THE MAGICIAN (ANSIKTET) (Ingmar Bergman, 1958)
209 West Houston St.
Friday, February 16, 2:00, 6:00, 10:00; Saturday, February 17, 4:20, 8:15; Sunday, March 4, 12:30
Series runs February 7 - March 15
Film Forum’s Ingmar Bergman Centennial Retrospective continues with Bergman’s darkly comic 1958 film The Magician, one of the Swedish auteur’s lesser-known, underrated masterpieces, an intense yet funny, and fun, work about art, science, faith, death, and the power of the movies themselves. When Vogler’s Magnetic Health Theater comes to town, the local triumvirate of Dr. Vergérus (Gunnar Björnstrand), police commissioner Starbeck (Toivo Pawlo), and Consul Egerman (Erland Josephson) brings the traveling troupe in for questioning, forcing them to spend the night as guests in Egerman’s home. The three men seek to prove that mesmerist Albert Emanuel Vogler (Max von Sydow), his assistant, Mr. Aman (Ingrid Thulin), a witchy grandmother (Naima Wifstrand), and their promoter, Tubal (Åke Fridell), are a bunch of frauds. The interrogations delve into such Bergmanesque topics as science vs. reason, good vs. evil, life and death, and the existence of God. As various potions are dispensed to and tricks played on a staff that includes maid Sara (Bibi Andersson), cook Sofia Garp (Sif Ruud), and stableman Antonsson (Oscar Ljung) in addition to Starbeck’s wife (Ulla Sjöblom) and Egerman’s spouse (Gertrud Fridh), a series of romantic rendezvous take place, along with some genuine horror, leading to a thrillingly ambiguous ending.
Von Sydow is mesmerizing as the mesmerist, a silent, brooding man in a sharp beard and mustache, his penetrating eyes a character all their own. (The original title of the film is Ansiktet, which means “Face.”) His showdowns with Dr. Vergerus serve as Bergman’s defense of the art of film itself, an illusion of light and shadow and suspension of belief. Meanwhile, Tubal and wandering drunk Johan Spegel (Bengt Ekerot) add comic relief and a needed level of absurdity to the serious proceedings. The film is superbly shot in black-and-white by cinematographer Gunnar Fischer, maintaining an appropriately creepy and mysterious look throughout. It also introduces character names into Bergman’s canon, appellations such as Vogler, Vergérus, and Egerman, that will show up again in such future works as Persona (with Liv Ullmann as actress Elisabet Vogler, who has stopped speaking, and Björnstrand as Mr. Vogler), Hour of the Wolf (with Thulin as Veronica Vogler, a former lover haunting von Sydow’s painter Johan Borg), Fanny and Alexander (with Jan Malmsjö as Bishop Edvard Vergérus), and After the Rehearsal (with Josephson as theater director Henrik Vogler and Lena Olin as actress Anna Egerman). Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 1959 Venice Film Festival, The Magician is screening February 16-17 and March 4 in Film Forum’s fab Bergman series, which keeps providing magic through March 15 with such other treasures as Shame, Persona, The Virgin Spring, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Passion of Anna, and The Touch (with Elliott Gould!).
FORCE MAJEURE (Ruben Östlund, 2014)
THE SQUARE (Ruben Östlund, 2017)
58 Park Ave. at 38th St.
Tuesday, February 20, $20, 4:00
After three skiing films and two documentaries, Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund experienced near-instant success with his fiction work, which has included five features and two shorts since 2004, earning him numerous international awards. Scandinavia House will be honoring the Styrsö native on February 20 with a double feature of his two latest gems, Force Majeure, which was shortlisted for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and The Square, which is competing for the award at this year’s Oscars. Östlund will be at the Park Ave. cultural institution for a Q&A following The Square, which won the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes. First up at 4:00 is Force Majeure, one of the best films you’ll ever hear. Not that Fredrik Wenzel’s photography of a lovely Savoie ski resort and Ola Fløttum’s bold, classical-based score aren’t stunning in their own right, but Kjetil Mørk, Rune Van Deurs, and Jesper Miller’s sound design makes every boot crunching on the snow, every buzzing electric toothbrush, every ski lift going up a mountain, every explosion setting off a controlled avalanche a character unto itself, heightening the tension (and black comedy) of this dark satire about a family dealing with a crisis. On the first day of their five-day French Alps vacation, workaholic Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), are enjoying lunch on an outdoor veranda with their small children, Harry (Vincent Wettergren) and Vera (Clara Wettergren), when a potential tragedy comes barreling at them, but in the heat of the moment, while Ebba instantly seeks to protect the kids, Tomas runs for his life, leaving his family behind. After the event, which was not as bad as anticipated, the relationship among the four of them has forever changed, especially because Tomas will not own up to what happened. Even Harry and Vera (who are brother and sister in real life) know something went wrong that afternoon and are now terrified that their parents will divorce. But with Tomas unwilling to talk about his flight response, Ebba starts sharing the story with other couples, including their hirsute friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and his young girlfriend, Fanni (Fanni Metelius), who are soon arguing in private about what they would do in a similar situation.
Winner of the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard sidebar of the Cannes Film Festival and the Swedish entry for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Force Majeure is a blistering exploration of human nature, gender roles, and survival instinct. The often uncomfortable and utterly believable tale, inspired by a real-life event in which friends of Östlund’s were attacked by gunmen, recalls Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet, in which an engaged couple encounter serious trouble and their immediate, individual reactions change their dynamic. Östlund (Play, Involuntary), who was also influenced by statistics that show that more men survive shipwrecks than women and children on a percentage basis, often keeps dialogue at a minimum, revealing the family’s growing predicament by repeating visuals with slight differences, from the way they sleep in the same bed to how they brush their teeth in front of a long mirror to the looks on their faces as they move along a motorized walkway in a tunnel at the ski resort. The ending feels forced and confusing, but everything leading up to that is simply dazzling, a treat for the senses that is impossible not to experience without wondering what you would do if danger suddenly threatened you and your loved ones.
The plot of Östlund’s 2014 absurdist satire, Force Majeure, turns on a man’s momentary act of surprising cowardice when an avalanche threatens him and his family at a ski resort. In the Swedish writer-director’s absurdist satire The Square, screening at 6:30 at Scandinavia House, the plot is set in motion when a man’s momentary act of surprising bravery leads him into a spiral of personal and professional chaos. The Tesla-driving chief curator of the fictional X-Royal contemporary art museum in Sweden, Christian (Claes Bang) is walking through a busy plaza when he hears a woman crying for help as bystanders do nothing. After his initial hesitation, Christian intervenes and is ultimately quite pleased with himself and his decision to do the right thing — until, a few moments later, he realizes he’s been robbed. Back at the museum, Christian listens to a pair of millennial marketers pitching their campaign for the institution’s upcoming exhibit, “The Square,” which is highlighted by a four-meter-by-four-meter square positioned on the cobblestones in the museum’s front courtyard. An accompanying plaque reads, “‘The Square’ is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” As the museum contemplates a cutting-edge ad campaign for the exhibit, Christian has to deal with an arts journalist, an angry kid, the museum board, and his own moral decisions.
The film opens as Christian is being interviewed by Ann (Elisabeth Moss) in a gallery, in front of a neon wall sign that says, “You have nothing.” Later, the sign says, “You have everything.” This dichotomy is central to Christian’s inner dilemma; he seemingly does have everything, but his world is slowly shattering, just like the artworks heard crashing to the ground later while he is in a deep personal discussion with Ann. Östlund skewers the art world, political correctness, class conflict, freedom of speech, privileged social groups, and the concept of “safe spaces” in the film, which was inspired by a real exhibition by Östlund and producer Kalle Boman that ran at the Vandalorum Museum in Sweden in 2015. Immediately following the opening interview, which reveals Ann has no feel whatsoever for contemporary art, workers remove the statue of King Karl XIV Johan that stands in front of the museum; on the base is his royal motto, “The love of the people my reward.” As the monument is being taken off its plinth, the crane drops it and the king’s head falls off. “The Square” takes its place, signaling the old being replaced by the new, physical objects replaced by lofty ideals, with an utter disregard for what has come before. Östlund (The Guitar Mongoloid, Incident by a Bank) is not above making such obvious analogies and references, including naming his protagonist Christian, a man who spends much of the film attempting to do what he considers the right thing. (Östlund, who also edited the film with Jacob Secher Schulsinger, has said that “The Square” installation is a place where the Golden Rule and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should take precedence.)
The film focuses on the issue of trust, and particularly how humans lose their ability to have faith in others as they mature. At the entrance to the “Square” installation, visitors are given the option of deciding between two paths, one marked “I Trust People,” the other “I Mistrust People.” Christian’s two daughters both take the former. The older daughter is a cheerleader, showing trust in her teammates as the girls are tossed high in the air and wait to be caught — but not without several men hovering right behind them to try to prevent any possible falls. The difference between childhood and adulthood is also evident in how Christian deals with a determined young boy in trouble because of the divorced curator. Bang is stoic as Christian, a man who feels more at home among works of art than with other people. He wants so desperately to be good, but it’s getting harder and harder to make the right decision in the current politically correct atmosphere, and he is so self-absorbed that he even fights over possession of a used condom, in one of the film’s most bizarrely comic moments. Those choices come to the fore in two wildly uncomfortable scenes involving an American artist named Julian (Dominic West), first at a public Q&A where he is bedeviled by an audience member with Tourette syndrome, and later at a gala fundraiser where a bare-chested performer (motion-capture actor Terry Notary) moves around the luxurious room, acting like an ape, but as he begins breaking physical and socially acceptable boundaries, no one knows how to react. (His acting like an ape is in direct contrast to Ann’s roommate, an ape who is far more civilized and is never commented on.) Both situations frustrate the viewer as well, as we are as hamstrung as the people in the film, all of us experiencing the bystander effect together. And the mood is further joyfully complicated by the lighthearted, satiric music. Despite a few minor missteps, The Square is a searingly intelligent exploration, and condemnation, of where humanity stands as a society in the twenty-first century, fearful of our every move, searching for that imaginary safe space where we can live and breathe freely with our fellow beings, consequences be damned.
THE NIGHT ACROSS THE STREET (LA NOCHE DE ENFRENTE) (Raúl Ruiz, 2012)
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center: Francesca Beale Theater, Howard Gilman Theater
144 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Sunday, February 11, 8:00; Sunday, February 18, 6:15
Series runs February 9-18
In December 2016, the Film Society of Lincoln Center held the first of its two-part tribute to Chilean-French auteur Raúl Ruiz, a prolific writer and director who passed away in 2011 at the age of seventy. “Life Is a Dream: The Films of Raúl Ruiz” is now back for the second half of the celebration, from February 9 to 18, consisting of fourteen more works by Ruiz, highlighted by a week-long run of a new digital restoration of his 1999 magnum opus, Time Regained, a dramatization of Marcel Proust on his deathbed, thinking back on his own life as well as the fictional life of his characters. The festival also includes Ruiz’s last film, Night Across the Street, which proves to be a fitting finale for Ruiz, who left behind a legacy of more than one hundred movies and one hundred plays. An adaptation — or as Ruiz explained it, “adoption” — from a pair of short stories by Imaginist writer Hernán del Solar, Night Across the Street follows the odd meanderings of Don Celso (Sergio Hernandez), an old man about to retire from his office job. Past, present, and future, the real and the imagined, merge in abstract, surreal ways as Don Celso goes back to his childhood, where he (played as a boy by Santiago Figueroa) takes his idol, Beethoven (Sergio Schmied), to the movies and gets life lessons from Long John Silver (Pedro Villagra). As an adult, he hangs out with the fictional version of French teacher and writer Jean Giono (Christian Vadim), whose real self and family appear to be elsewhere. And he visits a haunted hotel run by Nigilda (Valentina Vargad) where he believes he will meet his doom.
Memories and hallucinations mingle in front of obviously fake backgrounds, strange, unexplained characters appear then disappear, and Don Celso (and Ruiz, of course) has fun with such words as “Antofagasta” and “rhododendron” in a film that Ruiz created to be shown only after his death. (He made the film after being diagnosed with liver cancer, which he survived by getting a transplant, only to die shortly thereafter of a lung infection.) And at the center of it all is one of Ruiz’s favorite themes, time — Don Celso is regularly interrupted by an annoying alarm clock that signals him to take unidentified medication, keeping him alive even as the end beckons. Screening at Lincoln Center on February 11 and 18 (the first show will be introduced by actress Chamila Rodríguez), Night Across the Street is an elegiac swan song by a master filmmaker. The series continues with such other Ruiz films as Klimt, starring John Malkovich as the Austrian artist, the American thriller Shattered Image, with Anne Parillaud and William Baldwin, the deeply personal improvised Dutch film On Top of the Whale, and the haunting Comedy of Innocence, with Isabelle Huppert and Jeanne Balibar.
FRENZY (TORMENT) (HETS) (Alf Sjöberg, 1944)
209 West Houston St.
Wednesday, February 7, 4:00 & 8:20; Tuesday, February 27, 6:30
Series runs February 7 - March 15
Film Forum is celebrating the centennial of Swedish master Ingmar Bergman’s birth with a five-week retrospective of nearly four dozen films he directed and/or wrote, forty of which are new restorations from the Swedish Film Institute. The series, running from February 7 through March 15, kicks off with one of the greatest and most influential films ever made, 1957’s The Seventh Seal, in which an errant knight played by Max von Sydow sits down for a game of chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot), as well as the intense 1944 expressionistic noir, Frenzy. Although directed by Alf Sjöberg, Frenzy, also known as Torment, was written by Bergman, who also served as assistant director and made his directing debut in the final scene, which Bergman added at the insistence of the producers when Sjöberg was not available. A kind of inversion of Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, the film is set in a boarding school where high school boys are preparing for their final exams and graduation. They are terrified of their sadistic Latin teacher, whom they call Caligula (Stig Järrel), a brutal man who wields a fascistic iron fist. He particularly has it out for Jan-Erik Widgren (Alf Kjellin), the son of wealthy parents (Olav Riégo and Märta Arbin) who think he should be doing better in school. One night Jan-Erik helps out a troubled woman in the street, tobacco-shop clerk Bertha Olsson (Mai Zetterling), who is being mentally and physically tormented by an unnamed man who ends up being Caligula. The stakes get higher and the teacher becomes even harder on Jan-Erik when he finds out the young man is having an affair with the wayward woman. When tragedy strikes, Jan-Erik’s soul is in turmoil as lies, threats, and danger grow.
The twenty-five-year-old Bergman was inspired to write his first produced film script by his experience in boarding school, which led to a public disagreement with the headmaster. In a public letter to the headmaster, Bergman explained, “I was a very lazy boy, and very scared because of my laziness, because I was involved with theater instead of school and because I hated having to be punctual, having to get up in the morning, do homework, sit still, having to carry maps, having break times, doing tests, taking oral examinations, or to put it plainly: I hated school as a principle, as a system and as an institution. And as such I have definitely not wanted to criticize my own school, but all schools.” Throughout his career, Bergman would take on institutions, including religion and marriage, but his defiance began with this hellish representation of education, which oppresses all the boys in some way, including Jan-Erik’s best friend, self-described misogynist Sandman (Stig Olin), and the geeky Pettersson (Jan Molander). While the headmaster (Olof Winnerstrand) knows how frightened the boys are of Caligula, he is willing to go only so far to protect them. The opening credits are shown over a dreamlike sequence of Jan-Erik and Bertha desperately holding on to each other, but Frenzy is so much more than a treacly melodrama, as if Sjöberg (Miss Julie, Ön) is setting us up for one film before switching gears into an ominous, haunting thriller.
Järrel, who played an evil, jealous teacher in his previous film, Hasse Ekman’s Flames in the Dark, is indeed scary as the devious, malicious Caligula, while adding more than a touch of sadness. Zetterling, in her breakthrough role — she would go on to star in such other films as Frieda and The Witches and direct such feminist works as Loving Couples and The Girls — brings a touching vulnerability to Bertha, a young woman who can’t find happiness. It’s all anchored by Kjellin’s (Madame Bovary, Ship of Fools) central performance, so rife with emotion it evokes German silent cinema. Frenzy suffers from Hilding Rosenberg’s overreaching score, although it is usually offset by Martin Bodin’s cinematography, filled with lurching shadows and deep mystery. The film was produced by Victor Sjöström, the legendary director of The Phantom Carriage, The Divine Woman, The Wind, and so many others in addition to his work as an actor, starring as Professor Isak Borg in another Bergman masterpiece, 1957’s Wild Strawberries, and as the conductor in 1950’s To Joy. (Film Forum is also presenting the five-film series “Victor Sjöström: The Screen’s First Master” February 11 through March 5, with live piano accompaniment at each show.) A Grand Prix winner at Cannes, Frenzy is screening February 7 and 27; among the many other highlights of Film Forum’s Ingmar Bergman Centennial Retrospective are Crisis, his full-length directorial debut; All These Women, his first color film, being shown with a detergent commercial he shot with Bibi Andersson; the 1969 and 1979 documentaries Fårö Document; and his last feature film, After the Rehearsal, and last short, Karin’s Face.
THE SEVENTH SEAL (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
It’s almost impossible to watch Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal without being aware of the meta surrounding the film, which has influenced so many other works and been paid homage to and playfully mocked. Over the years, it has gained a reputation as a deep, philosophical paean to death. However, amid all the talk about emptiness, doomsday, the Black Plague, and the devil, The Seventh Seal is a very funny movie. In fourteenth-century Sweden, knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) is returning home from the Crusades with his trusty squire, Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand). Block soon meets Death (Bengt Ekerot) and, to prolong his life, challenges him to a game of chess. While the on-again, off-again battle of wits continues, Death seeks alternate victims while Block meets a young family and a small troupe of actors putting on a show. Rape, infidelity, murder, and other forms of evil rise to the surface as Block proclaims “To believe is to suffer,” questioning God and faith, and Jöns opines that “love is the blackest plague of all.” (Bergman fans will get an extra treat out of the knight being offered some wild strawberries at one point.) Based on Bergman’s own play inspired by a painting of Death playing chess by Albertus Pictor (played in the film by Gunnar Olsson), The Seventh Seal, winner of a Special Jury Prize at Cannes, is one of the most entertaining films ever made, and you can bask in its glory February 7-10 when it screens in Film Forum’s Ingmar Bergman Centennial Retrospective.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, February 3, free, 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum honors Black History Month with its free February First Saturday program, featuring live performances by Aaron Abernathy, the Skins, Brooklyn Dance Festival, Everyday People, Latasha Alcindor (presenting All a Dream: Intro to Latasha), and Urban Word NYC, including teen poets William Lohier, Shakeva Griswould, Roya Marsh, Jive Poetic, and Anthony McPherson, hosted by Shanelle Gabriel; a screening of Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’s Whose Streets? followed by a discussion with Folayan and museum Teen Night Planning Committee senior member Elizabeth Rodriguez; pop-up gallery talks by teen apprentices in the “American Art” galleries; a community talk by Kleaver Cruz, founder of the Black Joy Project; a Black Joy photo booth with photographer Dominique Sindayiganza; a hands-on workshop inspired by the scratch and resist technique of Jean-Michel Basquiat; a curator talk by Eugenie Tsai on Basquiat’s “Untitled” (1982), part of the exhibition “One Basquiat”; and the community talk “Malcolm X in Brooklyn” by oral historian Zaheer Ali. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “One Basquiat,” “Roots of ‘The Dinner Party’: History in the Making,” ““Arts of Korea,” “Infinite Blue,” “Ahmed Mater: Mecca Journeys,” “Rodin at the Brooklyn Museum: The Body in Bronze,” “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” and more.
MINUSCULE: VALLEY OF THE LOST ANTS (Thomas Szabo & Hélène Giraud, 2013)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall, Le Skyroom, FIAF Gallery
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Friday, February 2, $15-$20 ($40 for double feature and launch party), 7:00
Festival runs February 2-4, festival passes $60-$120
Even though the opening night selection of FIAF’s “Animation First” festival is Thomas Szabo and Hélène Giraud’s Minuscule, there is nothing minuscule about the festival itself. The French Institute Alliance Française is packing a whole lotta stuff into one mere weekend, February 2-4, including dozens of short and feature-length movies, postscreening Q&As, panel discussions, workshops, a free Augmented Reality exhibit by Sutu, a free Virtual Reality Arcade, and a big party. The French festival, the first of its kind in the United States, kicks off with Szabo and Giraud’s charming 2013 Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants, being shown in 3D. Combining live-action backgrounds with digital animation, the eighty-eight-minute delight tracks a lost little ladybug who meets up with a colony of black ants scouring the remains of a picnic after a human couple is forced to skedaddle when the pregnant lady goes into labor. At first the ant is suspicious of the playful ladybug, but soon the ladybug, who slightly resembles Kenny from South Park, proves her worth and becomes part of the team. However, when the evil red ants come looking to steal the black ants’ latest treasure, blocks of brown sugar cubes, the future is suddenly doubtful for the black ants and the ladybug.
The film is expanded from Szabo and Giraud’s French animated television series, which consisted of two seasons (2006 and 2012) totaling more than 175 mostly two-to-six-minute shorts focusing on numerous insects involved in various situations. In the feature film, the story gets repetitive at times and the sound effects can be a bit too silly (and also wildly funny), but the ladybug is so cute you’ll forgive such small problems. The film deals with loneliness, friendship, dedication, hate, teamwork, and war, all beautifully photographed and designed, with an ever-changing score by Hervé Lavandier built around multiple genres. And nary a word is spoken; there is no dialogue whatsoever, but you’ll know exactly what is happening because of Szabo and Giraud’s unique storytelling skill. Winner of the César for Best Animated Feature Film, Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants is screening February 2 at 7:30, followed by a launch party for kids and adults. However, only grown-ups will be able to stick around for “Erotic Animated Shorts,” a collection of nine naughty quickies not suitable for les enfants. Below are more highlights of this whirlwind festival.
Saturday, February 3
Loulou and Other Wolves, followed by a Q&A with director Serge Elissalde, Florence Gould Hall, $10-$14, 11:30 am
The Red Turtle (Michael Dudok de Wit, 2016), introduced by Dudok de Wit, Florence Gould Hall, $10-$14, 2:00
Conversation: The Making of The Red Turtle, a success story, with Michael Dudok de Wit, free, Le Skyroom, 4:00
Panel Discussion: The French Touch in Animation, with Michael Dudok de Wit, Christophe Jankovic, Chance Huskey, and Kristof Serrand, Le Skyroom, free, 6:00
Ciné-Concert: Pioneers of French Animation, Florence Gould Hall, $10-$14, 6:45
Sunday, February 4
Work in Progress: Terry Gilliam and Tim Ollive’s 1884: Yesterday’s Future, Le Skyroom, $10-$14, 12:15
Surrealist Poems of Robert Desnos, Animated: En Sortant de l’école, followed by a Q&A with Xavier Kawa-Topor, Le Skyroom, $10-$14, 4:00
Renaissance (Christian Volckman, 2006), Florence Gould Hall, $10-$14, 4:30