The Return is a dark, eerie film set in the outskirts of Northern Russia. When a father candidly returns to his two sons, after 12 years of absence, one meets him with admiration while the other in spite. What Zvyagintsev does great in his directorial debut is build eeriness with sound, even in scenes where nothing is apparently wrong, something feels off. By the end it's not clear how cruel the apparent gangster father was, never fully revealed, but he doesn't feel as evil as the build-up would suggest he is.
Wow. Today I wanted to watch something real. I truly got it with this stellar debut feature from Skjoldbjærg. I watched an American made film of his recently, Prozac Nation. I found the film- while flawed- slightly under appreciated. Insomnia is completely under appreciated though. One of the greatest crime thrillers ever made, the film follows a sociopath detective who makes a grave mistake by accidentally shooting his partner. Played by Stellan Skarsgård in a convincing and gripping performance. The film holds tension throughout. Every single scene, even the most uneventful are intense. And all somehow equally so. A scene where Detective Engstrom is struggling to sleep is just as intense as the scene where he meets the suspected killer he's searching for. And this is somehow despite the predictability. I knew what would happen at the end of each scene from the initial entrance, I pretty much knew how the whole film would play out after the first 25 minutes. Yet Skjoldbjærg and Skarsgård team up to make it surprisingly gripping. Proving how important atmosphere is to making a great film.
The film is highly symbolic. The efforts of Detective Engstrom are bothered by the bright sun peering into his room. Unlike most horror, thrillers, and mysteries Insomnia does not rely on darkness, but instead light. Everything happens in broad daylight, and even in the final scene where everything goes dark except for Detective Engstrom eyes- the "light" in the scene is the only chilling part about it. There's one scene in particular that I think has the most symbolic image. When Detective Engstrom enters a "suspects" room to continue on his path of lies there's an image of Freud glaring next to him. "The Truth Will set you free" is a Freud quote that immediately comes to mind, and clearly the detective is not free while he's continuing his path of deceiving those around him. I don't think I'm over analyzing this either, because in this film every prop is important and has some reference.
I have not seen Nolan's remake, nor do I plan too. I'm much more likely to just rewatch this film. As I mentioned I was looking for something real, and I believe that's much more achievable with a cast of nobodies compared to a star studded cast of Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hillary Swank. I think I will stick to Skarsgård, Mathiesen, and Bjørn Floberg. In this cold, extremely graphic yet tasteful, thriller in a Norwegian town where the sun never sets- which I now realize is terrifying.
The only other Ozu film I've seen was released in the same year as this charming comedy- Floating Weeds. I actually found it rather weak and myself unattached to the characters. The experience for Good Morning was the opposite. One of the most soothing film viewings I could ask for. From the start I became completely absorbed in this world of a middle class Japanese suburb. Nothing dramatic happens, no turning points, just the simple life of a handful of families. And I couldn't ask for anything else. Many characters I would often find annoying didn't bother me here, and in fact I liked all of them. The whiny children, the gossipy neighbors, these are usually qualities that make a character a nuisance. In Good Morning I loved all the characters. Especially the grandmother, who was an absolute badass.
Despite being an immature comedy with most the humor based off farts- which was rather funny- Ozu creates an important simple statement on communications and understanding. There's nothing to profound in what is being said but it's simply humanist and adds a great charm to this film. The film has a perfect balance between showing the trivial conflicts of the children and of the adults. Despite it being clear that the characters have greater problems in their lives Ozu points the camera at two petty ones. Simple, calming, absorbing, meaningful, and beautiful. A truly great film.
I think this film is slightly better than The Silence from the faith trilogy, but I compare it to films like Cries & Whispers or Wild Strawberries, and the emotional impact of the film doesn't even compare. The situation is obviously tragic, but as far as character empathy to most I felt was pity towards the father. The acting was overall decent except for Lars Passgard who wasn't all too convincing and had an annoying whiny character. The cinematography is stunning, and it's masterfully directed but it left craving a more powerful Bergman, might just finish the trilogy off tonight with Winter Light
I've been pretty conflicted on what to rate The Exterminating Angel, on one side I felt compelled to give it a "positive" rating and bump it up half a star, but then I look at other films I have given this rating and almost all of them are better. The issue I had with this film is it kind of goes in streaks, of scenes I love and scenes I find dispensable. When it began, it felt somewhat choppy- I later understood the purpose of this- but regardless that is the affect it gave, making it hard to get into. Once the story began about the group of bourgeoisie members trapped in tan upscale room, it had many funny lines and ironic scenes. But as the film went along I felt that I was trapped in the same prison the characters were in, and just like everyone in the room wanted to get away from these idiots. By the time the hallucinations began I started enjoying the comedic work again, but there was a long point in the film where I couldn't wait for it to end. While I found the comedy successful the surrealism was clear but not effective. I love surrealistic pieces like Eraserhead or Un Chien Andalou- which Bunuel himself contributed too. But all the ones I love are eerie, dark, and symbolic. The surrealism in The Exterminating Angel, silly and weird but not eerie, dark, or symbolic. Bunuel has two obsession in his films, Christianity and the bourgeoisie. While there are funny moments regarding both categories, I can't distinguish his statement on either. Was the point that the bourgeoisie were becoming the working class, they once couldn't understand? Are they now the ones that are trapped, like their inferiors were once? That's the most I understood, but even their I can't complete the puzzle.