(13/09/07)

Bergman Collection: Sawdust and Tinsel and The Devil’s Eye | Dir: Ingmar Berman (1953; 1960) | With Various. Released by Tartan Video.

These two lesser known pictures by the late film maestro, released simultaneously by Tartan, make a good match as both films revel in stylisation and explore similar themes around the human condition, such as the rigidity of fate and hope as the leading light in the human experience.

In Sawdust and Tinsel Bergman uses the circus as a metaphor of life as a game of fulfilment and domination. The beautiful Harriet Anderson plays Anna, a young trapeze artist romantically involved with ageing circus owner Albert (Åke Grönberg) who is desperate to find some stability outside circus life. A visit to the town where his former wife lives gives Albert some hope while Anna tries her luck with an opportunist actor.

Drilling deep into the characters’ anguish and vulnerability, Bergman turns the mirror on the viewer who has to confront their own shortcomings. But, presented with Bergman’s trademark compassion, Sawdust and Tinsel never wallows in sadness, but instead it offers a gently cathartic experience.

The Devil’s Eye is an original take on the myth of Don Juan. Satan, who is suffering from an eye infection, sends the womaniser back to earth to corrupt a young virgin as the cure for his oftalmological problem. The film often verges on the surreal and there are some priceless comedic moments via the character of the virgin’s vicar father (Nils Poppe), a quintessential Protestant type whose self-deluding innocence provides the material for a wonderful sequence in the kitchen. Bibi Andersson stars as the astute virgin and fills the screen with her charismatic presence. Watch out for the costumes worn by Satan (Stig Järreland) and Don Juan (Jarl Kulle), who may remind some of a young Tony Curtis.

Blue and Glitterbug | Dir: Derek Jarman (1993; 1994) | With Various. Released by Artificial Eye.

This DVD package brings together Jarman’s last two film pieces, both of which were produced when his health had seriously deteriorated because of the HIV virus that eventually caused his death in 1994. Glitterbug is a beautifully edited collage of footage that Jarman collected from 1970 to 1986, an elegiac evoking of a period in his life that is both sad and tender, enhanced by an atmospheric soundtrack by Brian Eno. Sometimes it comes across as a kind of impressionistic documentary, at others it looks like home cinema. In both cases it keeps your attention and stirs you emotionally.

Blue was Jarman’s swansong, a conceptual film that consists solely of a blue screen and a skillfully mixed soundtrack of effects and words delivered by John Quentin, Nigel Terry, Tilda Swinton and Jarman himself, who wrote the text. Although more suitable for the context of an art gallery, there is something hypnotic and meditative about the utter minimalism of a blue screen. For those who persist viewing long enough, the experience can be intense.

The Family Friend | Dir: Paolo Sorrentino (2006) | With Giacomo Rizzo, Laura Chiatti, Fabrizio Bentivoglio . Released by Artificial Eye.

Sorrentino follows up his well-received breakthrough film The Consequences of Love (2004) with a piece that doesn’t quite match up to his previous effort, although it sees the director pursuing a similarly idiosyncratic style. The Family Friend lacks the subtleties and the formal control that made The Consequences of Love leaner and brighter.

The film is centred on a repulsive, aging loan shark called Geremia di Geremei (Rizzo), who lives with his bed-ridden, misanthropic gangster mother. He’s a cold, nasty piece of work but his heart will finally melt when a couple approaches him to for a loan to finance the wedding of their daugher Rosalba (Chiatti). This episode inaugurates the third, longest section of the film, full of the plot twists that the director seems to be excessively fond of. Despite the occasional flash of brilliance, the film is often contrived and limply directed.

The Family Friend may be set in the alienated, bleak Italy that Antonioni made famous, but that’s where similarities end. Sorrentino has a lot of potential and this sort of ‘clever’ filmmaking seems to find quite a vast audience these days. Hopefully he will compliment his well developed style with more substantial ideas.

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