Persona: A Study on Timeless Cinema

Persona (1966)

Bergman’s masterpiece holds the incredible feat of being considered one of if not the best film ever made. Furthermore, if L’Avventura was one of my favorite films from this class, Persona is my favorite.

There are many factors that go into Persona being a masterpiece. From the famous opening sequence that is an editor’s paradise (in fact often cited as an example of the best edits in film history) to iconic shots and frames with light and texture. The way the film molds the two actresses with the camera utilizing their shadows and poses. And incredible dialogues all under the masterful direction and brilliant performances.

On the surface, the film is obviously concerned with the recurring symbolism of duality. There is duality within the two characters: their on-the-surface dispositions, to their deeper nature and persona. There is also duality in the interpretation that the two women may be one, and just representations of two extreme characters of one woman. However, this is just one of the many interpretations that could be extracted from Persona.

The intelligent blend of surrealism and realism is also a topic to discuss. The film constantly makes you wonder which scenes really occurred and which ones are mere imaginations. The motives are never really clear, and the actions are subjects to interpretation. The film’s use of surrealism vs realism keeps the audience at bay and imprisons them to be engaged with the material. The possibility of vast film discussions regarding the events of the movie is one of its most attractive qualities.

Another heavy theme that can be found in the movie is the reversal in roles. Who is the nurse and who is the patient? Who is the one that is “mad”? Who is actually treating who? In the beginning, Alma, with her profession, is clearly the caretaker, but once in the summer home she becomes increasingly more dependent of Elisabeth, and starts to show insane tendencies and lunacy. Alma becomes the more manic one in need of help, while Elisabeth despite her forced muteness still applied, is the more sane of the two. The gradual and subtle role reversals delivers in raw power of the characters. This of course is aided by the wonderful talents, Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann.

But perhaps, the least talked about theme of the movie, but is my favorite (because I pride myself in completely figuring it out on my own) is it’s study on motherhood. Both characters exhibited insanity that throughout the movie is carefully revealed as quite connected to their maternal roles. Their mental illnesses can be perceived as unconsciously rooting from their failure as mothers, and how that messes with their personas and perceived ideas of themselves. The opening shot of the sickly boy who reaches out to a white screen which turned out to be the character’s faces, can be argued as the aborted baby that is reaching out to its mother that killed him. This opening can be one of the mental horrors that cloud Alma’s mind that induces her to be manic.

Overall, Persona is a film that could be interpreted in many ways, and I find that it could be viewed in varying voices and lenses which make it a timeless cinematic triumph.

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Suspiria: Nightmarishly Gripping

Suspiria (2018)

Suspiria is a movie that I had heard about before watching in class. There had been so many reviews about it (both negative and positive), but I still didn’t expect it’d be something I would absolutely be cray about. It doesn’t exactly use the dance academy as anything more than just a new place to gather a bunch of girls together and throw them through a nightmarish haunted mansion. But the setting is still properly used shining the spotlight on the art of dance as a gateway into a horror film.

The way the dancers bodies twist and serve with horror combined with the rising tension of the aggressive pressure to get everything right, as their breaths get heavier, faster, and harder, ends up making you equally as exhausted as they are, except you don’t get to feel the relief that they do. Every scene in the movie surprises you that right as soon as you think you’ve seen the worst, Guadagnino goes out of his way to show you just how deep this rabbit hole goes and the places you end up in aren’t exactly places you want to stay, making you uncomfortable. The film never fails to keep you on your toes, and engulfed in its perpetual state of terror. Atmosphere is very much what this film is focused on. The director sets up the scenes but doesn’t really give an indication of where it’s going, and it’s not schlocky horror that you’re waiting for jump scares to come at the screen, but you are waiting for something. Whether it’s a gratuitous scene involving the witches, or random shots spliced together, I was never not on edge. And I don’t know about other people, but there’s something about uncomfortable movies that know how to make me uneasy with prolonged shots and the proper use of silence and/or music that I greatly admire. I admire subtlety of creative decisions that lead to generating anxiety on the viewers.

Another thing I love is how the film shows us the inner workings of a group, how they interact with each other. I was surprised as well how this movie managed to do so much with such a drab looking color palette. The performances are also to be noted as I thought they all did absolutely amazing. Furthermore, the film manages to be challenging, scary, and utterly captivating from start to finish, even with the nearly three-hour run time.

Raw: It’s Not About Cannibalism

Garance Marillier

After reading that some people fainted and threw up in theatres while watch Raw, I was not pleased when I heard we were going to watch it in class. But after watching, I personally didn’t find the viewing of it that terrible. Some parts were obviously disturbing and disgusting, but I was able to finish it. I wanted to finish it. The movie was compelling, and made the viewing of a sickening story pretty entertaining.

Raw is visceral, disturbing, and downright stomach-churning. Yet it is easily one of the the better films of the horror genre. It manages to indulge in the elements that often marginalize it while redeeming them with a loftier artistic goal in mind. By the film’s culmination you’ll not only have been thoroughly disturbed but also properly illuminated about the dangerous lines we walk to fight our inherent natures.

The story follows a a teenager called Justine who is going to college alongside her older, and somewhat rebellious sister. Justine has been brought up by strict parents, among whose personal tenets is an almost zealous adherence to vegetarianism. It is not long after Justine gets to college, and introduced to the rigorous hazing of her peers, that the convictions she’s been raised with are challenged. This begins with the ritualistic consumption of an animal’s kidney which, cowed by the pressure, she eats.

There were many splendid things about Raw. The cinematography, for example, was masterful, making the scenes visually pleasing to watch despite its viscerality. The performances, especially of the actress who plays Justine, were also exceptional. Cannibalism was made to look truly believable. And there also lies the brilliance of the film’s scoring. An ambiance was established well that worked with the narrative the film was trying to tell. The film was also a metaphor for the quick downward spiral that people fall into in their formative years as they give up convictions under the guise of exploration and losing “innocence” a pursuing our truer, darker nature. The film manages to be subtle and artistic with this parallel while simultaneously washing in gruesome horror.

Raw occasionally loses itself trying to say everything it wants to say, but it is undoubtedly an audacious (and quite witty) project that is never not interesting to watch. When it works, it works beautifully, and several moments in the film are contenders for best scenes I’ve ever seen. The final scene in particular was beyond brilliant and even coupled with a killer ending line. The actresses were amazing and as sisters in the film, they do a hell of a job selling the emotions of the movie. The film takes us through an examination of identity, burgeoning sexuality, addiction, freedom, and the line between man and animal, but at the end of the day, it’s a story about two sisters and their love for each other. This isn’t a cannibalism movie. It’s a story about a coming-of-age, sisterhood, and humanity, filtered through a horror setup.

Troll Fantasy At Its Best

Otto Jespersen, Johanna Mørch, Tomas Alf Larsen, and Glenn Erland Tosterud

Director André Øvredal convincingly turned the fairy tale troll into a reality through one great entertaining footage film. By methodically creating a more modern day treatment of the Troll legend, the movie successfully bridged the gap between fantasy and reality. The devil is in the details, in this fantasy film. From the mythology to the orchestrated government conspiracy to keep the trolls existence underwraps. From the storyline that make impossible for the secret to be maintained, up to the conflicted, disgruntled Troll Hunter, played by Otto Jespersen, who plays the role with a certain level of stellar dramatic weight that in my opinion truly deserves recognition.

While the overall tone of the film is serious, the underlying nature could be best described as subtle fun. But never compromising the very real threat the Trolls poses to the human population. Fear and imminent danger go hand in hand in this film (downed trees, demolished vehicles, unfortunate deaths). The location also couldn’t have been more fitting as it has the appearance of being equally mysterious and charming. The wisps of fog hanging eerily in the air, the fjords, the plentiful waterfalls jetting out of mountainside, and the rocky remote wilderness.

I never imagined I would enjoy a movie about Trolls this much. And I never wanted it to end. I literally felt myself disappear and feel like I was part of the footage. I had for all intents and purposes become one with the film.

It doesn’t just treat the idea of Troll Hunting as another big fantasy epic that happens to have a Found Footage ankle, it actually treats it with a fair mix of the fantasy we know from classic tales with the modernization of common silence. For example, the most famous trait of trolls is that they turn to stone when exposed to sunlight, and the film cleverly explains why once we’re about half way through.

The found footage angle as well doesn’t come off as a cheap gimmick to draw in the viewer, but used for getting a hands on feel for the act of Troll Hunting. Again, this isn’t a movie about Trolls, it’s about hunting them, so the documentary style gives the film a grounded sensuality that pays off greatly.

The Edukators: A Strong Political Commentary

Julia Jentsch, Stipe Erceg, and Daniel Brühl

I find it hard to talk about The Edukators because I feel like I am somehow still undecided on my opinions of the film. I have a love-hate relationship with its characters and I feel like I am always going to be torn on whether it delivered its political commentaries well.

I want to start with the things that I like about the movie. I feel like deep down, despite my acceptance of how society is already, the ideas that Jan, Jule, and Peter have are thoughts that I also have. The truth in what they say is heartbreaking especially when you know it yourself and when you completely agree. But not having the same will and courage to fight for that chance of change in society makes me admire the characters. Even the complexity of Hardenberg’s character, who was swallowed by the system but had the same idealogies before deliver an important, powerful, revolutionary message. The movie fully encapsulates what it’s like to live in an era of frustration and seeing things that are deeply dysfunctional in society but the inadequacy of being able to do anything about it.

The film also looks as if it’s been filmed using a phone camera, but it works so well on how unvarnished the film feels just like how its characters and their understanding of their ideologies and decisions to act are also underdone. The camera feels like a voyeur or a documentation of kids running around revolutionizing organically. I love that the film is able to capture that.

But despite the brilliant message and cinematography, there’s something about how the characters deliver their messages that feels so banal. They do not feel as natural as the messages that were delivered in Goodbye, Lenin! The movie also lacks the sophistication and the elegance of delivering a political statement subtly.

Moreover, and this is where I feel guilty and would like to apologize to Daniel Brühl for, despite the characters’ admirable valor and boldness, they become more and more scattered, disastrous, and annoying at best as the movie progresses. By the end of the film I couldn’t care less about the characters getting in trouble, or who’s gonna get with who, since they managed to infuriate me time and time again. The shift to the petty teen drama of the film that started so strongly with a great political message confused me, and it was hard to watch the characters go over and over the same stupid drama. They also began showing how incapable they are of creating stable decisions on their own without being catastrophic. So much of the movie’s political notes could still be expounded on, if the movie hadn’t so gleefully jumped into teen drama conflicts instead.

But despite my dislike of the petty disputes, I can’t help but think that what if, that is supposed to strengthen the whole point of the movie. The characters’ overindulgence of themselves is the film’s way of saying, these individuals are only a bunch of kids. They are a bunch of kids because no one is brave enough to take a stand and demand for change than a bunch of kids. The movie even goes as far as the characters saying, “We screwed up, we did it to save our own asses” acknowledging their vulnerability and susceptibility to mistakes that may have been caused by their age and ignorance. The film magnifies the truth that revolutionaries all over the world are only being led by the youth who are the only ones willing to recognize the defects of society. That is why tendencies such as extremity of decisions leading to catastrophic consequences are happening because, these kids aren’t being guided, aren’t being heard, aren’t being supported. Significant change can only be attained if the adults are willing to wake up as well and want these changes too. The same way Hardenberg was able to recognize by the end of the film that the characters are in need of his support too.

Oh Maria, Maria

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart

The film, Clouds of Sils Maria, could be the female version of Birdman although with different aspects of direction and without all the technicalities. However, the fable of a washed out actor getting old is an element both of the films share. In Clouds of Sils Maria, the story begins on a train as renowned actress, Juliette Binoche heads to Zurich with her personal assistant, Valentine. The Clouds of Sils Maria is mature and complex and engaging and brilliantly crafted. The life of the characters imitate the art in several ways including how Maria was forced to come to terms with her reality through the acceptance of a character that she’s not even thrilled about playing. There were also several scenes in which she was rehearsing lines with Valentine that kind of blur the line between the fantasy and the reality realms of the film. There were moments in which it was apparent that they were actually arguing and doing more than just simply reading the lines of a play. There were also conversations between the two about art and the art of movies itself making commentaries on cinema.

The film is rich with strong female characters that feel very authentic and exhibit real emotions. Clouds of Sils Maria can be a bit slow-paced and some scenes are rather tedious, but the experience is rewarding as we are brought along with the characters to and their exploration of the passage of time and coming to terms with it.

The film explored the pyschosexual realm of combining the paranoia that is exemplary of a film called All About Eve, and the existential crisis of an old actress is exhibited in Persona. Maria as she deals with the paranoia and existential crisis is encountered with an almost unbearable truth of slowly learning that the narrative isn’t really about her – or at least, she is in it, but her part is no longer as important as before.

The film is filled with brilliant performances that in my opinion, despite the movie already being good, still contributed greatly to the film’s success. Juliette Binoche has always been a wonderful actress, while Kristen Stewart was able to deliver so wonderfully even beside a well-known master in European cinema. What’s even more surprising is that, it’s not such an outcry to declare that Stewart even outshines Juliette Binoche in some of the scenes. Chloe Grace Moretz also delivers a stellar performance despite not having that much screen time. Everyone was on top of their game in a solid film that is worthy of all of its accolades.

An Unrefined Science Fiction

Bárbara Goenaga

It’s such a shame that I had watched a British-Australian film called Triangle prior to watching Timecrimes. A quick overview of my tragedy, Timecrimes and Triangle carry the same concept of looped time and a character horribly realizing he (or she) is making matters worse for every time he or she repeats time. They’re extremely the same in concept that I didn’t enjoy Timecrimes as much as I believe I could have if I had never seen a narrative like that before.

As someone who was already familiar of the plot before, I didn’t have that much of a reaction anymore towards the twists and the turns and the juxtapositioning of the stories together. Although I do still recognize the wonder in them, I was much engrossed on how the film played with emotions despite being a science fiction film. Hector’s struggles grew more and more severe throughout the movie, and as they grew more intense, suffocating desperation fills the air. You can’t help but feel frustrated with the character but also everything that the character was doing that just worsening his situation. Why can’t he just get it right? He shouldn’t have done that! I just want him to completely solve this. I was filled with so many emotions. Moreover, unrelenting sadness smotherly pervades this Spanish movie despite its character’s anti-heroic tendencies, that surprisingly it’s not hard to feel for him as his next actions just merely confirm his already doomed outcome. For all these emotions the film was able to generate in me, I have so much respect for it.

Timecrimes in my opinion is a three part structure. The first act is tense, mysterious, and suspenseful effusing with the feel of a horror film. The score is chilling and reminiscent of horror flicks. The second act dabbles more in the science fiction element of the movie getting deep with the time travel concept and morphed realities. The third act is a perfect denouement of the events finishing off in silent manner with a relatively open ended resolution, leaving plenty of space to formulate questions.

The film is cleverly crafted even with the quite noticeable absence of visual effects. The movie has a B-movie feel to it, that contributes to the rawness of the story and the coarse, unrefined charm of it. Though there was lack of anticipation while watching the film mainly caused by already being familiar with the narrative, I still found the movie smart with all its other choices.