My Name is Ivan

“My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had, until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease. I felt encouraged and stimulated: someone was expressing what I had always wanted to say without knowing how. Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.” – Ingmar Bergman

Nikolai Burlyaev gives a stunning performance as a war refugee turned Russian spy in Ivan’s Childhood (1962), the feature film debut of director Andrei Tarkovsky.

A harrowing yet poetic account of war seen through the eyes of a twelve year old boy, Ivan’s Childhood aka My Name is Ivan (1962) was Andrei Tarkovsky’s first feature film and one that had a major impact on Russian cinema and the international film world (It won the Golden Lion at the 1962 Venice International Film Festival). Continue reading

In the Land of Mah-Na Mah-Na

Between 1967 and 1974 Sweden emerged as the most progressive and liberal nation in the world due to a government that supported a wide variety of social and political interests such as women’s rights, anti-war advocacy and the environmental movement along with a relaxed attitude about sex. Films like Mac Ahlberg’s I, a Woman (1965), Vilgot Sjoman’s I Am Curious (Yellow) from 1967, and Joseph Sarno’s Inga (1968) also helped confirm Sweden’s image as an epicenter of sexual freedom so it was inevitable that such a situation would inspire a moralistic backlash. What no one expected was that it would come from Italy in the form of a Mondo Cane-like documentary directed by Luigi Scattini entitled Sweden: Heaven and Hell (1968).  Continue reading

A Time for Demonic Visitations

“According to the ancient Romans, the Hour of the Wolf means the time between night and dawn, just before the light comes, and people believed it to be the time when demons had a heightened power and vitality, the hour when most people died and most children were born, and when nightmares came to one.”

Setting the stage for what will follow with this ominous introduction, Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 feature Hour of the Wolf (Swedish title: Vargtimmen) is probably the closest the director has ever come to making a horror film, one that crosses over into the realm of the supernatural. Continue reading

Gabriel Axel’s The Red Mantle

The name Gabriel Axel might not be familiar to most American moviegoers but many are familiar with his 1987 film Babette’s Feast which became a surprise art house hit and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, beating out Louis Malle’s Au Renoir les Enfants. Ironically, Axel was almost 70 and at the end of his filmmaking career when he experienced a career resurgence. But the film that is considered his first international art house breakthrough is Den Rode Kappe (1967), which was released in Europe as Hagbard and Signe and is best known under the title The Red Mantle in the U.S. The poster above with the awkwardly edited quote – and movie spoiler – from Time magazine also includes the reference “From the producers of Dear John” which means nothing to anyone today but that film was a slightly risque art film in its day (due to the nudity) and a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film of 1965 (It lost to Elmar Klosand and Jan Kadar’s The Shop on Main Street). Continue reading

Audie Murphy: Role Model

Audie Murphy plays an angel of death in the semi-allegorical western western, No Name on the Bullet (1959), directed by Jack Arnold

Clint Eastwood certainly carved out his own genre niche as “The Man With No Name” gunslinger of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western trilogy but he wasn’t the first to craft his screen persona as an archetype of the tight-lipped, deadly frontier drifter. Audie Murphy had already perfected the prototype in No Name on the Bullet (1959), a much darker variation on the heroic lawmen the actor usually played in westerns. Continue reading

Eurotrash or Subversive Satire?

ann and eveIs it possible to make a movie that works as both art house fare and exploitation cinema? Arne Mattsson’s Ann och Eve – de erotiska (1970), which was released in the U.S. in an English dubbed version as Ann and Eve, certainly comes close but still manages to frustrate both intended audiences with a bait-and-switch narrative that moves freely from sexual titillation to Swedish angst a la Bergman to surreal flights of fancy and back again, never revealing whether it should be taken seriously or as a put-on until the final frames. Continue reading