Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Loneliness is a kind of prison...

See it for the technical work alone--this is the most sumptuous film I've seen since In the Mood for Love, to which Tony Takitani certainly owes some debt. But director Jun Ichikawa isn't merely apeing Wong Kar Wai--he's innovating new narrative techniques based on those delicious Hong Kong riffs. Where Wong Kar Wai delighted in rich color, Jun Ichikawa prefers light and shadow and grey scale with texture. Tony Takitani unfurls like a scroll, or perhaps a manga, with near-continuous camera movement right and sometimes down, the way the eyes scan pages of text and images. The music, sound, and particularly the lighting--heavily influenced by Vermeer I'm sure--are remarkable and only rarely is the aesthetic tone out of whack with the action onscreen. A sparse and elegant film, about which I'll say no more; the story and themes are ethereal and any pre-impressions could ruin the overall effect.

And here is Ingmar Bergman's last film, well worth the wait. Many Bergman characters are skilled at verbally vivisecting those closest to them, but none are so dextrous at dissection as Johan (Erland Jossephson), whose acid tongue and terrible insight have not diminished with age. Now in his 80s and fabulously wealthy, Johan awaits the inevitable in a lonely rural villa when ex-wife Marianne (Liv Ullman) drops in for a visit. We saw their ideal situation decay in Scenes form a Marriage, and now we witness the consequences of their actions and choices in the lives of Johan's children and grandchildren. Marianne gets drawn into a family conflict between Johan's son Henrick (from a previous marriage), his daughter Karin, and Johnan himself--who will win? The cold and calculating grandfather with his vengeful maw and controlling schemes? The hapless son with artistic pretentions who lives vicariously through his daughter? The grand-daughter who must decide between wealth and success and abandoning her tormentor and teacher? And behind the action is Anna, Henrick's deceased wife, who haunts the film's characters, and perhaps slams an occasional door.

Will Marianne come to understand what brought her back to Johan's side after 32 years, after all his lies and betrayals?

Watch and find out. I practically idealize Ullman and Jossephson; seeing them in a film is always a pleasure. Seeing them reprise these great roles only amplified that pleasure.

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