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Friday, 22 June 2018

Lars von Trier's Dogville

The film is about Dogville, a small town of 15 people in the mountains, somewhere in the US. It is hard times and they are living in harsh conditions. Among the 15 people, the most talkative and intellectual is Tom Edison Jr (Paul Bettany), a writer who never writes and who sees himself as a philosopher, developing theories about the town and its people. One day comes an outsider, a beautiful fugitive, Grace (Nicole Kidman), running away from gangsters. People in the town look at her with suspicion, but Tom speaks to them about openness and acceptance, and convinces them to give her a 2-week trial. She gets accepted, and starts working for everyone to pay for the refuge. Slowly she receives pay for her labour. Then the police come searching for Grace, everything gets worse, people get suspicious and fearful, seeing her presence as an inconvenience, a burden, a cost to themselves, and demand more back. As she becomes more dependent and therefore more vulnerable, people in the town start to exploit her, use her, abuse her—gradually, Grace becomes the town’s slave, and sex slave, chained and collared. 



Dogville is an experimental film, perhaps Lars von Trier’s most inventive in form. Emphasising artifice and theatricality, the film is set in black box theatre, with white outlines in place of walls and large letters on the floor to indicate buildings, and with few props. Lars von Trier fearlessly (or carelessly?) uses zoom and jumpy cuts, paying no regard to continuity, as one may expect from one of the founders of Dogme 95. However, Dogville is not a careless mess done for the sake of being different. It is artistic in its use of light, and sound, and the film, when stripped off realistic sets and all that, forces the audience to focus more on the story and the performances. 
At the same time, the bare stage works well for the story of a small, closed, and barren town, where each person’s business is everyone’s business, and where people gradually drop their social niceties and masks to reveal their narrow-mindedness, meanness, and maliciousness. It also works brilliantly for the film as a parable—about capitalism; about xenophobia, suspicion, and exploitation of a vulnerable outsider; about selfishness, cowardice, self-justification, and hypocrisy; about trust, mistrust, and betrayal; about the US in particular and humanity in general; about evil. 



Moreover, the film is not only about exploitation and betrayal of a vulnerable outsider, as lots of reviews I read seem to suggest. The ending is a different turn, raising questions about saint vs sinner, empathy, acceptance, suffering as masochism or a form of self-flagellation, and most interesting of all, hypocrisy, and the arrogance and condescension in (Christian) forgiveness. The townspeople are hypocrites. Tom, the moral voice of the town, is even more hypocritical, a false intellectual full of empty words— he is hollow, selfish, cowardly, dishonest, and self-serving. Grace is no better, she too is hypocritical, and sanctimonious. 
But that is where the problem with Dogville lies, as with other films by Lars von Trier. He is without doubt among the most creative and inventive directors working today—he is bold, daring, extreme, therefore provocative and controversial. But is he truly great? I’d say not. His vision makes his films hollow in their extreme negativity. That is Lars von Trier’s chief fault—his misanthropy, his lack of humanity, his bleak, depressing view of the world as cruel, hypocritical and hopeless, and his insistence on forcing it down our throats and making us suffer without giving much in return. When I watch anything by him, if I manage to suffer to the end, I might be glad to have seen it, but generally don’t want to watch it again. That comes from a fan of Ingmar Bergman (I’ve seen Persona 3 times, Cries and Whispers twice, Autumn Sonata twice). The difference between the 2 is that in Ingmar Bergman’s films, we still see magic, love, joy, happiness, and hope; we see none in Lars von Trier’s films. The ugliness of his world is to me unnecessary and unfair, and doesn’t reflect the real world—for all misery and suffering, life as I see it still has its joys and hopes. 
Lars von Trier’s films can be interesting, creative and provocative, but in the end, they are hollow.

Monday, 4 June 2018

The Mill on the Floss: Hair

I’m reading George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss.
What motif do I pick up on? Hair. 
From chapter 2, Mrs Tulliver talking about Tom: 
“’… so far as talking proper, and knowing everything, and walking with a bend in his back, and setting his hair up, I shouldn't mind the lad being brought up to that…’”
(my emphasis) 
Then about her daughter Maggie: “’ … I'm sure the child's half an idiot i' some things; for if I send her upstairs to fetch anything, she forgets what she's gone for, an' perhaps 'ull sit down on the floor i' the sunshine an' plait her hair an' sing to herself like a Bedlam creatur', all the while I'm waiting for her downstairs.” 
Note: forgetful, contemplative, imaginative. 
This is chapter 2—a conversation about hair reveals a lot about our heroine Maggie Tulliver, and other characters. 
“’… But her hair won't curl all I can do with it, and she's so franzy about having it put i' paper, and I've such work as never was to make her stand and have it pinched with th' irons’”. 
She is such a rebel that even her hair doesn’t conform. 
“’ Cut it off–cut it off short,’ said the father, rashly.
‘How can you talk so, Mr. Tulliver? She's too big a gell–gone nine, and tall of her age–to have her hair cut short; an' there's her cousin Lucy's got a row o' curls round her head, an' not a hair out o' place.’ 
Maggie's hair, as she threw off her bonnet, painfully confirmed her mother's accusation. Mrs. Tulliver, desiring her daughter to have a curled crop, ‘like other folks's children,’ had had it cut too short in front to be pushed behind the ears; and as it was usually straight an hour after it had been taken out of paper, Maggie was incessantly tossing her head to keep the dark, heavy locks out of her gleaming black eyes,–an action which gave her very much the air of a small Shetland pony.
‘Oh, dear, oh, dear, Maggie, what are you thinkin' of, to throw your bonnet down there? Take it upstairs, there's a good gell, an' let your hair be brushed, an' put your other pinafore on, an' change your shoes, do, for shame; an' come an' go on with your patchwork, like a little lady.’” 
A passage about hair reveals to us readers that Maggie is unconventional, different from other girls; Mrs Tulliver wishes her to conform, and doesn’t see her merits; Mr Tulliver doesn’t seem to care much about other people, and takes Maggie’s side; Lucy is the pretty girl, the “perfect” (meaning conventional) girl, who is often used for comparison and who is probably Maggie’s foil in the novel. 
The contrast is clearer in chapter 7, when the 2 girls stand next to each other: 
“She did to-day, when she and Tom came in from the garden with their father and their uncle Glegg. Maggie had thrown her bonnet off very carelessly, and coming in with her hair rough as well as out of curl, rushed at once to Lucy, who was standing by her mother's knee. Certainly the contrast between the cousins was conspicuous, and to superficial eyes was very much to the disadvantage of Maggie though a connoisseur might have seen "points" in her which had a higher promise for maturity than Lucy's natty completeness. It was like the contrast between a rough, dark, overgrown puppy and a white kitten. Lucy put up the neatest little rosebud mouth to be kissed; everything about her was neat,–her little round neck, with the row of coral beads; her little straight nose, not at all snubby; her little clear eyebrows, rather darker than her curls, to match hazel eyes, which looked up with shy pleasure at Maggie, taller by the head, though scarcely a year older.” 
George Eliot also uses hair as a means to show Maggie’s passionate, excitable nature. 
From chapter 3: 
“At the sound of this name, Maggie, who was seated on a low stool close by the fire, with a large book open on her lap, shook her heavy hair back and looked up eagerly.” 
From chapter 4: 
“Maggie tossed her hair back and ran downstairs, seized her bonnet without putting it on, peeped, and then dashed along the passage lest she should encounter her mother, and was quickly out in the yard, whirling round like a Pythoness, and singing as she whirled…” 
Later: 
“Maggie loved to linger in the great spaces of the mill, and often came out with her black hair powdered to a soft whiteness that made her dark eyes flash out with new fire.” 
And her disregard for looks. 
From chapter 5: 
“It was Tom's step, then, that Maggie heard on the stairs, when her need of love had triumphed over her pride, and she was going down with her swollen eyes and dishevelled hair to beg for pity.” 
Also in chapter 5, we get to see Maggie in comparison with her brother Tom: 
“He was one of those lads that grow everywhere in England, and at twelve or thirteen years of age look as much alike as goslings,–a lad with light-brown hair, cheeks of cream and roses, full lips, indeterminate nose and eyebrows,–a physiognomy in which it seems impossible to discern anything but the generic character to boyhood; as different as possible from poor Maggie's phiz, which Nature seemed to have moulded and colored with the most decided intention.” 
Hair reveals character, and conventions. 
Look at the description of Bob, Tom’s friend, from chapter 6: 
“For a person suspected of preternatural wickedness, Bob was really not so very villanous-looking; there was even something agreeable in his snub-nosed face, with its close-curled border of red hair.”
And then Mrs Glegg, one of Mrs Tulliver’s sisters, from chapter 7: 
“The Dodsons were certainly a handsome family, and Mrs. Glegg was not the least handsome of the sisters. As she sat in Mrs. Tulliver's arm-chair, no impartial observer could have denied that for a woman of fifty she had a very comely face and figure, though Tom and Maggie considered their aunt Glegg as the type of ugliness. It is true she despised the advantages of costume, for though, as she often observed, no woman had better clothes, it was not her way to wear her new things out before her old ones. Other women, if they liked, might have their best thread-lace in every wash; but when Mrs. Glegg died, it would be found that she had better lace laid by in the right-hand drawer of her wardrobe in the Spotted Chamber than ever Mrs. Wooll of St. Ogg's had bought in her life, although Mrs. Wooll wore her lace before it was paid for. So of her curled fronts: Mrs. Glegg had doubtless the glossiest and crispest brown curls in her drawers, as well as curls in various degrees of fuzzy laxness; but to look out on the week-day world from under a crisp and glossy front would be to introduce a most dreamlike and unpleasant confusion between the sacred and the secular. Occasionally, indeed, Mrs. Glegg wore one of her third-best fronts on a week-day visit, but not at a sister's house; especially not at Mrs. Tulliver's, who, since her marriage, had hurt her sister's feelings greatly by wearing her own hair, though, as Mrs. Glegg observed to Mrs. Deane, a mother of a family, like Bessy, with a husband always going to law, might have been expected to know better. But Bessy was always weak!
So if Mrs. Glegg's front to-day was more fuzzy and lax than usual, she had a design under it: she intended the most pointed and cutting allusion to Mrs. Tulliver's bunches of blond curls, separated from each other by a due wave of smoothness on each side of the parting. Mrs. Tulliver had shed tears several times at sister Glegg's unkindness on the subject of these unmatronly curls, but the consciousness of looking the handsomer for them naturally administered support…” 
I’m not sure about George Eliot’s other novels, but hair seems to be a central motif in The Mill on the Floss, and strongly linked to Maggie. 
In chapter 7, again there’s a conversation about her hair: 
“’Go and speak to your aunts and uncles, my dears,’ said Mrs. Tulliver, looking anxious and melancholy. She wanted to whisper to Maggie a command to go and have her hair brushed.
‘Well, and how do you do? And I hope you're good children, are you?’ said Aunt Glegg, in the same loud, emphatic way, as she took their hands, hurting them with her large rings, and kissing their cheeks much against their desire. ‘Look up, Tom, look up. Boys as go to boarding-schools should hold their heads up. Look at me now.’ Tom declined that pleasure apparently, for he tried to draw his hand away. ‘Put your hair behind your ears, Maggie, and keep your frock on your shoulder.’
[…] ‘Well, my dears,’ said aunt Pullet, in a compassionate voice, ‘you grow wonderful fast. I doubt they'll outgrow their strength,’ she added, looking over their heads, with a melancholy expression, at their mother. ‘I think the gell has too much hair. I'd have it thinned and cut shorter, sister, if I was you; it isn't good for her health. It's that as makes her skin so brown, I shouldn't wonder. Don't you think so, sister Deane?’
‘I can't say, I'm sure, sister,’ said Mrs. Deane, shutting her lips close again, and looking at Maggie with a critical eye.
‘No, no,’ said Mr. Tulliver, ‘the child's healthy enough; there's nothing ails her. There's red wheat as well as white, for that matter, and some like the dark grain best. But it 'ud be as well if Bessy 'ud have the child's hair cut, so as it 'ud lie smooth.’”  
Mrs Tulliver tells Maggie: 
“’… go and get your hair brushed, do, for shame. I told you not to come in without going to Martha first, you know I did.” 
All that leads to the delightful scene of one of Maggie’s early rebellions—she cuts her hair herself and makes a mess of it. 1 scene reveals everything we need to know about Maggie—her disregard for physical appearance, and wish to be seen as clever only; her unconventionality and rebelliousness; her passionate and impulsive nature; her deep-down yearning to be loved and accept, whilst refusing to conform; the humiliation; people’s disapproval of her “misbehavior” and misunderstanding of her motivations and her character; people’s narrow-mindedness and the consequences for Maggie; her own brother’s insensitivity, and inability to understand her. This is a set-up, a preparation of sorts, for her later rebellion. 
I’m on chapter 11. I can tell the hair motif will come up again and again in the novel. 
A quick search reveals that in The Mill on the Floss, the word “hair” appears 76 times, and “curls” 14 times.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Emoji Dick, or Moby Dick in emoji

I saw this book at my university library in Leeds. 





What is the point of this nonsense? Is nothing sacred?

Friday, 1 June 2018

Possession: themes, ideas, weaknesses

Possession, as I seem to see in all reviews, is about possession in different senses of the word—possession, ownership, copyright; items, belongings; the feeling of possession that the biographer has towards their subject; the lover’s possession of the beloved, possession in the sexual sense.
What interests me more about A. S. Byatt’s novel is that it is ultimately about writing, reading, and interpretation, or misinterpretation; the difficulties in writing biography, and impossibility of truly understanding a writer, or anyone, through their writings and other people’s accounts; and the idea that you easily misinterpret things and form false conceptions of a dead writer when ignorant of their intentions and context. The story of Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte makes you think about hidden clues and gaps of knowledge—once the academics discover the previously unknown truth about their connection and the Yorkshire trip, and know that they, in a way, wrote the poems for each other, everything takes on a new meaning, things that don’t fit now fall into place, all the theories are dismantled, and the 2 figures now appear in a completely different light. The form, the make-up of the book, in which the story is told through the 3rd person narrator as well as the characters’ letters, journals, biographies, literary criticism, poems… is a perfect choice for the subject matter and Byatt’s ideas. It works well because Byatt can adopt different tones and write in different styles; most excellent are her parodies of certain kinds of literary criticism. Possession also suggests the danger of reading through the lens of something—feminist criticism or Freudian criticism or whatever ism, instead of taking the work for what it is. 
The weakest point, which in my opinion does hurt the book, is the poems. When Nabokov writes about a character in his book who is a great writer, he convincingly demonstrates the writer’s talent, because he is a genius. It’s hard to say the same about Ash’s and LaMotte’s poems by Byatt. They are an integral part of the novel (though it seems that lots of readers skip them for the story), and they are there to create the illusion of realism and a world outside the book, to make the characters appear more authentic, more real. They however produce an opposite effect, or at least to me, because the poems aren’t great, they make Ash and LaMotte less real, who are meant to be among the most acclaimed poets of Victorian times, and that consequently makes it difficult to take the academics in the book seriously. 
When I ignore the poems and choose to suspend my disbelief, the story of Ash and LaMotte is moving. But the characters I think more about are Ellen (Ash’s wife) and Blanche Glover. They are not even there, their voices aren’t heard, their thoughts aren’t known, but their implied suffering and baffling actions make me curious and concerned about them, make me want to know them and their thoughts and their motivations. That gives them a vivid existence.  
Another weakness of Possession is the ending. It makes everything fall apart. We have a beautiful and moving story, about love and loss and buried secrets, about things that only last briefly, about a couple that might have been, about a letter undelivered and unread, about a child that is never known… It is beautiful whilst it is tragic, or beautiful because it is tragic. I don’t mind the chapters that take us back to the 19th century and tell us about Ash and LaMotte through the 3rd person narrator, and thus let us know things about the 2 poets that the modern characters don’t know, which works effectively and is incorporated well in a novel that already mixes various genres and different styles of writing. But I hate the ending. It is a cheap device, a silly solution, as though Byatt tries to comfort the audience and wants to pander to them. 
The book would be so much better without that cheap ending.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Appreciating and enjoying Possession

I’m an Appreciationist. Or at least I try to be.
I respected and admired Possession; it took me nearly half the book to become engrossed in the plot and the story, and to really enjoy it. The key is not to think of 19th century novels and expect lifelike, multi-faceted characters, but to accept Possession as a mystery novel and as a novel about literature and academia, particularly the world of critics and biographers.
The central mystery of the story is about the affair between 2 acclaimed 19th century poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte that nobody realised knew each other. 2 modern scholars Roland Michell and Maud Bailey discover it and try to trace back their steps to find the full story. To be frank, I didn’t really care about any of the characters, until Sabine’s journal, but I’ve been intrigued, wanting to know what happens, what Randolph and Christabel do, what hidden truths Roland and Maud uncover, what Blanche Glover tells Randolph’s wife Ellen, what Ellen does, whether there is any greater secret, why Blanche drowns herself, and so on, the way you follow the plot of mystery novels and have a million of questions and want answers.
Roland and Maud are, in a sense, detectives. The plot is more exciting because of their obsession, the possession the biographers feel towards their subjects, and the competition between the biographers. Others chase Roland and Maud as they’re “chasing” Randolph and Christabel.
At the same time, Possession is about literature and literary critics/ biographers. The book is therefore built on a wide range of genres and styles of writing: poetry, letters, journals, biography, literary criticism, and so on—all of which, except the poems, are means of storytelling and drive the plot forward; but the poems are not digressions, in the sense that some stuff in Moby Dick are, but they are the original texts to which the characters refer, in 19th century as well as in modern day, and they also have hidden codes that allow the reader to partake in the detective work. It is impressive, the transition is rather smooth. The prose is still dry for my taste, lacking enthusiasm and rhythm, but A. S. Byatt’s knowledge and other things make up for it as the story goes on. Perhaps the personal factor is also important—I’ve been to Whitby and like jet; I studied literature before; and I write diaries and these days look a bit through them as I sort out stuff for moving (have I mentioned? I am in Oslo at the moment). It is perhaps these things that make me warm to the novel.
(My favourite part of Possession is probably Sabine’s journal, not only because she reveals a shocking secret, but also because of the writing. Sabine makes me care more about Christabel). 
I’ve noticed that I’ve been writing more about myself than about the novel.

Friday, 25 May 2018

A. S. Byatt's Possession

I’m getting back to reading literature, with A. S. Byatt’s Possession: A Romance
It has subjects that interest me—Victorian literature, mystery, love, loss, adultery (as a subject in literature only, I must note), a dig at academia and the various isms in literary criticism. The author’s knowledge of Victorian literature and society, and Western mythologies, is immense and impressive; her large vocabulary and intellectuality make me think of George Eliot; the passages in 19th century prose sound genuine; and the book as a whole is vast and covers different genres, different styles of writing. But it is dry, so dry. The prose lacks something, I know not what—humour? irony? poetry? music? rhythm? a sense of exhilaration and love of life? I don’t like her prose, her voice; the imagery doesn’t always work; some sentences now and then sound odd to my ears. Maybe it’s the feeling that I feel a love of literature, but not a love of life, or of people. A. S. Byatt makes me think of George Eliot because of the intellectuality and the dryness, but she doesn’t moralise, which is good; and doesn’t write much about the characters’ personality and inner thoughts, which may not be bad in itself, considering the subject matter, but which appears to me as a shortcoming and partly gives the impression that the author’s more interested in literature and ideas than in people. Or maybe it’s just me. 
May change my mind later. That happens. 
I’m on chapter 10, reading the correspondence between Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. The book is still intriguing. 

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

News of my 2 short films: Bird Bitten and Footfalls

1/ On 27/4, Bird Bitten, together with other BA2 drama films, was screened at Hyde Park Picture House. It was a private screening for crew, cast, and staff. 
Overall I’m happy with the film. There are faults and imperfections, and there are tons of things I would have done differently, which is an inevitable feeling when I worked on it for so long and watched it so many times, working closely with the editor and then the colourist and then the sound designer. But overall I’m happy with the film, and I think people liked it.  
2/ On Monday and Tuesday, we just had feedback screening for experimental films. My film Footfalls was screened yesterday. I was director, writer, co-producer, and colourist. 
Footfalls, in a sense, feels more personal to me. Part of it is because it was loosely based on a true story, a tragic story, so added to the challenge of telling a story through feet and shoes only, without either faces or words, I also gave myself the hard task of treating it like a delicate thing and making it moving. I also lost my grandma the week before filming, and in a way, the film was keeping me going and giving me a sense of purpose. 
Then we had issues, many issues, as though the film was doomed. For quite some time, I hated it. I loved it, as it’s mine, but at the same time I hated it. Having problems is of course the nature of filmmaking, but we had way too many, the footage was awful and much of it was unusable, and the 1st rough cut just didn’t work—there was no flow, it was overlong and unclear and ineffective. We had to save the film on the editing table. 
That was when in a burst of inspiration, I rearranged all the scenes and cut lots of stuff out, and let’s say, gave the film a rebirth. And it worked. If on Bird Bitten, I learnt the importance of sound, on Footfalls I learnt the power of editing. I’m not completely happy, it dragged me down just as it earlier kept me occupied, but it’s much better than the earlier version, and people seem to like it more than expected. 
Just have to work more on it and try to create the best version possible. 
3/ A flatmate of mine asked if my short films had any themes in common. The 2 films are different—Bird Bitten is surrealist drama, Footfalls is experimental drama/ suspense; I wasn’t intentionally treating some common theme. 
Then I realised that they had 1 thing in common, in the ending—you are never safe.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Letter from an Unknown Woman by Max Ophuls

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'” 
(John Greenleaf Whittier) 


This is the story of Letter from an Unknown Woman: Stefan Brand, a once-successful and charming pianist in Vienna, has lived his whole life surrounded by women, but never found love. 1 day he receives a letter from an unknown woman, who since her teenage years has loved him her whole life. Her name is Lisa. The infatuation starts when he moves into the same building and she listens to his music—in her youthful innocence, Lisa decides that she is his and they are going to be together, even though he doesn’t know she exists. Then life happens and she has to move away, but her heart is still in Vienna, and several years later, she comes back to Vienna, and every evening after work, goes to his building. Once, Stefan notices her, they start to talk—to her, he’s utterly charming; to him, she’s a mysterious woman he has perhaps seen somewhere who seems to have always known him and know him well, and he’s drawn to her. They go on a date and talk and laugh and have fun, and then go to his apartment. 
Then Stefan Brand has to go on a concert tour for 2 weeks. Just 2 weeks and he’ll come back. Except that he doesn’t. Life, success, the tour, other women, for whatever reasons, or maybe he just doesn’t care, he forgets about Lisa. 
Up to this point, the film feels melodramatic, because of Lisa’s infatuation and obsession, but there’s a turn as she becomes pregnant but, knowing Stefan’s indifference, chooses not to let him know. Lisa accepts it and moves on, raises her son, and gets married—for years, all that is left of Stefan Brand in her life seems to be the son, until 1 day by chance she meets him again… 
That is enough for summary of the plot, you get the idea. The theme of the film is beautifully summed up in this line from Lisa’s letter to Stefan Brand: 
“If only you could have recognised what was always yours, could have found what was never lost.” 
What can be sadder? Stefan spends his whole life looking for something, but never realises that it’s always been right there in front of him, until it’s gone. The film is moving and poignant. 
However, I am cold and cynical. Or maybe just realistic. The idea of something that might have been is always better than the way it could actually be. We say if only he could have recognised what was always his and could have found what was never lost, but he never did because that’s how he is—self-centred, thoughtless, superficial, and forgetful. We also know Lisa loves him to the day she dies because they were never really together, because it’s mostly her loving him from afar, because she doesn’t really love him, just the idea of him.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Bad news

Early this morning, my grandma passed away after a stroke. 
My family was just my mom and her, and now she’s gone. 
Thankfully I returned to Oslo in time and my mom and I were both with her in her last moments, and I believe my grandma was conscious of my presence, even if in a coma she didn’t hear what I was trying to say. 
I’m in so much pain it’s unbearable.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Autumn Sonata and Ingmar Bergman’s actors

I’ve just watched again Autumn Sonata, which was the 1st Ingmar Bergman film I watched several years ago. My feeling is now slightly different, I no longer relate, but it’s still a very good film. Liv Ullmann in the film looks clumsy and uncomfortable in her walk and gestures, in the mother’s presence, as though self-conscious of every single of her own movement, as though still a scared and vulnerable child. She plays the daughter with a deep trauma and anguish and an intense hatred we don’t often see on screen. Whilst making us sympathise and share her pain, she also makes us wonder if some of her charges and accusations might not be a bit unfair, if she is self-pitying and blames her mother for everything in life. 
Ingrid Bergman plays the mother with great subtlety, switching between the 2 sides within her—a human being who has flaws but can feel pain and guilt, and a performer who deep down is selfish and often puts on a nice mask, and runs away from things. 
(The interesting part is that in Persona, if Alma’s analysis is anything to go by, Elisabet Vogler is very similar to Ingrid Bergman’s character of Charlotte in Autumn Sonata—an artist who is selfish and incapable of love, who chooses her career and runs away from her responsibilities as a wife and mother. Liv Ullmann plays the mother in Persona; in Autumn Sonata, she plays the daughter of such a mother). 
Both actresses are fantastic. Somebody who dislikes Autumn Sonata has called it an acting showcase. In a sense it is; it’s a minor Bergman, and almost the entire film is about the confrontation, mostly in close-ups. But so what? The performances are mesmerising and wonderful to watch, the characters are convincing and complex, and the film is great in its psychology. 
I can’t help wondering how Ingmar Bergman got the best out of his actors. I share with him the fascination with people and their inner lives, and the love of the human face—he called the human face the most important subject of cinema, and recently when I watched Light Keeps Me Company, a documentary about his long-time collaborator Sven Nykvist, Bergman called the camera a remarkable instrument that could capture a lot more going on in a face than our eyes could see. 




CU in Cries and Whispers: Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Thulin 

But let’s be blunt, what is there to capture if there is nothing to capture? It depends on the actor and their talent. This semester in directing class, we’re learning about how to work with actors, so I want to know how Ingmar Bergman communicated with them.  
I once watched Bergman’s documentary about the making of Fanny and Alexander. He’s the controlling type, telling actors how to move, where to turn, and what to do, when saying certain lines. He’s also demanding, almost ruthless. It’s strange to me that it works because that method forces the actor to remember the lines and the movements, whilst acting, which might easily makes it all forced and unnatural. But it works—I have always loved the acting in Bergman’s films. The documentary, however, only shows what’s happening on sets, when the actors had known their characters inside out, and prepared well. It doesn’t show the way he worked with them, the way he talked to them and built the characters with them, the way he got the best out of them. That’s something I would be interested in. 
Here is the list of the key actors in the Bergman universe: 
http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/features/ingmar-bergman-actors
Among the actors, I haven’t seen much of Erland Josephson, but I love both Gunnar Björnstrand and Max von Sydow. 
Gunnar Björnstrand is more versatile, and can transform into very different characters. His most haunting performance may be in Winter Light, but I particularly like him in The Seventh Seal and Smiles of a Summer Night
Max von Sydow isn’t as versatile, but he has a sensitive face—his acting is subtle and nuanced, suggesting a lot more beneath the surface. I would vote for either Hour of the Wolf or The Seventh Seal as his best performance, but the tree scene in The Virgin Spring is iconic and unforgettable, and I have a soft spot for his sensitive, anguished but loving and patient face in Through a Glass Darkly
Among the actresses, the versatile ones are Liv Ullmann and Harriet Andersson. It’s hard to say whom I prefer between the 2, as both are excellent actresses. In a sense, I tend to like Liv Ullmann in duos, in confrontations, especially with Bibi Andersson in Persona and Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata, perhaps also with Max von Sydow in Hour of the Wolf and with Ingrid Thulin in Cries and Whispers; whereas I usually like Harriet Andersson on her own, for her beauty and her ability to transform into very different characters—compare Summer with Monika, Smiles of a Summer Night, Through a Glass Darkly, Cries and Whispers, and Fanny and Alexander
I also feel that Liv Ullman acts more with her face and Harriet Andersson more with her own body. It’s not absolute, Liv Ullmann for example has a distinctive walk in Autumn Sonata, and one of the most images of Harriet Andersson is the close-up in Summer with Monika, when she breaks the 4th wall and fixes her gaze on the audience, as though teasing us, mocking us, asking what we’re looking at. But generally, Liv Ullmann acts more with her face, especially in Persona, when she doesn’t say more than 5 words in the entire film. She has great emotional range, and when we watch her in close-ups, we follow every tiniest change of expression on her face and forget that she’s acting. Harriet Andersson tends to use her entire body and all movements—she becomes the wild, sensual, childlike and loveable but also impulsive, frivolous and selfish Monika just as she later becomes the petty, pathetic servant in Fanny and Alexander
Bibi Andersson tends to have a persona, or at least, in the pre-Persona period, she often plays someone warm, charming, innocent and vivacious—her characters in The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and The Magician are not remarkably different. In Persona, she appears at 1st with the same persona, the same look of warmth, sweetness and happiness, and then breaks that persona by exposing the intensity and instability underneath that façade. Liv Ullmann has a demanding job in the film because, not having words, she has to convey everything with her face, but it’s Bibi Andersson that carries the weight of Persona. She does a fantastic job. 
Those are my favourite actresses in the Bergman universe. I don’t like Ingrid Thulin personally, because there’s something hard about her face, which makes her so perfect for the role in Cries and Whispers, a cold and rigid woman who doesn’t want to be touched. Nevertheless, she’s a great actress—painful to watch but moving and haunting in Cries and Whispers and Winter Light. My favourite is her performance in Wild Strawberries
Oh how I envy Ingmar Bergman’s band of actors. How did he work with them?