Mary Poppins Returns
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All Critics (5)
| Top Critics (2)
| Fresh (4)
| Rotten (1)
A rarely seen but thoroughly captivating example of filmed chamber theater.
A bold step forward in Bergman's analysis of human isolation.
A virtuoso riff, played fast and close
Powerful and thought-provoking allegory that mixes politics, sexuality, myth and art.
Definitely not a film for everyone.
[Disclaimer: I am reluctant to review this film, because the version I saw had the most laughably inept subtitles I have ever encountered. Presumably, the translator did not even speak English, and just looked up out-of-context words and phrases in a Swedish/English dictionary. When the opening minutes contained lines such as "And the storm of yesterday does not have changed large-thing" and "Frozen water or Coke for my wife, it is smelled badly," I knew I was in trouble. But I persevered, and at least followed the plot -- if none of Ingmar Bergman's eloquence as a writer.]
"The Rite" (also known as "The Ritual") is a 72-minute feature which Bergman originally made for television. Only five actors are in the cast, including Bergman himself as a priest (he has one line). The sets are minimal, most dialogue is shot in closeups (Sven Nykvist's cinematography is typically stunning) and the disturbing, possibly improvised score sounds like a monkey banging on a detuned piano full of shrapnel.
Hans, his much younger wife Thea (Ingrid Thulin, always spellbinding) and Sebastian are actors who struggle to put on a traveling pantomime show. One of their sketches has drawn obscenity charges, and a judge has been assigned to interrogate them about the crime. During nine numbered scenes, we learn more about these characters. Sebastian committed a violent crime in the past. Thea has a crippling anxiety disorder, and pursues an open affair with Sebastian. Cuckold Hans tries to sustain his dignity but isn't above attempting a bribe, and the nervous judge turns more and more vulnerable as the story proceeds. The eventual staging of the controversial piece is enigmatic, but does not disappoint. (Between the eerie piano score and the climax, one wonders if this film influenced Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut.")
Given the film's short length, it's perhaps inevitable that neither the romantic triangle nor the obscenity plot reach a fully satisfying payoff. The question of whether the performance's content *is* obscene isn't even addressed -- Bergman seems more bitter about the principle of any artist's work being morally questioned. His depiction of the twitching, sweating judge is one of his most vicious characterizations ever, and he seems to take sadistic joy in the man's eventual fate.
I'm rating "The Ritual" 3.5 stars rather than three almost as an act of faith, assuming the properly translated dialogue would be far more compelling.
This is a somewhat odd and enigmatic film from Bergman; perhaps in keeping with many of the other films that he produced during the mid-to-late 1960's, and one that seems to be an extension of the artistic and psychological themes established in his more widely-acknowledged masterpiece, Persona (1966). Like that particular film, The Rite (1969) is a carefully structured drama built around a small cast of characters warring with one another in a close and claustrophobic environment that stresses the theatrical nature of the script. By refusing to extend on the material as many other filmmakers would when adapting one of their own works from stage to screen, Bergman creates a much tighter situation that gives the drama a stark, nightmarish quality that removes us completely from reality. Here, we are isolated with these characters, with all notion of the outside world or life beyond those drab, grey, minimalist locations having been removed completely, creating a void that overwhelms us.
The film also extends on some of the director's more recognisable themes, such as performance and persecution, with the idea of actors playing actors creating a performance that is not simply a part of the film, but also a comment upon it. It's perhaps a little clumsy in some places, especially compared to the aforementioned Persona, or indeed, similarly themed films like Hour of the Wolf (1966) and A Passion (1968); with the deeply enigmatic nature and theatrical presentation working towards an incredibly cold and uncomfortable atmosphere that never quite explains itself. I suppose this is a result of the short-running time and the fact that it was produced quickly and cheaply for Swedish television. However, it is still an incredibly bold piece of work, and one that definitely needs to be experienced by those with a real taste and admiration for the filmmaker; with the typically "Bergmanesque" themes and the strong performances and intense and troubling characterisations created by the cast making this a much more interesting and rewarding film than the brief plot outline might suggest.
The structure of the film is intended to somewhat distance us from the drama in a way that many of Bergman's better films would. Here, he uses chapter headings to disrupt the narrative; bringing to our attention the theatrical nature of the presentation and the artificiality of the world to, in effect, remove us from it. It works on a similar level to the self-reflexive interview sequences that punctuate the narrative of the previous A Passion, albeit, on a much more subtle level. Again, it is intended to add a further dimension to the film, but also to make the viewing process even more difficult. It also denies us a central character, with both the central government figure and the three performers all moving from hateful to sympathetic from one scene to the next. There are also at least two scenes that seem to be even further disconnected from reality. One such scene involves the youngest of the performers setting fire to his hotel room, lying back on his bed with his sunglasses on and staring up at the ceiling with a cool detachment as the room is engulfed by flames. It is never referred to or explained whether this scene actually takes place or if it is merely symbolic; though I suppose it could be read on an analytical level in regards to that particular character and his somewhat damaged and detached personality.
The second scene I won't go into, as it's one of the most important moments in the film. However, it is interesting how it sets up the atmosphere for that troubling and enigmatic finale, which again, is never fully explained and seems to sway the film away from the performers and more towards the self-appointed judge. There's a definite Kafka-like influence developed here, not only with the characters but with the situation that they find themselves in. So, we have a small group of characters put on trial for what we later learn are "obscenity charges", but the actual scenes between the judge and the performers seems to be much more cryptic and personal. If you're fond of the mind games and psychological role-playing developed in Persona then you should get a real thrill out of the five interview scenes that form the backbone of the film in question, with each character playing up to their own emotional strengths and weaknesses whilst finding themselves in this hopeless and incomprehensible situation.
Given the nature of the film I won't discuss the ending too much, though suffice to say it changes the way we look at those preceding scenes and seems to open up the narrative to further ideas of self-reflexive interpretation. So, we have the idea of a film within a film, or perhaps something more literal. Or is it a metaphor for the struggle of creativity in the face of government oppression. Indeed, at the time this film was made, Bergman was fighting his own battles against both theatre and cinema and how they were being developed back in Sweden at this particular time. It seems like he had lost faith in his audience and those who were paying for his work to be developed and these fears and anxieties are presented in the film alongside a rage of fury and aggression. For certain, this is a dark, troubling and enigmatic psychological piece that rewards patient viewers with a thought-provoking, Kafkaesque moral dilemma with room for personal interpretation.
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