Monday, January 30, 2023

Fårö Document

The Flora, Fauna, and People of Bergman Island

Ingmar Bergman heralded in the Seventies with a superb hour-long documentary portrait of his latter-day adopted home; Fårö Document [Fårö Dokument] premiered on Swedish TV on January 1st, 1970. ("Fårö"'s pronunciation, counterintuitively for English-speakers perhaps, comes close to "Fora.") "Fårö has the same relationship to Gotland as Gotland does to Sweden," explains a man among many filmed for multiple black-and-white one-on-one interviews Bergman conducts with his townsfolk. (Gotland is a Swedish island much larger [relatively speaking] than Fårö.) This undertaking gives credence to my belief that agrarian life in general fascinates bourgeois artists, because it belongs to the "how the other half live" tip, and they're discreetly happy the subjects' lives are not their own. Well, a combination of that and an attraction to the natural and harsh beauty of the environs and respective properties. Anyway, Bergman outside his own mind is a genial enough personality who allows the Fåröfolk to open up and proclaim their (sometimes ambivalent) love for the land upon which they've grown. I'd think it almost impossible to describe the island's landscape without resorting to florid, MFA-sanctioned naturalism'y prose; the images and the testimonials (often edited employing subtle jump-cuts, which nowadays would be replaced with a method of smashing-together the seams, like fast lap-dissolves via nonlinear interpolation in Premiere or Final Cut Pro) alone speak to the hard facts of the countryside. Bergman himself has already filled in many blanks with his previous films set here. Fårö must go down in history as his own Monument Valley.

And, as with Ford, these monuments figure not just as awesome testaments to the power of erosion, but as tombstones, too. As in other films, the sequence of the slaughtering of the sheep, the lambs, evinces a fact of life, the reality of eating appearing itself as an abstraction, at least to the necessarily self-appointed butchers. It's part of a humane cycle, and it cannot be escaped anymore than the prerequisite of gutting a fish. Real blood on the fur, unlike in L 182 (A Passion) — bulbous sacks of fat and guts.

One resident describes the effect of the tourist population on Fårö (and mind you, to this day, the semi-christened Bergman Island is no easy reach) with as much a descriptor of their attitudes as a warning-off: "No-one will enjoy it here."

We meet a 102-year-old man who looks twenty years younger than his actual age, and an assistant vicar, a real pill, who sports a greyscale golden ring on his right middle finger. Never trust men with fitful rings. He himself belies a porcine quality, naturally...

At mention of the children losing their religion, in the discussion between Bergman and the ringed porcine vicar, Bergman cuts to color stock again to a schoolbus of children uncertain of their futures remaining on the island, as rock music plays on the soundtrack.

Bergman understands that the new generation wants color, man, and the stodgy mayor can't provide any ideas to curtail the population leakage except, like, maybe building a youth center?

Thursday, January 26, 2023

L 182 (A Passion) (aka The Passion of Anna)

Grand Mal Given

A mysterious name for the work. There's a tradition of films whose titles are never presented on-screen. (Godard's La chinoise, ou à la chinoise comes immediately to mind.) What are we to make of L 182 (A Passion) [L 182 (En passion), Ingmar Bergman, 1969], which doesn't display the given-name (En passion) but instead leads off solely with the cryptic title à la visa de contrôle "L 182"; in addition, the film was released internationally as The Passion of Anna. The Swedish native title is a bit more encouraging.

Andreas Winkelman (Max von Sydow) resides on Fårö, the island off Sweden's mainland where Bergman spent his non-Stockholm time living while away from the city. (He spent much more time in the '70s in Germany evading Swedish tax authorities.) His neighbors make up a strange lot, the 'patriarch' of which is Elis (Erland Josephson), a famed architect and still photographer portraitist who invites Andreas into his circle, which includes his partner Eva (Bibi Andersson) and a woman by the name of Anna (Liv Ullmann) whose previous relationship to another Andreas has broken up with acrimony (some seven years prior; Anna holds photographs of Andreas-Mark-1"seven years before her catastrophe"). In this Hour of the Wolf-like menagerie, Andreas soon finds himself the lover of Eva, then the partner of Anna. In the background, a fellow resident by the name of Johan (Erik Hell) is being targeted by the Fårö residents as the perpetrator of acts of abuse and slaughter of farm herds and domestic pets alike around the island. 

Andreas spends his days performing upkeep on his property. A bucket that rolls from the rooftop carries as much of the inexplicable power via inertia as the rolling cans in Kiarostami's Close-Up or Antonioni's Red Desert. He rescues a dachshund hanged from a tree after hearing its yelps, and catching only a glimpse of the culprit in silhouette as he crashes through the wood. 

Why does Eva fall asleep in a parked car, near Andreas? Because men like to see women sleeping. Because of wiles. Because the world for women like Eva is a dream. The flesh is onion-skin. Cuts to a typewriter with reeled/set paper; extreme close-up track on the words "...physical and psychological violence...".

Interviews with the patients appear sporadically throughout the film. Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, and Bibi Andersson all relate their respective backstories of their characters, as told to Bergman and Nykvist standing or sitting behind the camera. These backstories represent the typical 'actors' motivations' while also conveying their psychoanalytical approach to their roles — which appears to be the results of reflection and engagement with the scenario's characters rather than acting-school rote method. And yet these pronunciations-to-camera keep all in line with the three's own actor-personae; we see them in their own fashion, providing their insights on roles that were written for themselves specifically. The overlap from this relationship (roles and their actors), to that of their roles' own respective split-personae psychologically, to that of their adjacent roles in the immediately previous films — such as Shame — figures a constellatory accretion that will grow only larger as the 1970s proceed and Bergman in 1982 lands on his maximum 5-hour magnum opus, Fanny and Alexander. The connection with Shame comes via Anna's dream, which during her description of such, Bergman cuts to (I like it when directors cut to a dream) the black-and-white footage of a boatride that appears to have been shot during the filming of Shame, but may in fact be Shame outtakes or a replication of the earlier film's mise-en-scène. Anna approaches a woman past a bulwark of flames — the woman rejects her — and Anna spots her dead Andreas-Mark-1 and son, their bodies thrown from the vehicle that in waking life she had forced into a crash.

Andreas experiences a vivid remembrance of a woman he was with, his divorcée — or is it a visualization of the passage Anna is translating? — or is Anna projecting? The choreography of the breakfast table belies a normalcy to their troubled co-domesticity. 

Andreas physically beats Anna in a fit of frustration. He discovers that Johan has hanged himself after a letter proclaiming his innocence of the animal slaughters, but that since then he can no longer go on living. A stuffed animal also hangs before a window. When a horsebarn burns down, Andreas goes out to investigate and meets Anna there, who has come to follow. Andreas: "Why did you come to get me at the fire?" Anna: "I came to ask forgiveness."

A final zoom in and blow-up on the celluloid after Anna lets Andreas out of the car and pulls away, leaving him to pace in anxious, perhaps totally entropic, self-involvement. Ingmar Bergman in voice-over intones: "This time he was called Andreas Winkelman."