Häxan (1922)

Häxan Movie Review……………………………………………………………….

Häxan Movie Review

Häxan is a 1922 Swedish/Danish documentary horror silent film directed by Benjamin Christensen. It is a pretty good, intriguing experiment.

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Poor little hysterical witch!

In the middle ages you were in conflict with the church.

Now it is with the law

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Häxan Movie Review……………………………………………………………….

It is  a study of how superstition and the misunderstanding of diseases and mental illness could lead to the hysteria of the witch-hunts. Because I have always been interested in this particular subject matter, I found this movie to be quite fascinating at times. That is not to say that it is without its problems and there are many on which I will elaborate later, but the film is mostly a successful and definitely admirable experiment as rarely have I seen a film quite like this one.

It is a mix of documentary and horror which is, needless to say, quite authentic and interesting. I loved its distinctive visual style and how well thought out it is. It explains you almost everything you need to know about witch-hunts and the second half in particular is quite engaging.

But the problem with Häxan lies in its first half. Yes, the documentary approach here isn’t the greatest. And even though the mix of fiction and documentary is interesting, it definitely felt odd at times and tonally weird. Those passages where they explain this subject were overlong and filled with too many intertitles and not enough images. Some of the imagery was quite striking, but I still would have preferred to have seen real footage or fictionalized footage that is.

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Häxan Movie Review……………………………………………………………….

Häxan is exceptionally well made and crafted. The problem is that it is just never as entertaining as I hoped it would have been given its fascinating subject matter and it disappointed me a little overall, but the direction from Benjamin Christensen is excellent and some scenes are just so memorable. And the special effects are simply outstanding and so revolutionary for its time period. In the end, even though it isn’t the best that foreign cinema of the twenties has to offer, it is still so intriguing and different that I admired it a lot.

Häxan definitely is tonally odd, it isn’t as engaging as it could have been and the mix of documentary and horror is weird, but that mix is still authentic and very interesting, some of the imagery here is quite striking, it deals with its interesting subject matter really well and it is mostly exceptionally well made and visually magnificent. It has its flaws, but it is certainly one of the most unique silent films.

My Rating – 4

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Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Through a Glass Darkly Movie Review………………………………………………………………………………..

Through a Glass Darkly Movie Review

Through a Glass Darkly is a 1961 Swedish drama film directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Harriet Andersson and Max von Sydow. It is one of the director’s weaker movies.

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It’s so horrible to see your own confusion and understand it
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Through a Glass Darkly Movie Review………………………………………………………………………………..
 It follows the vacation of four family members after one of them is released from an asylum where she has been treated for schizophrenia. I never found this plot to have had anything original about it. It is a basic drama and it unfortunately stays like that throughout its whole running time. But the pacing is the biggest problem here. The first half is awfully slow whereas the second half is much more eventful and that created a jarring feel to me. It takes its time to get there and even when it gets there, it isn’t particularly inspired.
 
The character development is so unfortunate. Yes, it is good. But having in mind that this is a chamber drama, it should have been great, not just good. Karin is memorable and her suffering is well presented and David is also a pretty complex character. But both Martin and Minus are quite forgettable and they rarely add anything to the table.
 
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Through a Glass Darkly Movie Review………………………………………………………………………………..

The acting is good with Harriet Andersson delivering a very good performance. Gunnar Bjornstrand is also pretty good as are the other two actors. But the problem with the characters is also the problem with the actors. They are both good, but none of them shines.

 
Through a Glass Darkly is one of Ingmar Bergman’s weakest movies in my opinion. At least the weakest I’ve seen from him so far. That is due to a lack of identity and memorable plot or characters. It is just a typical Bergman movie that never distinguishes itself from others of the type. And it was too depressing to me. Yes, that dark tone was needed, but it was still too much at times.
 

The technical aspects are admittedly great. The cinematography is expectedly excellent and some of the imagery is great here. I loved the island location and that isolated feel was greatly conveyed. It is well acted, solidly directed and competently made. It is most certainly a solid movie to say the least. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is so overrated as it is never great and also rarely engaging. That was my main gripe with it – it is so incredibly boring and slow paced that I just wasn’t invested in it to be honest.

Through a Glass Darkly is such an overrated movie that is one of the weakest efforts from Ingmar Bergman. It is admittedly solid, competently made and well acted, but it is never great, never memorable and it is structurally uneven and also honestly very boring and too slow paced.

My Rating – 3.5

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The Virgin Spring (1960)

The Virgin Spring Movie Review…………………………………………………….

The Virgin Spring Movie Review

The Virgin Spring is a 1960 Swedish drama film directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Max von Sydow and Birgitta Valberg. It is a solid, but mostly disappointing and deeply flawed movie.

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You see it, God, you see it. The innocent child’s death and my revenge. You allowed it.

I don’t understand you. Yet now I beg your forgiveness.

I know no other way to be reconciled with my own hands.

I know no other way to live

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The Virgin Spring Movie Review…………………………………………………….

It is set in medieval Sweden and is a revenge tale about a father’s merciless response to the rape and murder of his young daughter. The plot itself has potential, but isn’t executed properly. I liked the setting and the time period quite a bit actually, but the characters here aren’t as complex and well realized as they should have been given the caliber of the movie.

But the biggest problem for me was the film’s apparent lack of any focus which was so frustrating to witness from Bergman. Not only does the rape sequence happen way too late, but that second half of the movie should in my opinion have been the entire film. Also, the focus on one daughter and then on second daughter and then finally on the father is odd and it doesn’t lead to much development for any of them. The father should have been much more prominent in the final picture.

But he is pretty good nonetheless and his conflict is the most interesting thematically speaking. Ingeri is a very interesting, but underutilized character who reminded me so much of Anne’s character in Dreyer’s ‘Day of Wrath‘ as basically the religious conflict and ambiguity at the center of her story is very much the same in that movie, but much better done there than here.

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The Virgin Spring Movie Review…………………………………………………….

The acting is pretty good in The Virgin Spring with Max von Sydow being the best actor here, giving the finest performance. The directing from Ingmar Bergman is solid, but this is far from his best works unfortunately. It is also one of the weaker foreign Oscar winners until this point in film history as far as I’m concerned as it is so deeply flawed in most of its areas.

The technical aspects aren’t some of those areas as they are great. The cinematography is excellent, the pacing is good and the violence is well handled and delicately. The dialogue is mostly good, but never as great as the script demanded it. Speaking of the script, it is powerful and provocative for the time, but the lack of focus in the execution hurt it in the long run.

The Virgin Spring is thematically rich with various religious overtones and themes in it, but unfortunately only some of them are well explored and most are left underutilized. I loved the use of Norse mythology as well as Paganism, but the conflict with the father and the theme of justice should have been much more emphasized and it really annoyed me that it wasn’t.

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The Virgin Spring Movie Review…………………………………………………….

That beginning is so prolonged and boring and the entire first half is too slow and uneventful. The movie is structurally so uneven and odd and ultimately unsatisfying that it was the biggest thing that prevented me from enjoying this film more. The second half is pretty good and dramatic, but the former half is dull and disappointing and the characterization is never great for this piece that needed it. Overall, it is disappointing and ultimately too uneven to be as great as critics make it out to be.

The Virgin Spring is thematically rich, well filmed and mostly intriguing and also well acted, but it is so uneven structurally speaking as the second half should have been the majority of the movie as far as I’m concerned and the themes, especially that of justice and the nature of evil, should have been more much prominent in the story. In the end, it is solid, but never as great as it could have been.

My Rating – 3.5

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Persona (1966)

Persona Movie Review………………………………………………………………………………

Persona Movie Review

Persona is a 1966 Swedish drama film directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann. It is an admirable, yet troublesome experiment.

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The important thing is the effort, not what we achieve

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Being John Malkovich Movie Review………………………………………………………………………………

This is the kind of a film that I admire a lot, but still did not end up loving it. It is just solid and never as great as it could have been because of some unfortunate decisions in its second half. I am talking about the whole psychological thriller approach in its third act. That was really not necessary and it definitely ruined the movie for me. It should have been a drama from beginning to end.

There are also a lot of things that I really loved here and those are mostly the technical aspects with some of Bergman’s most intriguing and authentic filmmaking methods present. The film shows only the faces of the two women, well, for the most part at least. That I really liked as the two are the most important characters here and this is their movie. I also admire the movie for basically having one character speak for the entire running time and the others rarely utter a sentence. That was very difficult to achieve, but he managed to pull it off.

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Persona Movie Review………………………………………………………………………………

I really liked Alma as she is such a well developed character with her problems being well explored. But Elisabet is troublesome as we never really get to know her and not just because she doesn’t speak, but also because the filmmakers never delved into her character properly which was a shame. Liv Ullman is really good here, but it is Bibi Andersson who gave a better and more memorable performance.

I really liked Persona’s thematically rich approach with some very fascinating themes. The juxtaposition of one’s personality and the life the person leads is such an interesting theme really well explored here. It is also new and just fascinating and easily the most interesting theme in the film. I also really liked the movie’s exploration of women and the roles they have in life with motherhood being a prominent theme here. That was all very interesting and Persona is so original and admirable for featuring basically just female characters with the protagonist talking about deeper thoughts as well as sex. That was very progressive.

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Persona Movie Review………………………………………………………………………………

That monologue about sex is such a wild scene that came out of nowhere and it is crazy to think about this scene as the film came out in the sixties and deals with sex in such graphic ways. It truly does feel progressive and ahead of its time, but maybe it was a bit too modern for its own sake. The homoerotic tone of Persona is one of the problematic aspects as it is never necessary nor did they do anything truly of importance with it. It was just sort of there. And the whole thriller, crazy approach near the end was really disappointing despite one good moment which is the screen shattering effect which was so cool and unique.

Ingmar Bergman directed this movie with a lot of style and authenticity. And although I really respect him and his vision and different styles here, I still found the end product to be just artistic and never having any appeal to it besides that. And it is definitely not his best work which some critics proclaimed it to be. It is thought-provoking and clever, but it is also very difficult to understand at times and it features some forced, annoying and clichéd avant-garde scenes that are just artistic for the sake of being artistic.

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Persona Movie Review………………………………………………………………………………

Persona has a fantastic cinematography and some terrific and memorable shots. It also has a great imagery and it is undoubtedly a visually powerful feature with such an authentic, yet beautiful look to it. The dialogue is good, but I expected more from it. And the film does with its brief running time the most it can do which is great if not for the fact that it ended on such a disappointing note. Overall, Persona is most certainly not the director’s finest work and it is annoying at times, but it is still admirable and very authentic.

Persona is an admirable, yet troublesome experiment. The dialogue is good, the directing is excellent and the film is thematically rich with some very fascinating themes. It is also a technically amazing work filled with some great shots, many intriguing and authentic filmmaking decisions and a great imagery. But it is also too difficult to follow at times, it is sometimes artistic just for the sake of being artistic and some choices in its third act are very annoying. It is a solid film that I most certainly admire, but I found it pretty disappointing nevertheless.

My Rating – 3.5

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Force Majeure (2014)

Force Majeure

Force Majeure Review

Force Majeure is a 2014 Swedish drama film directed by Ruben Ostlund which deals with quite difficult subject matter, does it right and is one of the best foreign films of the year.

It is about a family staying in the French Alps for a week where a controlled avalanche happens and the father runs away to save himself instead of helping the children and it later deals with the consequences of such a behavior and the fights between the two. This is such a simple but very unique idea which is not only clever and important but also executed flawlessly. It is riveting almost through the whole running time with its thought-provoking discussions and dialogue. It also has a great concept – the avalanche happens, she gets angry, then tells the story to a couple of friends at dinner and later those friends start questioning themselves as well. That is very interesting and also comedic at times. But it shows how the talk about potential situations can be almost just as difficult as the real one when couples are concerned. And the third act is excellent with him going mad for what he did and their coming to terms with it and making peace in the end. It was wonderful to see a strong, realistically portrayed family that had a huge problem, but managed to overcome that in a grounded way.

The characters are extremely well developed, each having a distinct personality and behavior. Tomas is excellent as the man who did this terrible thing and who has to apologize for it and make everything work out. He had to learn what it means to be a father and a husband and his troubles are portrayed in a great, realistic way. As for Ebba, she is again as realistic as Tomas with a somewhat annoying personality and she is not perfect herself which is evident in how she dealt with the situation. As for Vera and Harry, they are the most adorable children. The sequence when Tomas starts crying endlessly for what he did and the children come to hug him, feeling worried, is absolutely perfect and probably the highlight of the movie as it shows how children are afraid of divorce, how that thing can hurt them badly and how they just want their parents to be happy and to be together. It is a beautiful scene that can bring a smile to your face. As for Mats and Fanni, they are very good as well with being their goofy friends and they bring the comedic element to the table which was great for the tone.

I have a couple of problems with Force Majeure. First, the first act is way too slow and it is almost an unnecessary build-up how prolonged it feels. Also the editing could have been better as well as the pacing. And I have to mention that scene in the bar with all the drunk men yelling and behaving like utter idiots. That is a stupid and totally unnecessary scene which doesn’t belong there. Yes, some of the scenes and choices quite annoyed me, but thankfully those are in minority as the movie overall is outstanding.

I love how Force Majeure explored its complex themes. It is such a clever and relevant movie that everyone should watch. It asks the question whether in such extreme circumstances a man becomes an animal in order to survive, going fully to his instincts. It also subtly tells us that women are much better parents than men almost by default which is very true and it explores the differences between the sexes perfectly. It also shows what it means to be a parent, the responsibilities of fatherhood and everything that goes with it. It depicts modern men realistically as well. And it also tells us that arguments about potential situations can be just as difficult and strong as the real ones. With that, the movie portrayed an extremely realistic behavior and fights in a relationship.

It is very well directed, really well made. It also has terrific cinematography, but the score is amazing as well, using classical music perfectly. There is great mountain imagery as well and the setting overall and the location of this movie is very unique as movies rarely happen on mountains. The tone is perfect, very dramatic, sometimes even unpleasant, but with a bit of comedy from time to time too. And the originality aspect is evident not only in concept, but in execution as well. Also, the acting is superb across the board with Johannes Bah Kuhnke of course being the standout as the troubled protagonist, playing the part wonderfully.

Smart, difficult to watch, but comedic at times, unique in concept and execution, very well acted and above all being incredibly realistic and important, Force Majeure is one of the finest foreign movies of the year for sure. It has some editing problems, some stupid scenes as well as a slow first act, but it is mostly an outstanding film which benefits from a very smart and unique idea executed perfectly with a lot of thought-provoking discussions, great themes of parenthood and its responsibilities, excellent cinematography and score and above all a smart and very grounded approach.

My Rating – 4,5

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