Tag Archives: Liv Ullmann

Persona (1966)

persona-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two women become one.

Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) is a famous stage actress who one day decides to quit speaking. Alma (Bibi Andersson) is a nurse at a mental hospital in charge of trying to get Elisabet to talk again, but her efforts prove futile, so the hospital administrator (Margaretha Krook) offers the two her island cottage hoping the quiet, secluded locale will prove more beneficial. As the days wear on Alma begins seeing Elisabet less as a patient and more like a therapist and divulges secrets about her life to her, which causes Alma to feel quite close to Elisabet and treat her almost like a confidant. Then she reads a letter that Elisabet has written where she describes Alma in a condescending way, which creates tension between the two that eventually spills over into a long ongoing confrontation.

This film was considered for many years to be one of the most bizarre and shocking movies ever made and this is mainly due to the strange and eclectic mix of images that gets shown at the beginning. Visions of a lamb being slaughtered, a nail getting pounded into a hand and a close-up of an erect penis flash before the screen while later there is even stock footage of a man setting himself on fire and moments where the film itself gets a hole burned through it.

For me the more subtle moments is what I enjoyed with my favorite scene being the one that occurs in the early morning hours when Elisabet quietly walks into Alma’s room as she sleeps while we hear the distant sound of a boat horn blowing in the background. The shot where the left side of Elisabet’s face gets superimposed next to the right side of Alma’s is also quite amazing.

persona-2

There have been many interpretations through the years over what this film’s ultimate message is. For me it shows how we are more alike than different and how what bonds two people to each may not always be readily apparent and might be something that comes out much later after initially seeming like they are two opposites. I also think it is a great examination at how fragile and interchangeable societal roles can be where someone can seem like the stronger one at one point only to later be shown as the weaker. Alma’s emotional meltdown is the most striking especially after seeming so confident and stable at first while Elisabet’s silence is initially perceived as a rejection to the ugly world around her, but later gets exposed as being more of a rejection of herself and the selfish nature that she harbors.

Andersson, who ironically and sadly can no longer speak in real-life after suffering a debilitating stroke in 2009, gives an excellent performance and I enjoyed how her character exudes ugly emotions like jealousy, envy and even anger and yet still manages to remain likable and relatable. Ullmann has the challenge of keeping her character interesting despite saying very little, but with her ever expressive eyes she does.

The scenic locale of the Faro island where this was filmed is nice, but a patient and doctor sharing someone else’s seaside resort and treating it more like a retreat than a therapy session seemed dubious and almost enough to make anyone fake mental illness if it could get them time off to go there. There is also no explanation to Alma’s fiancée and his feelings about her staying with Elisabet and not him. The sudden arrival of Elisabet’s husband is equally confusing. I liked the scene due to the symbolism that it brings out, but I didn’t understand how he was able to find them at such a remote location especially since he appeared to be blind. The segment seems almost like a dream, which is how I had initially interpreted it when I first saw this film year’s earlier, but it’s never made clear.

On the whole though these issues prove minor and in many ways help make the film even more interesting. My only real complaint is when Alma speaks to Elisabet in regards to her child and the camera stays glued onto Elisabet’s face, which captures her increasingly pained expressions, which is great, but then the scene gets played over while showing Alma’s face as she says the exact same things again, which was too repetitious in a film that is otherwise quite brilliant and a landmark in many ways.

persona-3

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video

Cold Sweat (1970)

cold sweat

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chuck won’t be intimidated.

Joe Martin (Charles Bronson) is a man living with a past. Ten years earlier he was part of a prison break led by corrupt Captain Ross (James Mason). Joe was selected as the getaway driver, but after he witnesses one of them kill a police man he decides to drive off with the car and strand the others. Now he is living the quiet life in the south of France with his new wife Fabienne (Liv Ullmann) and her daughter Michele (Yannick Delulle), but as he starts to settle into his new lifestyle he finds that the old gang has tracked him down. They want him to be the boat driver in a drug deal they have planned and they won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Fabienne and her daughter Michele are brought along for collateral, but Joe has a trick up his sleeve and instead kidnaps Ross’s girlfriend Moira (Jill Ireland) and puts her in an isolated cabin and when all parties converge onto the place is when the tensions and action boils over.

This is a simple film with the most basic of storylines. The characterizations are standard with no gray areas in-between. The good guys are really good and the bad guys really bad and nothing is ever nebulous as the tried and true formula gets followed from beginning to end. However, I liked it. Sometimes it is nice to have a film that isn’t trying to reinvent the genre and does things in a compact, crackling non-think style where the viewer can sit back and enjoy an old fashioned white knuckler without having to be challenged. After a slightly awkward start the film begins to roll and then never lets up. Chuck puts his gruff, stoic caricature to the hilt here helping propel the viewer emotionally into the action as he finds increasingly novel ways to overpower the baddies just as the odds look stacked against him.

Having him married to Ullmann was offbeat casting, but it works. Ullmann who has quite possibly one of the most expressive faces in all of cinema seems game for the proceedings. It was nice seeing her in something different than a brooding Ingmar Bergman drama. She gets right into the fray and becomes an integral part of the story and succeeds quite well.

The always reliable and many times brilliant Mason sports an American accent and its fun. He also takes part in a great death scene that gets amazingly prolonged until his increasingly pale complexion becomes genuinely disturbing.

Ireland shows flair as a jaded hippie type. Her and Chuck’s sparring clicks and casting the real-life couple as characters with animosity for the other is cute. I just wished that director Terence Young had played it up more and given Ireland more screen time.

Having the second half of the film take place almost exclusively at an isolated locale gives the picture added personality, but what impressed me the most was the action. In particular was a car chase along the long, winding French roads. I know the car chases in Bullitt and The French Connection get the honors for having the best and most famous chase sequences, but the one here comes amazingly close. I found myself turning uncomfortably in my seat as Chuck’s car travels each curve at high speeds and when he takes the auto off the road and onto the rugged terrain I was out of breath. The foot chase between Fabienne and her daughter and one of the lone gunmen along the ragged, rocky landscape is equally exciting and well captured at different angles.

This one is sure to please Bronson fans as it has all the ingredients his films are known for. My only complaint is with the DVD transfer available on Amazon Instant. Normally I love the way Amazon has made available films that are hard or even impossible to find and most of the time picture quality is decent to good, but here it looks like someone’s old home movie with a color that is faded and at certain spots completely washed out. It also very grainy and looks like it was taken from an old film stock, or lost VHS tape. The less than ideal presentation unfairly taints what is otherwise a solid production that deserves a much better looking reissue.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Terence Young

Studio: Fair Film

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video