Hannah and Her Sisters

This review was originally written for Blueprint: Review.

Set over a two-year period, Hannah and Her Sisters follows the numerous exploits of three sisters living in New York and their various friends and family. Hannah (Mia Farrow) seems to have her life most effectively in place. She is an actress, getting back into her work after taking time to raise her children, and is married to her financial adviser husband Elliot (Michael Caine). Elliot however has been harbouring a long-standing infatuation with Hannah’s younger sister Lee (Barbara Hershey), who is in a relationship with standoffish artist Frederick (Max von Sydow). At the apex of Elliot and Lee’s joint feelings of dissatisfaction with their partners, the pair sleep together, and must deal with the ramifications. Meanwhile the third sister, Holly (Dianne Wiest) is a recovering drug addict turned aspiring actress and restaurateur, self-employed as a caterer alongside her friend April (Carrie Fisher), a colleague and competitor for both acting roles and eligible men. Finally Hannah’s ex-husband Mickey (Woody Allen) is a stressed out hypochondriac, whose latest imaginary malady might turn out to be his most serious, and his last.
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The Exorcist

Famous actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is working on a film in Georgetown, Washington D.C., when her twelve year old daughter Regan (Linda Blair) begins displaying strange behaviour. After months of medical and psychiatric examinations, it is believed that Regan may be possessed by a demonic spirit, and the only way to resolve the situation is via a religious exorcism.
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Through A Glass Darkly

I rarely watch a film I literally know nothing about, and I must say it’s an unsettling experience. I’ve witnessed people walking up to a cinema and asking “What’s playing today?” in shock and awe. “How can these people not know about the film they’re going to see? Who are these people? Have they left the house just to see any film, rather than planning, sometimes weeks in advance, to go and see a specific film?” are often thoughts that run around my head and occasionally out of my mouth as the clerk at Odeon reels off a list of the current blockbusters and horrors  for the third time to a pair of elderly women in front of me in the queue, clearly looking for something starring Clark Gable. On occasion, and as happened recently with Time Regained, I will pause a movie I know nothing about some way into it, to have a quick check online or in the 1001 book, to give me some idea of what I’m supposed to be watching. If I do this, it’s not generally a good sign, as a) I’m as yet unsure of what the film is about, and b) I’m clearly bored. This was not an option with Ingmar Bergman’s Through A Glass Darkly though, for I watched it streaming via LoveFilm, and I find that if I pause it for more than a quick toilet break, the damn thing refuses to load unless it plays from the beginning, so I had to sit it out and find out what I was watching afterwards.

We open with four people swimming gleefully towards a deserted island. Amongst them is Karin (Harriet Andersson), who suffers from some kind of mental illness that she doesn’t know is incurable, but her father David (Gunnar Bjornstrand) and husband/doctor Martin (Max von Sydow), both also present, do. David is a writer of novels, who has been away recently and plans to leave again after finishing his current book. Also along for the trip is Karin’s 17 year old younger brother Minus (Lars Passgard). These four make up the only characters in the film, which takes place entirely on and around the island, yet the film never really feels claustrophobic, just a little muddled.

Karin’s illness leaves her with no desires to sleep with her husband, yet she has acute hearing, leaving her to wander around the house late at night (pretty much no-one ever sleeps in this film) and at one point she seems to reach an intense state of ecstasy whilst alone and unprovoked.

All four people have fairly strained relationships with one another, especially the children with their father, who is self centred and has a robotic detachment of emotion towards his daughter’s potentially fatal condition, so much so that he is morbidly interested in documenting her deterioration. His son Minus feels especially distant, feeling that he is completely unable to talk to his father.

Frustratingly, the film offers only the minimal amount of closure, as Karin’s condition worsens to critical levels. I’m always impressed when directors overcome extreme limitations – usually set by themselves – for example here with the restricted location and cast quartet, but I feel that a great deal more could have been done. Director Ingmar Bergman has many films on the List, and this is only the second one I’ve watched. Winter Light disappointed me a little, but this was a definite improvement. Bergman seems to be one of the most notable directors of all time List-wise, and regularly comes up on many people’s greatest lists, so I’m looking forward to seeing some of his better works in the future.

Choose life 5/10

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

42-year old Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) lives a life of wealth and excess, flitting between his three young children, a successful career as editor of Elle magazine and the bevy of beauties ready to satisfy his every need. But one day, on a drive with his eldest son, Jean-Do suffers a stroke and becomes a victim of ‘Locked-In Syndrome’, an extremely rare condition leaving him fully conscious but completely paralysed, except for blinking his left eyelid.
Beginning with the blurry, distorted hospital room swimming into focus, much of the film is shot from Bauby’s perspective, including the harrowing experience of having his right eyelid sewn up, seen from the inside. Amalric’s narration is wonderful, encapsulating the frustration of a man used to extreme independence, who now cannot wash, communicate or even move without another’s assistance, and praise must also be given to the supporting cast of implausibly attractive therapists and assistants tasked with acting to a camera for a lot of the film, and Max Von Sydow as Bauby’s elderly, apartment-bound father.
A story of triumph over intense adversary that does well not to dwell on the depressing, director Julian Schnabel amazingly mines humourous streaks – the agony of an immovable fly on the nose – whilst also celebrating the wonders of perseverance, memory and imagination.
Choose film 8/10

Winter Light

My first Ingmar Bergman film does not make me want to watch any more, though several appear on the list. Winter Light opens with a 12-minute long church service by a vicar in front of a very small congregation, including hymns, prayer and the breaking of bread, and from there remains bleak and uneventful, as the vicar meets with a member of his flock contemplating suicide over concerns China could start a nuclear war and travels to a neighbouring village. The scenes are unbearably long and tedious – a man waiting by a body then helping to load it into a van with the only sound being the river flowing behind him, or a static shot of a woman reading her own letter staring straight into the camera, and overall there is little dialogue, camera movement or anything to engage the attention.
Choose life 2/10