Friday, April 18, 2008
WINTER LIGHT is the kind of movie that convinces people who've never seen a Bergman film to never see another one.
It's quiet, it's slow, and it's 83 minutes of people thinking and talking, and sometimes the reverse. It's also quite beautiful, in a starkly Scandinavian way, as it grapples with the existential crises that mark Europe's transition to a post-Christian society.
"Eloi Eloi, lama sabachthani?" thrums like a heartbeat through this film's every scene. Gunnar Bjornstrand is a Lutheran minister who died when his wife passed four years prior. He's still giving communion, he's still counseling parishoners, and he's in a relationship with a local schoolteacher; but his heart just isn't in it. His faith had grown fragile during his ministry in the Spanish Civil War, and the loss of his wife was the final blow.
Today, we'd diagnose him with clinical depression, prescribe him something to get his chemistry back on track, and encourage him to aerobicize. That wouldn't make for compelling drama. WINTER LIGHT takes his spiritual unmooring and reflects it in the lives of what few parishioners still bother to show up for services. It gives us not just a man, but an entire culture going through the painful process of breaking away from a millenium of faith and trying to find its way in a new world without apparent answers.
This film provides fertile ground for meditation. Like most Bergman films, I think it will rattle around in my brain for quite some time.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Here's what I like about INHERIT THE WIND: it's a courtroom drama that doesn't waste too much time with the setup. It introduces the players and the case and -bam- before you know it, Spencer Tracy and Frederick March are objecting, counterarguing, and acting their butts off for the entertainment of one and all. INHERIT THE WIND is pugnacious; it's agressive; it's funny; and it works. From supporting actors like Dick York, Norman Fell, and Harry Morgan to the surprise (for me) costar Gene Kelly, from the most perceptive observation to the most overblown speech, this is big-time Hollywood Issue-Moviemaking at its best.
INHERIT THE WIND fictionalizes the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Tracy is a fiction analogue of Darrow, March of Bryan, and Kelly of H.L. Mencken, the Baltimore reporter who broght Darrow onboard to argue the case. While its arguments seem superficial and some of its characterizations overblown, one can't deny the film's earnestness, competence, and ability to entertain.
I laughed, I thought, and I thanked God I don't like in Kansas. INHERIT THE WIND may not be quite as deep as it thinks it is, but it's deep enough to make for a pleasant Sunday evening's viewing.