elie, who thinks Norma is his sister. Even the four and a half hour version available on the Flicker Alley DVD is a bit of an ordeal to sit through and seems repetitious at times so it’s difficult to imagine how Gance managed to stretch the story into a film almost twice that length in the original cut.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

La roue  at imdb.com

As of October, 2016 La roue is available to rent on DVD from Netflix.

Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)

rabbit-proof fence film review

Imagine that a nearly invincible invader usurped your country, deemed you unfit to raise your own children, and forcibly moved them to camps where they were trained to become servants of the invaders. That describes official policy in Australia from 1905 to 1971 towards half-caste Aboriginal children. Now known as the Stolen Generations, the number of children removed from their families is estimated to be between 20,000 to 100,000. The film is based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington, which is an account of her mother Molly Craig’s abduction and relocation to the Moore River Native Settlement, some 1,000 miles from her family. She escapes along with her younger sister Daisy and cousin Gracie with the intention of returning home on foot, following a wire fence that stretched from the north coast to the south coast of Western Australia.

Besides the incredible story and its historical significance there are several serendipitous factors that contribute to making this an excellent film. Australian born Hollywood director Phillip Noyce met fellow Australian Christopher Doyle in Taiwan where he was hired as an interpreter for Noyce. Doyle confided his dream of being a cinematographer to Noyce and the two kept in touch. Doyle eventually realized his dream, winning great acclaim for his work on In the Mood for Love (2000). For this film he used different film stocks and processing methods effecting a harsh quality to the Moore River Settlement scenes and the subsequent journey through the Outback whereas the scenes in which the children are with their family have a lush, soothing aspect. This being an independent production, there wasn’t much money allocated for a score but Peter Gabriel turned down a more lucrative offer to score this film because he felt drawn to the story and relished the opportunity to provide atmospheric music for the long stretches of the film that have very little dialogue. The music is ambient, incorporating Aboriginal instruments and voices and even sounds of nature recorded during filming which were played back at different speeds and processed in different ways. Much of the film’s emotional wallop can be attributed to Gabriel’s contribution.

By far the most crucial element on which the film depended was the casting of the three leads: Molly, Daisy, and Gracie. There were no professional Aboriginal child actors so Noyce interviewed thousands of children all over Australia. Everlyn Sampi, age 11, was chosen to play Molly, Tianna Sansbury, age seven, replaced Noyce’s original choice for Daisy shortly before shooting began, and Laura Monaghan, age 10 was chosen to play Gracie. None of the girls had even seen a film before much less acted in one. Noyce’s task was to make them feel at ease in front of the camera and coax natural performances from them which he certainly did. Veteran actor David Gulpilil, whose first film appearance was the lead role in Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout (1971), plays Moodoo, an Aboriginal tracker out to find the girls. The behind the scenes documentary included on the Lions Gate DVD edition of the film reveals that Sampi suffered a crisis of confidence a few days before shooting began. She ran away and tried to book herself a flight home. In a 2013 interview she disclosed that she had been sexually assaulted at the age of eight causing her to lose her self-esteem which led to drinking, smoking, thieving, and suicidal thoughts. She felt she wasn’t qualified to be in the film because of what had been done to her. Happily, the overwhelmingly positive response to her performance dispelled the self-loathing though her life after the film hasn’t been entirely trouble-free. Her only other forays into acting are a few guest appearances on an Australian television miniseries. Like Molly, Sampi prefers to be with her own people and doesn’t like being told what to do by white people.

The film has sparked some controversy in Australia where it is shown to schoolchildren as a teaching aid. Conservative journalist Andrew Bolt and historian Keith Windschuttle claim that the film is historically inaccurate, that children were rarely taken forcibly, and that the children were uncared for in their original environment and engaging in underage sex with whites. As a matter of fact, Molly, Daisy, and Gracie did leave voluntarily according to Pilkington’s book but Bolt’s claims have been widely discredited by historians who accuse him of historical denialism. Studies have shown that the removed children are no better off than the children who were not removed. The social positions in white society of both groups is about the same and according to one inquiry, an estimated 17% of the girls and 8% of the boys were sexually abused while in an institution, at work, or living with a foster family. The arrival of white settlers in Australia has been nothing short of a calamity to its indigenous people. An estimated 90% of the population was wiped out between the years 1788 and 1900 due to the spread of disease and warfare with whites. The child removal policy is yet another shameful chapter in the history of the migration of European settlers to the New World and their attempts to convert indigenous people to their supposedly superior way of life.

★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

Rabbit-Proof Fence at imdb.com

As of October, 2016 Rabbit-Proof Fence is available to rent on DVD from Netflix.

The Terence Davies Trilogy (1976-1983)

terence davies trilogy film review

Three short films by one of England’s and cinema’s most highly renowned directors. I decided to explore his first three films based on the strength of the superb The House of Mirth (2000), the only other Davies film I’ve seen. All three films, Children (1976), Madonna and Child (1980), and Death and Transfiguration (1983) are autobiographical depictions of his ordeals growing up poor, Catholic, and gay in Liverpool. Davies originally wanted to act and write. Unsuccessful in his attempts to sell the screenplay for Children, he eventually received an offer from the British Film Institute to direct the film himself despite the fact that he had absolutely no experience directing. Based on that film he managed to get accepted at the National Film School where he created the second film as his graduation project. The final film, made on a minuscule budget, demonstrates his maturation as a filmmaker and establishes his signature cinematic style which has been described as poetic. His first two feature films, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992) are also autobiographical. On the commentary track Davies claims that being gay and Catholic ruined his life. “I am celibate, although I think I would have been celibate even if I was straight because I’m not good-looking; why would anyone be interested in me? And nobody has been. Work was my substitute.” Even though he renounced Catholicism and became an atheist at age 22 he says he cannot lose the sense of guilt instilled in him by what he calls “that pernicious religion”. The films and commentary may strike some as being full of self-pity though Davies would probably say he was just being brutally honest, trying to convey his frame of mind in the period of his life depicted in the films. The films are bleak and challenging and as one American critic put it, “make Ingmar Bergman look like Jerry Lewis”. Considering how many of the world’s greatest artists led miserable lives, it almost seems as though a tortured soul is a prerequisite for great art. Though making films about his past may not have had a cathartic effect for Davies, it has led to the creation of some great cinema.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

The Terence Davies Trilogy at imdb.com

As of September, 2016 The Terence Davies Trilogy is available to buy on a Region 2 DVD from Amazon.com.

Unseen Forces (1920)

unseen forces film review

The Mayflower Photoplay Company was a small independent production company that produced twelve films, including Unseen Forces, in the three years of its existence from 1919 – 1922. It employed a few directors who would go on to bigger and better things such as Allan Dwan, Raoul Walsh, and the director of Unseen Forces, Sidney Franklin. The story is based on the novel Athalie by Robert W. Chambers, whose collection of short stories The King in Yellow is considered by some to be one of the most important works of American supernatural fiction. Unseen Forces is the story of Miriam, a woman born with psychic abilities which enable her to see the future, the past, and the spirit bodies of those who have passed on. Her father owns a tavern near New York where wealthy businessmen come to stay for vacations. One of the businessmen, Robert Brunton, brings his young son, Clyde, to the tavern one summer where he forms a bond with Miriam. The next time they meet they have grown up and they fall in love but due to a misunderstanding, Clyde gets the impression that Miriam is in love with someone else so he leaves on an expedition to Africa in order to forget her. Upon returning he enters into a loveless marriage with a social climber. In the meantime, after her father’s death, Miriam moves to New York City to begin using her abilities to help others though it takes a toll on her health. By coincidence she meets Clyde again and her psychic powers reveal a connection between Clyde’s wife and a man who has been making unwelcome advances towards Miriam. Despite the supernatural element, the story is basically a romance, the genre that Chambers turned to when his supernatural tales ceased to generate sufficient income. Miriam was played by Sylvia Breamer, an Australian stage actress who retired at the beginning of the sound era at the age of 33. Conrad Nagel, who played Clyde, enjoyed a long career in Hollywood, appearing in The Divorcee (1930), and All That Heaven Allows (1955) among many other films.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

Unseen Forces at imdb.com

As of June, 2016, Unseen Forces is available to stream at filmpreservation.org.

All About Eve (1950)

all about eve film review

All About Eve won six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. It was nominated for 14 Awards, a feat equaled only by Titanic (1997) though some of the categories the latter film was nominated for didn’t exist in 1951. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who wrote and directed All About Eve, is given credit for bringing a New York sensibility to American cinema. He longed to be part of the New York theater circle though he never directed a play nor had a play produced on Broadway.  Mankiewicz regarded Hollywood people with disdain, an attitude shared by the theatre people who are the subject of All About Eve, yet he liked the money, the women, and the control that came with his career as a film director.

Herman Mankiewicz, Joe’s older brother, started out as a newspaperman eventually becoming one of Hollywood’s highest-paid screenwriters. He co-wrote Citizen Kane (1941) with Orson Welles for which both men received Oscars. Herman helped Joe get his start in Hollywood as a screenwriter. Joe produced several films for MGM including The Philadelphia Story (1940) and began directing in 1946 after leaving MGM for 20th Century Fox. As a director Mankiewicz wasn’t too interested in the visual aspect of his films. He felt that directors who employed fancy camera work and lighting were trying to draw attention to themselves and distracting the audience from the screenplay and the actors. Mankiewicz essentially wrote theatre for the big screen. In fact, Random House, which usually only published Broadway plays, published the screenplay for All About Eve. As Bill Sampson, the theatre director in the film says, “What book of rules says the theatre exists only within some ugly buildings crowded into one square mile of New York City? Wherever there’s magic and make believe and an audience there’s theatre.”

The origin for Mankiewicz’s screenplay was the short story The Wisdom of Eve written by Mary Orr and published in the May, 1946 issue of Cosmopolitan. Her story was loosely based on real events involving her friend, Viennese actress Elisabeth Bergner, and Martina Lawrence, a devoted fan who stood outside Bergner’s stage door for months during a performance of a play. Bergner’s husband took Martina on as an assistant. When Bergner was late for a reading with another actor Martina filled in for her, replicating Bergner’s performance down to the accent and stage business. Bergner arrived in time to see Martina imitating her. Their relationship ended when one of Bergner’s fans wrote to her praising Martina’s reading and Martina stole the letter.

Mankiewicz took this story and embellished it with details that mirrored his own life. The conflict between a stage star on her way down, Margo Channing, and a star on her way up, Eve Harrington, is a reflection of Joe’s relationship with his brother Herman. Their father, a stern taskmaster, always considered Herman the more gifted of his two sons. When Joe got started in Hollywood he was frequently referred to as Herman’s kid brother. Unfortunately, as Joe’s career began to rise Herman’s was sinking due to his alcoholism and gambling. Joe envied Herman’s Academy Award and wanted All About Eve to be his Citizen Kane. There are similarities between the films such as the flashback structure and the way the characters are introduced.

An even greater parallel exists between Margo Channing and Mankiewicz’s second wife Rose Stradner, an Austrian actress who had also been upstaged by an understudy. The famous party scene where Margo gets drunk and misbehaves is typical of what went on in the Mankiewicz household according to Christopher Mankiewicz, one of Joe’s sons. Like Herman, Rose was an alcoholic and like Margo, afraid of losing her husband to a younger woman and she had every reason to be since Joe was a notorious philanderer. Mankiewicz was a devotee of psychoanalysis and would use psychological jargon with his wife just as Bill Sampson does with Margo. He would ask psychiatrist Karl Menninger to analyze his screenplays to determine if he had portrayed the psychological aspects of his characters successfully.

Perhaps Mankiewicz picked up the notion that women are happier being housewives than having a career from some psychological study in the late 40’s which may explain Margo’s lines in the film about a woman not being complete without a man. When she announces her plans to marry Bill and turns down a part in a new play she says, “I finally have a life to live. I don’t have to play parts I’m too old for just because I have nothing to do with my nights.” Margo seems happy but this is one instance in the film that seems more like wishful thinking on Mankiewicz’s part than a reflection of his own life. He stifled his wife’s career because he felt she belonged at home. She tried to drown her unhappiness with alcohol and took her own life in 1958 at the age of 45.

In some ways life imitated the film. Bette Davis who plays Margo Channing and Gary Merrill who plays her lover Bill Sampson actually fell in love during the production. They were married shortly afterwards and remained man and wife for ten years. Anne Baxter who plays Eve Harrington insisted on being considered for the Best Actress Award instead of Best Supporting Actress which probably prevented Bette Davis from winning the Oscar for Best Actress. Mankiewicz invented the Sarah Siddons Award for the film but in 1952 a group of theatre enthusiasts in Chicago founded the Sarah Siddons Society to honor actors for their theatre performances in Chicago. The Society still exists and past recipients of the Award include Celeste Holm and Bette Davis.

Bette Davis’ performance in All About Eve is considered one of her finest. Like Margo Channing her career was declining but this film initiated a brief resuscitation. George Sanders won the Best Supporting Actor Award and his performance as theatre critic Addison DeWitt is considered one of his best if not his best. The film also features Marilyn Monroe in a small role early on in her career. It is said that her presence in this film helped advance her career.

Whereas All About Eve has great writing and performances I don’t consider it a great film. It’s a very good film and its wittiness is a delight to the intellect but the medium of cinema is capable of so much more than capturing the performance of a well written screenplay. I consider Mankiewicz’s No Way Out, released earlier in 1950, a better film as it is less theatrical and more cinematic.

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

All About Eve at imdb.com

As of May, 2016 All About Eve  is available to rent on DVD from Netflix.com

 

Gipsy Anne (1920)

gipsy anne 1920 film review

Gipsy Anne (Norwegian title: Fante-Anne) is a landmark in Norwegian cinema because it was the first Norwegian film to utilize a professional Norwegian cast and crew. Previously, Norwegian films had been made by Danish and Swedish filmmakers and professional Norwegian stage actors had been prohibited from working in films by theatre companies. It was also the directorial debut of Rasmus Breistein who is considered the most important Norwegian director from the silent era.

Breistein also wrote the screenplay, his first, which is based on a story by Norwegian writer Kristofer Janson. The story concerns an orphan girl, Anne, who grows up on a farm where she is taken in after the death of her transient mother when she was still a baby. When she grows up a love triangle forms with her stepbrother, Haldor, and Jon, the farmhand who found her when she was an infant. Haldor proposes to Anne but his mother objects due to Anne’s being a girl of “unknown origin” which makes for a compelling drama with performances that are surprisingly naturalistic considering the era. The ending, however, is a bit too pat and seems uncharacteristic for Scandinavian cinema. Anne as a woman is played by Norwegian actress Asta Nielsen who is not the internationally famous Danish actress who shared the same name.

The film features beautiful Norwegian landscapes and carefully composed, painterly scenes.  The camera work is years ahead of most films made in 1920. A series of romantic melodramas utilizing natural landscapes ensued, mostly directed by Breistein,  which came to typify Norwegian silent cinema. The new restoration by the Norwegian Film Institute available on Blu-Ray is immaculate and the orchestral score composed for this edition enhances the film immensely.

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

Gipsy Anne at imdb.com

As of April, 2016 Gipsy Anne is available on Blu-Ray from Amazon.com

The Juniper Tree (1990)

the juniper tree film review

Nietzchka Keene (1952-2004), writer and director of The Juniper Tree, had a background in Old Icelandic Studies and won a Fulbright Fellowship to make a film in Iceland. She ended up making a different film than she had proposed which upset some of the people at the Fulbright Program but the actors felt the story was essentially Icelandic even though it was based on a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. The fairy tale is the evil stepmother variety in which a widower with a young son marries another woman who gives birth to a girl. The stepmother, jealous of the boy, kills him, cooks him in a stew, and serves it to her husband. The stepmother also manages to convince her daughter that she killed her half brother. Keene adapted the tale to include witchcraft which is an undercurrent in many of the Grimm tales that involve women. She also made the role of the little girl and her experience the focus of the film. She and her older sister are forced to flee their village after their mother is accused of being a witch and burned at the stake. They seek the protection of a man in order to survive and when they come across the widower with the young son the older sister casts a spell which prevents him from ever leaving her.

In an interview included on the Rhino Edition DVD Keene explains that she isn’t making a statement about witchcraft noting that the film never shows that the spells actually work. She feels that many who were accused of witchcraft in the early 17th century were merely practicing folk medicine. The sisters use the only knowledge they have in an effort to control an environment in which they are extremely vulnerable. Keene was more interested in creating a fairy tale world and a mood of melancholic loneliness which is part of the reason she chose to shoot in black and white on bleak locations.

The film was shot in 1986 but due to financial difficulties not released until 1990. Originally a 13 year old girl was cast to play the lead role but when that didn’t work out Keene was able to get 19 year old Björk to play the part even though she had just given birth to her first child. This was Björk’s and Keene’s feature film debut.  Björk’s subsequent international success as a singer is the main reason this film is still in circulation. Keene made one more feature film which was first shown four years after her death.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

The Juniper Tree at imdb.com

As of April, 2016 The Juniper Tree is available to rent on DVD from Netflix.com

Faithless (2000)

faithless 2000 film review

Ingmar Bergman retired from filmmaking after the release of Fanny and Alexander (1982) though he continued directing plays, writing screenplays, and directing movies for T.V. until the year of his death in 2007. He wrote the screenplay for Faithless (original Swedish title: Trolösa) which is loosely based on events connected with an adulterous affair from his own life. Liv Ullmann, who appeared in many of Bergman’s most important films and who also was once his lover and had a child by him, directed the film, this being her fourth effort in that capacity. Another Bergman alumni, Erland Josephson, who appeared opposite Ullmann in Bergman’s T.V. mini-series Scenes from a Marriage (1973), plays an elderly, reclusive writer who conjures up a character by the name of Marianne (played by Lena Endre) which was also the name of the character Ullmann played in Scenes from a Marriage. He asks her to sit by the window so he can see her. She says first he must describe her. He begins to describe her but asks her to fill in some of the details. When she appears at the window he asks her to talk about David (played by Krister Henriksson). He hands her a box of photos and keepsakes and looking through them starts describing David as a theatre director and the best friend of her internationally famous conductor husband Markus (played by Thomas Hanzon) and how well he got along with her daughter Isabelle. “And that’s about it.” she says stifling a sob. “Are you crying?” asks the writer.  She replies “Perhaps it’s you crying.” At this point we enter into a film within the film, presumably the story that the writer is working on with the aid of its lead character though we return from time to time to scenes with the writer and the actress who plays Marianne and it’s evident that the telling of the story has an emotional impact on both of them.

I don’t think even Bergman could’ve done any better than Ullmann at directing this film. It deserves a place alongside his most penetrating and absorbing works as a director. The score is spare and subtle and cinematographer Jörgen Persson does a masterful job lighting his compositions. It’s a confession of sorts, perhaps a form of self-punishment to expunge the guilt he felt for the harm he inflicted on the real life people whom the characters in this film represent. We all have regrets for things we’ve done in the past. This film might make you feel better about yourself by comparison or perhaps you see life as a learning process and can forgive yourself for your transgressions.  For Bergman, the son of a Lutheran minister whose strict parenting concepts included locking him in a dark closet for wetting the bed, it seems self-forgiveness wasn’t possible.

★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

Faithless at imdb As of December 2015

Faithless is available on DVD from Amazon.