One of the major highlights of the ongoing, year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ingmar Bergman will be the presentation of a 4K restoration of The Seventh Seal (1957) as part of this year’s Cannes Classics program.
The film will be accompanied by two new documentaries. First up is Margarethe von Trotta’s Searching for Ingmar Bergman, which features conversations with Liv Ullmann; Bergman’s sons, Daniel and Ingmar; legendary screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière; and filmmakers Olivier Assayas, Mia Hansen-Løve, Ruben Östlund, and Carlos Saura. And second is Jane Magnusson’s Bergman: A Year in a Life, which Richard Orange in the Guardian calls “an unflinching gaze at a national hero.”
We’ll get to the other documentaries about cinema in the Cannes Classics program in a moment, but first let’s note that, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Christopher Nolan will present a new 70 mm print struck from new printing elements made from the original camera negative. Cannes lists this year’s restorations in the order of the films’ productions, so let’s follow the festival’s lead.
Henri Decoin’s Beating Heart (1939). The late Danielle Darrieux plays a young woman who escapes from reform school and falls under the tutelage of the Fagin-like Saturnin-Fabre who teaches her to steal. She falls, though, for one of their prize targets, a well-to-do ambassador.
Emilio Fernández’s Enamorada (1946). It screened in March as part of the Museum of Modern Art’s retrospective: “Perhaps Fernández’s most successful melding of national myth and interpersonal drama, Enamorada introduces the fierce, passionate María Félix to Fernández’s gallery of Mexican archetypes—here as the proud daughter of a provincial aristocrat, who attracts the attention of the boyish revolutionary general (Pedro Armendáriz, of course) in command of their town during the 1910 uprising. Loosely based on The Taming of the Shrew, the film thrillingly transforms erotic tension into revolutionary fervor.”
Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948). Writing for Criterion in 2007, Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep) recalls being “moved by how ordinary people were able to express so much humanity. . . . The most significant insight I gained from Bicycle Thieves is that stories don’t have to be complicated.”
Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953). “It contains in miniature a great many of the qualities that enchant his admirers and move audiences to tears,” wrote David Bordwell for Criterion in 2013.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). There’s no getting around mentioning that, in 2012, it knocked Citizen Kane from the top spot on Sight & Sound’s once-every-decade critics’ poll, where Orson Welles’s film had reigned for fifty years. In 1968, renowned scholar Robin Wood called it “one of the four or five most profound and beautiful films the cinema has yet given us.” This past year has seen a lovely and lively homage in Guy Maddin and Evan and Galen Johnson’s The Green Fog.
Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960). “This is funny, fat-free filmmaking, expertly paced and played, ending in a romantic flourish to swoon over,” wrote Ryan Gilbey for the Guardian in 2010. “It won five Academy Awards, including best picture, best director and best screenplay. Wilder said it was ‘the picture [of mine] that has the fewest faults.’”
Paulin Soumanou Vieyra’s Lamb (1963). An eighteen-minute short film by the Beninese/Senegalese film director and historian about wrestlers training on the beach.
Jan Němec’s Diamonds of the Night (1964). Czechoslovakia during World War II. Two boys escape from a train taking them to a German concentration camp. “On one hand, the film often seems to be playing out inside the heads of its rattled heroes; on the other, the present dangers are clearly, nerve-wrackingly real.” Max Nelson for Film Comment: “The film’s final passage is one of Němec’s most disturbing (and morbidly funny) screeds on power and its abuses.”
Sergey Bondarchuk’s War and Peace. Film I. Andrei Bolkonsky (1965). The adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel, rolled out in four feature-length parts between March 1966 and November 1967, would be the most expensive film made in the Soviet Union. That investment was recouped several times over and War and Peace would win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film along with several more awards from festivals and critics’ groups. “Crazy editing strategies abound,” wrote Grady Hendrix for the New York Sun in 2007, “double exposures expose souls, subliminal smash cuts of funky blue crystals interrupt a waltz, the screen splits into three parts, there are point-of-view shots from drunk, wounded, and dying characters, primitive synthesizers squeeze out space sounds over the battle scenes—it’s like a production of Doctor Zhivago by Ken Kesey.”
Jacques Rivette’s The Nun (1965). Denis Diderot’s late eighteenth-century novel “relates to the fate of Suzanne Simonin [Anna Karina], the third daughter of a rich family, who is forced into a convent where she tries and fails to have her vows annulled,” wrote Claire Clouzot in the Spring 1969 issue of Film Quarterly. In the late 1960s, it seemed that moviegoers were “readier for the gothic metaphysical anxieties of Ingmar Bergman, the rustic Evangelical re-enactments of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Lutheran frigidity of Jean-Marie Straub, and the baroque swipes at Catholicism of Luis Buñuel than for the subtle self-critical Christianity of La Religieuse. Maybe it is reassuring for them to know that Bergman is an atheist, Pasolini a Marxist, and Buñuel a former Catholic turned unbeliever. Faced with what Claude Mauriac called a ‘truly Christian film,’ they murmur their disappointment. The real achievement of Jacques Rivette is to have made a film which is both spiritual and ‘anti-religious.’”
Rolands Kalnins’s Four White Shirts (1967). Soviet authorities kept the film out of theaters for twenty years due to, according to the National Film Centre of Latvia, “its open-mindedness, youthful energy, and biting irony.” It centers on a telephone technician who writes songs for a band of amateur musicians. When they apply for a permit to perform, they run into a bureaucratic wall. For more, see the Riga International Film Festival, where the film screened in 2015.
Fernando Solanas’s The Hour of the Furnaces (1968). This is “the film that established the paradigm of revolutionary activist cinema,” argued Nicole Brenez in Sight & Sound in 2016. “‘For the first time,’ said one of its writers, Octavio Getino, ‘we demonstrated that it was possible to produce and distribute a film in a non-liberated country with the specific aim of contributing to the political process of liberation.’ The film is not just an act of courage, it’s also a formal synthesis, a theoretical essay and the origin of several contemporary image practices.” For more, see Mariano Mestman (Vertigo) and Paul A. Schroeder (Senses of Cinema).
Sergio Corbucci’s Specialists (1969). I have no idea who b3n434 is, but this is a pretty terrific introduction: “Sandwiched between two lunatic Zapata westerns (The Mercenary and Companeros), The Specialist takes a total left turn. Operating as both a serious anti-hippie/anti-bourgeois political statement and a melancholy, doom-laden revenge procedural filled with grime, Mexican bandidos, and a dizzying number of double-crosses.”
George Sluizer’s João and the Knife (1971). Shot in Brazil and based on a poem by Odylo Costa Filho, it tells the story of an elderly hunter who marries a nineteen-year-old girl. He heads into the Amazonian forest to make money for a better life for her, and when he returns, he finds her with a three-year-old daughter. That’s where the knife comes in. The film screened in competition at the Berlinale in 1972, and Brazil entered into the race for the Foreign Language Oscar—but it wasn’t selected as a nominee.
Marin Karmitz’s Blow for Blow (1972). In 2014, Nicholas Elliott interviewed Karmitz, “a one-time director of militant leftist cinema who now heads one of the most powerful film companies on the international scene,” MK2, for Film Comment. Karmitz worked for a while as an assistant to Jean-Luc Godard, and Blow for Blow and Tout va bien, made the same year, “have the same subject,” notes Karmitz—workers’ strikes—“but he and I had different relationships to the same reality. My approach was connected to the new momentum brought by ’68. I wanted to express this collective joy and generosity and give the floor to all these women I had met through my photo stories for J’Accuse. Godard covered the same stories of strikes I did, but with a different idea of the strike. His point of view was always that of Jean-Luc seeing the strike. Mine was, how can I show these strikers from the inside, not from the outside like the reporter standing right next to me?”
Agnès Varda’s One Sings the Other Doesn’t (1977). In his piece for the 2016 Reverse Shot symposium CineVardaUtopia, Michael Koresky notes that it’s “concerned with two women, two eras (the sixties and seventies), two options for living (married domesticity and life on the road), two political modes of thought (vocal leftism and conciliatory liberalism), and it constantly, implicitly wrestles with two aesthetic options, Varda’s well-honed experimentation on the one hand, and, on the other, a behavioral and visual realism more common to French cinema of the era.”
Randal Kleiser’s Grease (1978). Twenty years ago, in 1998, this “1970s celebration of nostalgia for the 1950s” was “resurrected on its twentieth anniversary,” and Roger Ebert declared that “no revival, however joyously promoted, can conceal the fact that this is just an average musical, pleasant and upbeat and plastic.”
Safi Faye’s Fad’jal (1979). From the African Film Database: “In this documentary-style film, Safi Faye returns to her home village to depict the complex social and cultural factors that make up her village’s rich history, including the cycle of birth and death, important historical moments, and the importance of history and oral tradition in Senegalese rural society. She tracks the famine that her community survived, their abandonment of their land, and final return. She then shows how changes such as farmer migration and new governmental policies have altered traditional Senegalese rural traditions.”
Pierre Rissient’s Five and the Skin (1981). Ryan Gilbey for Time Out: “A completely unclassifiable feature from Frenchman-about-cinema Rissient, but clearly autobiographical at heart. The images show a Frenchman in Manila, and explore his movements, his meetings, his enthusiasms, and his sexual fantasies. There is synch-sound, but no dialogue; instead, his thoughts and reflections are heard in an exquisitely literary voice-over. The blend of specifics and abstracts is mesmerizing.”
Paulo Rocha’s The Island of Love (1982). From Richard Peña, former program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, back in 1984: “After working for years in minor diplomatic posts throughout Asia, [poet Wenceslau de Moraes] resigned from the foreign service to live, in the manner of an impoverished peasant, near the tomb of his Japanese wife. There, he composed his greatest works, while tragically pursuing his wife’s young niece, Ko-haru. More than merely an old man’s fascination with youth, his interest in Ko-haru became an obsession with an ideal of ‘pure love’ . . . Rocha derived his structure for the film from classical Chinese poet Chu-Yuan’s Nine Songs, a key influence on Moraes’s writing.”
Percy Adlon’s Out of Rosenheim (1987). Loosely based on Carson McCullers’s novella The Ballad of the Sad Café (1951), the film is also known stateside as Bagdad Café. Profiling Adlon for the Los Angeles Times in 1988, Patrick Goldstein noted that “Newsweek’s David Ansen called the film a ‘genuine oddball vision,’ saying that Adlon’s cinematic style has a ‘sweetness that lingers like a desert sunset.’ The Washington Post’s Rita Kempley called Adlon’s film a ‘gingerly happy little fable’ that plays ‘something like a Sam Shepard play by way of the Black Forest.’”
Luc Besson’s The Big Blue (1988). “The most enduring critique leveled against the cinema du look is its fixation on surface, an obsession that reaches its apotheosis in Luc Besson’s The Big Blue,” wrote Steve Macfarlane at the House Next Door in 2013. “Soup to nuts, Besson’s deep-diving melodrama stresses its own depth—emotional, artistic, oceanic—while ping-ponging between its two lead frenemies: the gooey-eyed dolphin-whisperer Jacques (Jean-Marc Barr) and the brash, obnoxious, and charismatic Enzo (Jean Reno). With the screenplay torn between these broadly drawn extremes, no longtime Besson watcher should be surprised that the filmmaker is in top form as ringmaster, less so when he’s trying to be a poet.”
Bruce Beresford’s Driving Miss Daisy (1989). “It’s interesting to watch it in the context of 2018,” suggests G. Allen Johnson in the San Francisco Chronicle. “Jessica Tandy, as a white woman with a love/hate relationship with her black chauffeur (Morgan Freeman) in mid-twentieth century Atlanta, is a symbol of white America’s grudging acceptance of civil rights.” Eliza Russi Lowen McGraw in Southern Cultures in 2001: “Noting that Daisy imperiously orders Hoke around while lauding Martin Luther King Jr., critics have cast Miss Daisy as a portrait of naive and reactionary white liberalism. Daisy’s Jewishness, however, makes this depiction itself seem naive.”
Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Cyrano de Bergerac (1990). Geoff Andrew for Time Out: “Rappeneau's version of Rostand’s theatrical warhorse never puts a foot wrong. Much of the credit goes to [Gérard] Depardieu, perfect as the seventeenth century Gascon swordsman and braggart whose unsightly nose prevents him from confessing his love for his cousin Roxane.”
Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Hyenas (1992). “A dark comedy from Senegal, Hyenas is set in a drought- and poverty-stricken village in which life centers around the general store/pub of an indulgent shopkeeper,” wrote Keith Phipps for the A.V. Club in 2002. “All this is upset when, after a thirty-year absence, a former resident returns, wealthy and ready to offer the town an exorbitant amount of cash in exchange for the death of the lover who jilted her in her youth—a former lover who happens to be the beloved shopkeeper.”
Youssef Chahine’s Destiny (1997). A “twelfth-century Frenchman is ceremoniously torched for copying the writings of the Islamic philosopher Averroës,” wrote Peter Keough for the Boston Phoenix in 1998. “An impassioned plea for tolerance and reason and against fundamentalist fanaticism, Destiny also fares well as a rollicking and intelligent, if sometimes clumsy and heavy-handed, entertainment.”
Many are furious at Netflix or Cannes or both for the absence of Orson Welles’s newly completed and restored The Other Side of the Wind. Welles will be in Cannes once again, though, in spirit, with the premiere of Mark Cousins’s documentary The Eyes of Orson Welles, which, as Ray Kelly notes, “is based upon unprecedented and exclusive access to a lifetime of private drawings and paintings by Welles—most never before made public.”
“He had a dramatic and theatrical imagination, but at in the beginning for Welles was the image, brilliantly so,” Cousins tells Kelly, who’s also spoken with Beatrice Welles: “I always wanted to make a documentary about my father’s artwork. After I met Mark at Michael Moore’s, I knew he would be the right person. His idea on how he wanted approach it also seemed just perfect. I trust we will do my father and his work justice. Mark is brilliant.”
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