I wrote the following review of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Gertrud for this week’s Cine-File Chicago list.
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s GERTRUD (Danish)
Available to rent through the Criterion Collection here
Carl Dreyer, one of the greatest of all film directors, excelled at making polemical movies about love, faith and female martyrdom, the potent mixture of which reaches its zenith in GERTRUD, his sublime final work. This ascetic film’s singular character, which gives the impression of being distinctly Dreyerian while simultaneously striking out in a bold new direction for the 75-year-old auteur, is deceptively theatrical: It’s an adaptation of a play of the same title from 1906 by Swedish writer Hjalmar Söderberg that features pageant-like proscenium framing (where characters frequently speak to one another while facing the camera but not each other) and is reminiscent of both Henrik Ibsen (in its depiction of a protoypical feminist heroine) as well as August Strindberg (presenting the eternal conflict between men and women). But there are few films as truly and wonderfully cinematic as GERTRUD, wherein Dreyer’s unique aesthetic combination of stillness, slowness and “whiteness” (to borrow an adjective from Francois Truffaut) is perfectly suited to capturing the title character’s near-religious view of romantic love as an uncompromising ideal. When the film begins, Gertrud Kanning (Nina Pens Rode) is a retired opera singer in her mid-30s unhappily married to a wealthy lawyer and politician (Bendt Rothe). Among the men aggressively pursuing her are her ex-lover, a middle-aged poet celebrated for his love poetry (Ebbe Rode), and a potential future lover, a callow young piano prodigy (Baard Owe); but none of these three men love her as much as she requires and so she chooses to live alone – without regrets. Unforgettable for its use of long takes, the function of which, in Dreyer’s own words, is “a penetration to my actors’ profound thoughts through their most subtle expressions,” and Rode’s luminous lead performance. (1964, 116 min) MGS
For those who missed the Rendezvous in Chicago Live Commentary with me and Clare Cooney, broadcast on Facebook last Sunday night, we recorded the video on Zoom so you still have the chance to watch it. I had a lot of fun doing this – mainly because Clare brought so much insight (and humor) to her observations on what it’s like to act in and be the casting director for an indie film. Please note you are meant to watch the film simultaneously with the commentary video. Here’s how it works:
1. Pull up Rendezvous in Chicago on Tubi here.
2. Pull up the Facebook Live video (in a separate browser or on a separate device) here.
3. Press play on the Live Commentary video first.
4. When I say “Go”in the Live Commentary video (after counting down from five), press play on the Tubi video.
5. Enjoy both videos simultaneously!
1. Twilight Zone: The Movie (Landis/Spielberg/Dante/Miller) – C
2. The Last Hurrah (Ford) – A-
3. The Long Gray Line (Ford) – A+
4. Gideon’s Day (Ford) – A
5. The Whole Town’s Talking (Ford) – A-
6. The Return of the Living Dead* (O’Bannon) – B-
7. Fourteen* (Sallitt) – B+
8. The Lineup* (Siegel) – A-
9. Day of the Dead (Romero) – B+
10. Lion’s Love (…and Lies)* (Varda) – A-
I wrote the following review of Dan Sallitt’s Fourteen for this week’s Cine-File Chicago list.
Dan Sallitt’s FOURTEEN (American)
Available to rent through the Music Box Theatre here
Have you ever felt a sense of responsibility to a friend in the present because of feelings of indebtedness you may have had to that person in the past? Have you ever anguished over whether to provide emotional or material support to someone you once cared about because you thought they might no longer deserve it? Does the process of growing up with someone necessarily entail growing apart? These are just some of the ethical questions you might find yourself contemplating while watching Dan Sallitt’s remarkable new movie FOURTEEN, which features two of the best performances I expect to see all year: Tallie Medel plays Mara, a 20-something woman living in Brooklyn who goes from being a preschool teacher’s aid to a full-time teacher while simultaneously navigating the complicated world of adult dating; and Norma Kuhling plays Mara’s childhood friend Jo, an emotionally unstable social worker who has difficulty keeping any one job, boyfriend or fixed place of residence for very long. The chemistry between these actresses is phenomenal: Through subtle body language, pointed glances and rat-a-tat-tat line readings (in which they frequently seem to be collaborating over the heads of whoever else may be in the room with them), Medel and Kuhling always manage to suggest a rich and complex history between their characters. Sallitt, in his fifth and best feature to date, deserves credit for directing the pair to underplay even the big dramatic scenes: These women are in many ways temperamentally similar while being presented in stark contrast to one another visually (Medel is short and dark-haired with an open, honest face while Kuhling is tall, fair, angular and more guarded), suggesting that they are meant to be seen as doppelgangers. While it is probably going too far to say that Mara and Jo represent two halves of a single personality, there is a lingering sense that each of these women, while on opposite narrative trajectories, could have easily ended up on the path of the other. The way Sallitt charts the evolution of their relationship over a span of several years in his uniquely quiet and de-dramatized fashion only makes the drama that is present all the more affecting. Scenes take place primarily indoors in modest apartments, restaurants and bars, unfolding in long takes that feature practical lighting, with the dialogue and performances always taking center stage. But what makes FOURTEEN not just a stirring experience but an exquisitely cinematic one is the daring nature of Sallitt’s elliptical editing. He tends to end scenes without ceremony, often straight-cutting from one seemingly unimportant moment to another, making it seem as if no time has passed. Then, all of a sudden, the abrupt appearance of a new boyfriend or even a new offspring in a scene dramatically contradicts this prior impression. The cumulative effect of Sallitt structuring his deceptively simple 94-minute film this way is that he impressively conveys a sense of the ebb and flow of life as it is actually lived, felt and remembered — and provides a devastating reminder of how time gets away from us all. (2019, 94 min) MGS
There will be a Rendezvous in Chicago Facebook Live discussion featuring me and actress/casting director Clare Cooney on Sunday, May 17 at 8pm (CST). Clare and I will basically be drinking wine while watching the movie (FREE on Tubi) and talking about it. Feel free to join us by drinking, watching and listening along!
How it works:
1. If you’ve not already seen it, watch RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO in advance on Tubi or Amazon Prime (Hearing me and Clare talk about it will NOT be the ideal way to experience the movie for the first time).
2. On May 17, pull up RENDEZVOUS on Tubi here.
3. Join the “LIVE Video” on the RENDEZVOUS Facebook page here.
4. Be ready to chat and drink with us.
5. At 8pm (CST) sharp, we all press play at the same time!
I wrote the following review of Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating for this week’s Cine-File Chicago streaming list:
Jacques Rivette’s CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING (French)
Available to stream on the Criterion Channel (subscription required).
In 2012, the critic Miriam Bale coined the phrase “persona-swap film” to describe a previously unacknowledged genre, one that stretches from Howard Hawks’ GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES in 1953 through David Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE half a century later. She cites Jacques Rivette’s 1974 masterpiece CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING as an essential entry in this unique cycle of movies that focuses on the female experience by examining how two friends with contrasting personalities – one eccentric, the other more conventional – either swap or magically merge identities. The publication of Bale’s essay coincided with the rehabilitation of Rivette’s reputation when a number of his major films that were previously difficult to see started to become more widely available in the wake of his 2009 retirement. CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING, the most accessible film from Rivette’s greatest period (1969-1976), is only now receiving its long-awaited streaming debut in America, having never been released on DVD or Blu-ray in this country. (This, by itself, is a good reason to subscribe to the Criterion Channel.) Based on a 2017 restoration of the original 16mm elements by France’s Centre National du Cinéma, the movie’s colors are now tighter than ever, while the plentiful grain within its Academy aspect ratio is beautifully preserved — at times giving the image the quality of a pointillist painting. But the irresistible central performances — by two actresses with pointedly contrasting styles (the theatrically trained Dominique Labourier as Celine and the natural-born movie star Juliet Berto as Julie) — have always been and still are the main draw. Berto and Labourier, who also co-wrote, have admitted to consciously drawing on Bergman’s PERSONA for inspiration (while Rivette, more typically, was thinking of Hawks) as they created the scenario of a magician befriending a librarian and, with the aid of a psychotropic hard candy, entering into a “house of fiction.” This location is a literal Parisian mansion inside of which the same 19th-century mystery story (involving a love triangle and the murder of a young girl) plays out each time the women pay it a visit. Eduardo de Gregorio, Rivette’s regular co-writer during this period, apparently scripted these “film-within-a-film” scenes based on two stories by Henry James. The way Celine and Julie start out as passive spectators of the Jamesian mystery but gradually become active participants in its plot underscores the most intellectually provocative aspect of this otherwise supremely playful opus: A lot of filmmakers have made great movies about the process of making movies – but only Rivette made a great one about the process of watching them. The result is one rabbit hole I am happy to go down again and again. (1974, 194 min,) MGS
1. Address Unknown (Menzies)
2. Images (Altman)
3. Mercy’s Girl (Lape)
4. Mur Murs (Varda)
5. Documenteur (Varda)
6. A League of Their Own (Marshall)
7. Dipso (Collatos)
8. Celine and Julie Go Boating (Rivette)
9. A Rage in Harlem (Duke)
10. Wedgerino (Wertheimer)