viernes, 21 de septiembre de 2018

Torment (1944) - Alf Sjöberg

The Nordic cinema was characterized, since its beginnings, by having a language, artistic guidelines, audiovisual paths quite differentiated from cinema developed in other countries of cinematographic significance. Whether with the giant Victor Sjöström -who incidentally works as a producer in the present film-, with either Mauritz Stiller or Gustaf Molander, there were always names of great prestige in that cinema, individuals of great value and talent in the seventh art, among which is also the great Alf Sjöberg. For the present film, it is also added another capital name of the Nordic cinema, the Swedish cinema, a later master, heir to a large extent of many aspects of these giants of classical cinema, the great Ingmar Bergman collaborates, in his first script, an incentive not minor, and not few edges of his future work we will see. The great filmmaker Sjöberg, who developed his career entirely in the stage of sound cinema, when the epiphanic revolution of sound was an undeniable reality, gives us this memorable film exercise, which tells the story of a group of young students, who are constantly humiliated, mistreated by their Latin teacher, while one of the students has an affair with a young woman from the locality; but the martyrdom to which the professor submits them will reach unthinkable heights.


In a study center for young people, after seeing an infant desperately escaping from a teacher, and after a liturgical ceremony, we see some young students. This is Jan-Erik Widgren (Alf Kjellin), along with his friend Sandman (Stig Olin), and Pettersson (Jan Molander), the three members of a class where they are tyrannized by their Latin teacher, whom they nickname "Caligula" (Stig Järrel). Widgren meets one day Bertha Olsson (Mai Zetterling), a tobacco seller, finds her drunk, and takes her home. "Caligula" is then approached by the school principal (Olof Winnerstrand), who asks him to stop being so rigorous with his students, but the teacher ignores it, while Widgren and Bertha are maturing a romance, but she fears certain presences in her house. Later, she is attacked by a dark silhouette in her house, Widgren finds her drunk, a strong argument is generated, the young man gets sick, has trouble in class, but the worst comes when he sees Bertha again. She, who at her home moments before was with Caligula himself, is found dead by the student, and the Latin teacher is also in the room, but is declared innocent by the police. Widgren does not hesitate, he directly accuses the professor of the girl's death, he does not care about the graduation; in the end, he stays in the room of the late Bertha, has final dialogue with Caligula.

As it was said at the beginning, Nordic cinema, Danish, Finnish and Swedish cinema, always had an identity and directives quite differentiated from the rest of the world's cinema trends, Sjöström starting everything as the undisputed great master of silent films, Stiller as well was also a brilliant exponent, and Molander completed this, without forgetting, of course, the immortal Danish giant Carl Theodor Dreyer. After all of them would be Alf Sjöberg, framed his activity already in the sound cinema, this is a memorable film of this referential filmmaker, but nevertheless, it is almost impossible to stop appreciating in the film another element that makes it a jewel. That detail is the thaumaturgy that was born with the film, in the form of a man inseparable from cinema, a man who dedicated a lifetime, his whole life, to cinema, theater, audiovisual art, the prodigious Ingmar Bergman would appear officially accredited for the first time in the present film, and even, by chance, he had to direct the final sequence when Sjöberg felt ill. The cinema changed forever, there was a name that would never disappear from the environment, Ingmar Bergman was made known to the whole world, the great Swedish titan arrived to never leave. Speaking of the film before going back to the maestro Ingmar, it is an interesting beginning that we see in the film, expressing the expertise with the camera that the director has acquired, which will be a hallmark of the film by the way, that show of dominance when we see the infant fleeing from his preceptor, a game of persecution in which different shots, often zenithal shots, many travellings, a variety of resources will be conjugated, soon evidencing a good management of the work tool. That mastery and mobility of the camera will not stop anymore during the film, but with great skill will know how to differentiate that behavior, being exemplary in that sense the sequences in the classroom, with the aforementioned dynamism, and at other times it will be a static camera, highlighting tension, highlighting the secrecy of that classroom, the torture to which Caligula subjects the boys. Returning to that, an extraordinary work is done to generate the atmosphere in that classroom, somber, whose walls print the reflection of raindrops on the windows, in this way the walls move in a disturbing way, including a sequence in which the frame that serves as cover for the film is captured, where once again this great work in the assembly combining travellings, static shots, and different frames, will reinforce that suffocating feeling of the cloister in the classroom.

The looseness of the lens is particularly noticeable indoors, the freedom of the lens flows, the interior scenes also have, in their treatment of the camera and in the composition of the frames, in the way in which the elements of said framings are figured, a solemn theatrical halo. But the versatility of the film is wide, even dose of terror we will find in that dark language, that dark universe where the shadows at times become independent of the human, where those daughters of darkness seem to move freely, the shadows dominate not a few sequences, ephemeral but powerful, they move by themselves. And in the dream of Widgren, we felt them as shady visual echoes of the characters, it could not be absent the dream level, and although brief and not too elaborate or colorful, it is a sequence differentiated from the rest of the footage without a doubt. The film has a general tone of shade, powerful games of lights and shadows, backlighting, an expressionist aesthetic that flows with vigor throughout the film, and that serves for an appreciator to have noticed, not surprisingly, echoes of the visual art of the master of this current, the giant Fritz Lang, or another great master, the Frenchman Jean Renoir. Even the frames of the shots, even the stairs, very expressionist visual element, and their twisted conformations, refer us to this audio-visual current, to that shady and peculiar expressiveness. In this bizarre world, the figure of the villain, the great tyrant, the fearsome Caligula, can not be absent, he is shown from the beginning with a significant image, we see him unattainable in his presentation, with that low-angle shot that magnifies him, and in the first active participation of sadist teacher, his character is soon reflected, is a tyrant, enjoys commanding and harassing his students, physical and psychological abuse. However, he is actually a pathetic villain, the pathology of Caligula is palpable, so palmarial that it almost hurts; with the old director we will first see glimpses of his psychological cracks, and then, with Widgren, that shell of seemingly impenetrable evil will be completely broken, his hermetic and unbreakable tyranny then leaves space for close-ups that show him fragile, with an expression, with a shine in the eyes, which definitely will not let us see him in the same way again. He is a bizarre creature, plays with Bertha's cat, narrates the sordid story he had with a feline, is a complex, contradictory being, in a few words, and as he defines himself, a sick being, a two-edged villainous, his wickedness, his tyranny, they hide in reality fear, insecurity, a destructive inability to relate normally with other human beings, unable to overcome his traumas; he is a Bergmanian character in his entirety. The end finishes diagramming Caligula's acid pathos, he is indeed a sick individual, he cries like a child, the dark and morbid confusion make him a plaintive prey, while he cries out, "I'm sick, do not leave me alone, turn on the light!", because he is no longer in the visual darkness of the picture, he remains in the dark confusion of his own psyche.

With all the virtues and successes of the film and its director, it is inevitable, as noted, to highlight that a giant was born with this film, and for the lover of the Bergmanian filmography, as the writer of this article, it is certainly an aspect of mandatory mention and recognition. Thus, characteristic elements of Bergman flow, the oppression, in the figure of the father many times -this time with the mask of the teacher-, guilt, fear, much fear, both in the student, but, surprisingly (or maybe not so much) even more so in the tyrant. Words, topics that swarm all the cinematographic life of the Uppsala born, the Bergmanian guidelines, with certain clarity, are already being diagrammed, it is in fact a script of the master director of Wild Strawberries, and it is a delight for the well-versed palate appreciating, noting, many of the future guidelines and cornerstones of Bergman's cinema already with vigor in this work, his first official contribution to the seventh art. In this way, we will appreciate in certain sequences a familiar atmosphere, in which a closeness and familiar intimacy is also built that will remind us, insinuating, certain later characteristics in Bergman. But this goes much further, we will see the traumas of Bergman himself, which reach new levels, his nightmares, his torments, overflow him, the terror of the master of Latin no longer covers only the classroom, now comes to life itself, to the real life, to the level of extinguishing it. Unbelievable dementia, Bergman takes his fears to another level, the threat transgresses planes, and this is clouded with the sick submission that Bertha shows towards him, towards Caligula, she, ambivalent female, tenderness and love with the young, strange and disturbing submission with the tyrant, we ignore the origin of that toxic relationship, but we know that he is responsible for her death, it is a nightmare in which the worst tortures reach the most intimate part of life, real life. The threat of the tyrant reaches even other ways, it seems to reach supernatural, paranormal levels, this naturally strengthened and reinforced audiovisually by the general dark orientation, the gloomy atmosphere of her house. Torture and torment overflow, is certainly a very appropriate title of the film, complex human relationships, traumas, fears, lies, everything will end in tragedy, break the resistance of the young man. Another element that is irrefutable as Bergmanian, come to be those complex, abstruse, flagellating and destructive human links, bergmanian themes par excellence, both of his cinema, and of his life itself, it is known that Bergman's cinema drank directly from his personal experiences, life itself was the sap that breathed the Swedish cinema, for that reason his art was so powerful and genuine; these self-destructive and harsh human links have in this film the first approach of its author, still as a scriptwriter, who later, as a director, would mince for five-year periods of capital art. Some of the greatest existential and artistic concerns of Bergman are already perfectly recognizable in the film, Nietzsche and Strindberg, of course, two of the greatest and most confessed influences in the life of the master, two of Bergman's greatest luminaries, flow, even one of the students in the classroom is called Bergman. Childhood is an indivisible element of Bergman's cinema, an indissoluble part of his cinema, a breeding ground for a large part of his artistic vein, as we can easily verify when we read his texts Images, and Magic Lantern, and thus, an atmosphere lukewarmly infantile, young boys, on the threshold of manhood, will have epiphanic experience. The film, for the subject portrayed, was interpreted at the time, not without controversy, as an accusation to the Swedish educational system, naturally embodied in the traumatized villain, but that double evil is sublimated, both by the own flaws and emotional lacunae of Caligula, as per the director of the educational center. The school theme, however, remains almost in the background, relegated, almost anecdotal, the essence of Bergman's cinema is clear, because the drama, the torment, the terrible vicissitude experienced is the core of everything, and we have in the male protagonists two opposing personalities. Contrast the sensitivities of the protagonists, the materialist, the nihilist Sandman, who quotes Nietzsche and Strindberg, reluctant to love and distrustful of women; opposed to Widgren, the idealist, the man of one woman, who does not conceive evil in his spirit. But then both will present a unique symbiosis, Sandman, after the traumas that occurred, doubts, has an existential doubt, the materialist is no longer so far from the naturalist, and vice versa, both have changed, an experience like this has changed them forever. A feature more than appreciable, with a very defined visual aesthetic, which attests to the work of one of the greatest talents in the film direction of Sweden, who knew how to influence later and contemporary masters, being able to remember, just to mention an example, to Michael Haneke and his The White Ribbon (2009). But it would be another the most seductive incentive, of course it is; Sjöberg and Bergman were really closely united authors, in Bergman's memoirs we will find some passage of how the elder teacher taught and shared secrets of the office with the then young pupil, an artist passed the post to another, Ingmar Bergman officially arrived to cinema, the movie itself is an epiphany, an unforgettable epiphany, an epiphany that has been chosen to close the cycle of this cinematographic blog, production stops at this point, and new stages are opened. Thanks to Sjöberg, and of course, thanks, forever, to Bergman.

viernes, 7 de septiembre de 2018

Earth (1930) - Aleksandr Dovzhenko

The unforgettable audiovisual poet Dovzhenko culminated with this film what would undoubtedly be his greatest contribution to the cinematographic art, his great audiovisual achievement, the poem, the ode to his land, his nation, the spirit of his country, an extraordinary film, where his enormous mastery of audiovisual aesthetics is finally consolidated. As he had already made clear in the previous works of that trilogy, Dovzhenko's taste for controlling his work settled, and he would be the screenwriter again, he would write again what would be the road map of this filmic poem. Also, his compatriot Semyon Svashenko, the young Ukrainian actor, would be erected as the great protagonist of the glorious trilogy of the maestro, he would return to interpret the heart of the film, which becomes the story of a young, hardworking peasant, who, always working with his Ukrainian comrades, has confrontation with the well-off kulaks, landlords, he sees his tranquility endangered when great technological changes are coming, which have uneasy both workers and employers; at a given moment, the exemplary young man is liquidated, generating great sorrow throughout the locality. The great Ukrainian director ends up clinching all the virtues previously printed in his work, and the visual force, cinematographic poetry will once again be predominant in his film.


We appreciate lands, beautiful bucolic images flow, large fields of fruits, of sunflowers, then we see an old man (Nikolai Nademsky), he is dying, in the middle of nature, with his friend Opanas (Stepan Shkurat); he agonizes and dies. The son of the latter, the young Vasili 'Basil' Opanas (Svashenko), one of the local peasants, talks to his comrades, the rich kulaks are committing abuses, but with the arrival of tractors, it seems that their situation will improve. Great expectation is generated when finally one of the modern machineries arrives, a public presentation is made, all the people see the machine working, there is insecurity among peasants and kulaks, while everyone goes in amazement at the irreversible change that machine represents. While Vasili prepares for such a change, he dances happily, and is killed, there is pain in his sister (Yuliya Solntseva), and in his fiancee (Yelena Maksimova); Khoma 'Thomas' Whitehorse (Pyotr Masokha) is suspected. Opanas suffers, speaks to the community, wishes a burial without priests, without religion, without God for his son. The mass parades mournfully, the whole town, dozens of people march, while 'Thomas', corroded by remorse, confesses, he killed Vasili, but it hardly matters anymore, in the midst of the pain, we see again field, fruits, again to the lovers.

Dovzhenko is an artist who escapes cliché, is a true poet of cinema, perhaps the greatest poet of the silent era of the seventh art, and when those terms are conjugated, audiovisual poet, few names come to the head so unfailingly, few men of cinema have won that status so irrecusably, and it is impossible to ignore that with the film now commented, the great Ukrainian closed his Trilogy of War, the greatest artistic creation of a major artist of cinema. The film follows the trail of his predecessor sisters, from the initial moment, from the first frame we are already bombarded with the irrepressible torrent of visual lyricism, infinite fields of wheat swaying through the air, an undeniable evidence of influence in Tarkovsky's cinema, an image that we will see repeatedly in his equally poetic cinema. In addition to that the Russian himself said that Dovzhenko would be the filmmaker most comparable to him for his concern for the atmosphere in the staging; Dovzhenko and Tarkovsky, two audiovisual poets, one from the silent era, the other from the modern era. In that beginning, many minutes are devoted to one of the pillars of the triptych, nature, the countryside, the earth, as the film title, the soil that saw us being born, the one that an individual takes care of during a lifetime, an epitome sequence of intentions. Extraordinary, bucolic and natural is that first sequence, naturalism stands out, a very near close-up of a sunflower moves us immediately to the lyricism of the film, we see apples (the influence in Tarkovsky is already more than obvious), humans do not appear yet, but nature, the countryside, already shows its beauty, its bucolic beauty, it is one more character. Soon a wonderful bonding arises, the old man dies in the field, the field that he cared for all his life, "he loved the pears", someone says, like a verse recited, a formidable link is diagramed, between the human being and his environment, the field, sacred union that lasted a whole life, and that ends up being consecrated with death. It is sublime, the old man dies, but he has a death full of a tranquility as infinite as the field that he took care of with fireproofness boldness, he fades with a calm smile drawn on his face, while a companion asks him to tell him how it is over there, everything always in that great natural carpet of nature and fruits. But something breaks normality, something permeates with onirism what we see, on the deathbed, the old man leans, eats, surrounded by childhood, children; other peasants dialogue with the dead, they speak to him, they get an answer, more than ever Dovzhenko's cinema goes beyond the human condition, appeals to the metaphysical, to life after death. Those first minutes are audiovisually a greater achievement than the complete careers of many filmmakers, dream sequences, oneiric bucolic beauty, life merges with lyricism, life flows along with poetry, and nothing else matters.

As always, Dovzhenko takes everything a step further, in his film, entitled Earth, that land comes alive, the field touches, caresses Vasili's corpse, cries, like the other peasants, the earth touches, says goodbye to the hero, a subtle and infinitely exquisite way of reinforcing that link between earth and human being. The parallel drawn between humans and animals reinforces even more the almost religious connection between human being and nature, in many opportunities this happens, it equates both living beings, it is exemplary the moment when the frame is filled by three oxen, chewing grass, to immediately show three peasants, in simile position and similiar activity, making a parallel between the expectation of the arrival of technology, machines, tractors, peasants and animals, connected, seem closer than ever in their uncertainty. Always exalting that natural space, we will also find exterior frames, at times it overflows his style, the sky occupies almost the entire frame, reduces humans to almost second-line companions. The omnipresent sky sometimes occupies more than three quarters of the frame, a visual presentation certainly particular, unique on the part of the director, the sky, on more than one occasion devours the frame; now, this is shown with different moments and intentions, from exaltation to nature, to 'Thomas', deranged by the remorse of his crime, which, like that omniscient sky, seems to crush him, is another moment, another use of that resource. Dovzhenko's cinema, always relying on images, on symbols, now has on the tractor, as it once did on the train, the symbol of change, as an antipode of tranquility, of life in the countryside opposed to modernity, to the mass production, to the modernism of a tractor in the field. The tractor finally arrives, exhaling steam, it is certainly an irreversible change, exploited and exploiters, peasants and bosses are matched in the anguish and uncertainty that the epiphanic moment generates; however, that argument, that struggle, clash, that class confrontation is, again, a mere excuse for the director. This, because he differentiates from his comrades Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Vertov, in whose cinema the image, the art, are largely subordinated to rigor, to canons imposed by the authorities, which sought to exalt and inflame the collective feeling of the Russian people, the first five-year plan of Lenin had just been approved, it was a crucial moment in history, in identity, in Russian reality; in Dovzhenko, however, the proselytist canons did not curdle, he raffled those, the lyrical sensibility, the poetry, they will never be relegated in his cinema. It is well known that the film did not enjoy the favor of the Russian authorities, who defenestrated it for seeing a very weak spirit, not to celebrate and enhance the collective conscience, the pride of the defense of their compatriots, as did, mainly, the great Eisenstein, clothed and adopted by national authorities. Something normal, to be expected, because the poet Dovzhenko always gave prominence, above all, to the atmosphere in his cinema, to feeling, to poetry, to lyricism.

So, again, the form is what transcends more than the background, that is to say the history, the ode to the land, to nature and to the people stands above the war, as in the whole trilogy of the Ukrainian master, a sing to life, to the nation, an ode to the countryside and nature. The assembly again, as in the whole triad of pictures, is a fundamental part of the film, marking the times, the patterns, the rhythm, the duration of each shot, the way in which these shots are interspersed; the country dance is exemplary in this aspect, the dance of the harvest, the peasants rhythmically work, at the rhythm of the montage, a dance in which is praised the nature, the peasant, the ennobling activity of the peasant, there is love in the representation of the filmmaker of his land and of his people. Poetry flows, in the midst of silence, hieratism, excuses, causes, a supposed exaltation and exaltation of war, conflicts, war pride, is completely relegated to the background, is a mere excuse, as always, in this poet, art is above all, Bolsheviks included. Poignant in its simplicity, it is artistic cinema, a human being dances, without more reason and obvious excuse, simply dances, expresses a feeling, like the director's own cinema, everything else surpluses, that feeling is crowned with dancing, feelings speak, a contrast will flow, Vasili finds himself blithely dancing in a moment, and then gets liquidated with treachery. But in this memorable trilogy, the characters of the filmmaker's work transcend, to death itself, are more than human beings, reach beyond death, the late grandfather returns, is still there, is timeless guardian, timeless witness of the development of history, antediluvian, valetudinarian, a central character in the director's trilogy. The old grandfather passes away, but at his side there are infants, there is life immediately after death, the cycle of life does not stop, and the great Semyon Svashenko is crowned as the great protagonist of the trilogy, it is the human synthesis of the idea, of the master's cinematic feeling, another character that during the whole triad, also transcends his condition -this insurmountably embodied in Arsenal (1929)-, in death, becomes more than a human, almost a mass, is a feeling, is the human closure of the triptych. In Dovzhenko's films are the images that speak, there is little text, he takes pleasure in showing us those images, singular are those of different couples, in fields under the bright sun, numerous hieratic couples, with suggestive hieratism, constitute a novel element in the triptych of the director. There are deliberately distorted images, a warm descent distorts them, filling many sequences with onirism, on the one hand the sequences of the numerous couples, with images of certain erotic content -not without mentioning the greatest sequence in this sense, of course-, or the sequence of Vasili dancing, added to the usual technical resources, high-angle shots, low-angle shots, that will continue to flow, on more than one occasion, to maximize moments, feelings, characters. It is also extraordinary how the director builds tension, and the aforementioned montage reaches the climax in the film's central sequence, the sequence of Vasili's funeral procession, masterly segment enhanced with contrasts, the peacefulness of the casket that parades; the tension of the people in the procession, all dignity and tears; the remorse of 'Thomas'; the gloomy old man in religious atmosphere, between altars and candles; and she, the girlfriend of unbridled wild lust. In that powerful sequence, the assembly reaches its peak, just as eroticism, sex and religion come together in the powerful sequence, the religious with Christian elements, and she naked, severe opposition, she moans and screams (in her representation, we almost hear her in the silent film) the name of his beloved, she despairs, images of her nakedness flow, and if those impact now, let's imagine its effect then. Death, the field, religion, and sex, great and burning novelty, come together, the madness of sex, she naked, her body language is everything, her contortions, her gestures, her eyes completely open, in moments where the peasants deny God, moments of laic feeling, new themes not explored before by the author in the two previous delivers brings us this feature. The rain falls, tears fall, Vasili and his coffin passing, the earth moves, yes, it moves, to have that final sequence of the lovers again, in the end return those images, the fruits, the apples, the fields, a life ends, but another begins, the cycle of life does not stop. It is the perfect closure of the trilogy, if first a historical summary was made in the extraordinarily lyric Zvenigora (1928), if later the people were appealed as resistance of something foreign and external threats in Arsenal, now appeals to the vital space, to the countryside, to the earth, and to the metaphysical, to the spirit, to the legacy that transcends humanity. In this way, the three films, obviously twinned, have differences from each other, one is in a certain way a binnacle, the next one talks about the worker, the immortal resistant Timosh that resists bullets, and here finally the physical space, nature, the earth, comes alive with incomparable power, that sequence of the corpse caressed by the tree is something unparalleled. Obviously close features, related movies, similes in the feeling that their author insuflates them, the Ukrainian poet, from the old Russian empire, the greatest artist of the Russian masters, after the collective struggle, poetry, lyricism, humanity, prevail, this film closes a trilogy that is art in its purest form, a work that should never disappear.