Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (2015)

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She would rather live with a producer than her children. The great Swedish actress is recalled through her diaries and letters (voiced by Alicia Vikander), photographs and any amount of home movies which she shot compulsively.  She believed she was only truly alive when she was being photographed and described her home life away from the studio in Hollywood as ‘being locked in a suitcase suffocating.’ Following the early death of her mother this was a little girl cosseted by her father who documented her on camera and even Alfred Hitchcock (‘he brought out the best in me’) declared she took film more seriously than real life. Her father died young too and this leaves something of a Freudian association trailing throughout the film with her evident need to be constantly photographed and speaking other people’s lines.  Following drama school and early success in Swedish cinema she was discovered by Hollywood and arrived there to work with David O. Selznick whose colleague Kay Brown became her agent and lifelong friend. She abandoned her little girl and doctor husband for various lovers including Robert Capa (who wouldn’t sacrifice his short-lived career for her) and then Roberto Rossellini whom she pursued until he hired her for a film and she had his illegitimate child. She couldn’t adjust to his filmmaking style – she was no improviser and writing dialogue was contrary to her training. Her husband divorced her and got custody of Pia, while, after having more children by Rossellini,  the director abandoned Bergman for another woman (in India) who had yet another of his illegitimate children and Bergman then took off for Paris with a lover of her own. She saw her children in Italy once a month, more often when daughter Isabella (who became an actress) developed scoliosis. Daughter Pia discusses her mother’s obsession with Joan of Arc from an early age as being evidence that she wanted to make her name. There are many newsreel excerpts and interviews about her chaotic intercontinental life, pursued by paparazzi and condemned by various authorities until director Anatole Litvak declared in the mid-50s that she was the only actress he could consider for the role of Anastasia and an Academy Award for her performance smoothed her way back into the Hollywood fold. Despite her shortcomings and basically abandoning her young, her adult children (presumably with the benefit of relatively old age) describe her in contemporary interviews  as being totally charming with eldest daughter Pia even declaring, I craved having more of her. Stig Björkman’s film is a stunning evocation of a unique, peripatetic life which despite the rather unsettling morality of its fame-seeking subject simply exudes joy and contains many insights into the acting mind. Written by the director with Stina Gardell and Dominika Daubenbuchel with a great score by Michael Nyman, topped with a song by Eva Dahlgren in the closing credits.

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A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2015)

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Roy Anderson has a bit of a rep as an absurdist realist filmmaker – which is perfectly reasonable, given that that’s most of our experience of life, until something shocks us out of our comfortably surreal zone. A pair of novelty item salesmen try to sell their laugh a minute stuff – that’s the very loose thread that brings a lot of disaparate seemingly random incidents together, commencing with three unconnected deaths. The dull palette, the weirdly uninventive and depressing production design and the straightforward shot compositions combine to form a conjoined tableau of death. Just what you want really.

We Are the Best! (2013)

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Lukas Moodysson makes interesting films and prior to this one approached his stories about children with apprehension as to how they would wind up – victimised by the adults supposedly responsible for their care, growing up too soon, exposed to sex and drugs and hedonism and fecklessness. His wife wrote the graphic novel on which this is based. Two girls, Klara (cute), Bobo (not) in a Stockholm school in the 1980s who are more or less outcasts with short hairdos,  are fans of punk years after it’s dead. They start a band but can’t play. They get together with a good girl (Hedvig) who happens to be a talented guitarist and whose contribution makes them think they might get somewhere. Well … what’s most striking about the world of the story is the misery of their home lives, all to a greater or lesser degree dysfunctional, in cramped apartments where a treat is crisp crackers and water. (It’s a cultural thing, I know.) Their song (they only have one) is hopeless and they can’t play and then – yup, you guessed it – a boy comes between them. When they get the opportunity to play at a Christmas concert they elicit the predictable jeers and are booted offstage. And the youth counsellors accompanying them tell them they are the worst. Our girls disagree. Perhaps the best thing about this is the naturalistic writing and performing, the exploration of the lives of children who have horrible homes (Bobo’s mother is as trampy as you like), Hedvig’s is a single-parent home and Klara’s messy home life is a bit too cool for school – but it’s apartment living, public, intimate, awful and one feels Bobo’s secret despair about her mother’s sexual escapades. Not a film to inspire architectural envy but good on childhood friendship, awkwardness and the punk credo of self-belief despite clear evidence to the contrary – that they are singularly lacking in any musicianship whatsoever.