994 (126). El Sur / The South (1983, Victor Erice)

Screened December 19 2009 on unsubbed Region 2 DVD with subtitle file in Brooklyn NY TSPDT Rank #907 IMDb Wiki

There's a strong suggestion of a great movie in Victor Erice's second feature, made 10 years after his celebrated debut The Spirit of the Beehive. Erice's breathtaking use of natural light demands comparison to Vermeer, while his ability to evoke a child's wonder and terror at the mysteries of the world make him an art cinema antecedent to Spielberg.  But financing woes halted filming on this story of a girl's attempt to solve the riddle of her enigmatic father. While Erice edited the footage to what he considers a finished film, it's clearly lacking a satisfying final act (in which the daughter travels to the father's hometown carrying clues to his past).

But the narrative is just as compromised by moments that stray from the child's first-person perspective, Erice's strong suit. Scenes where the father corresponds to an old flame diffuse the suspense, though they give the film clarity in its truncated form. A running voiceover narration by the girl as an adult reinforces a sense of pastness that further dilutes the primacy of the moments Erice offers us, a number of them visually stunning.

It's strange that Erice would allow a voiceover to structure a film whose underlying thesis is the futility of words: the father's anguished letters leading to no good outcome; his awkward conversations with his daughter and virtual non-communication with his wife. Instead, it's objects, images and gestures that link the characters: an amulet, a drawing of a woman, a joyful communion dance, the incessant pounding of a cane on floorboard. These are also Erice's best forms of communicating, and what ultimately links this film to his viewers.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of El Sur among the 1000 Greatest Films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

Javier Aguirresarobe, Nickel Odeon (1994) Mirito Torreiro, El Mundo (1995) Shiori Kazama, Kinema Junpo (1999) Ursula Vossen, Nickel Odeon (1997) Dirigido Por, Best Spanish Films (1992) Kinema Junpo, The Greatest Foreign Films (1999) Nickel Odeon Spanish Canon (1995) Nickel Odeon The Films of Our Life (1994) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

HISTORICAL REVIEWS

''EL SUR'' (''The South''), opening today at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, is the second feature by Victor Erice, the Spanish director whose first film, ''The Spirit of the Beehive,'' was one of the critical hits of 1976.

As was Mr. Erice's method in ''The Spirit of the Beehive,'' the new film reveals its concerns in small, seemingly unimportant details, much in the manner of a traumatized psychiatric patient. Every gesture is loaded with associated meanings. Objects are symbolic. Yet the emotional inhibitions, which had political significance in the first film, aren't particularly provocative here. The movie seems to whisper when there seems no reason why it can't speak in a normal voice.

''El Sur'' is nicely acted by Omero Antonutti as Agustin and Iciar Bollan as the teen-age Estrella, though it lacks a dominating performance like that of Ana Torrent in ''Beehive.'' Everything about ''El Sur,'' including the highly theatrical lighting, is so artfully composed that it seems to be more about film making than characters or ideas.

-Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, January 15, 1988

On the surface, despite the presence of a different fictional source (a story by Adelaida Garcia Morales) and scriptwriter (Jose Luis Lopez Linares), Victor Erice’s second feature seems to bring back some of the haunting obsessions of his first, the wonderful Spirit of the Beehive (1973): the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, the magical spell exerted by movies over childhood, and a little girl’s preoccupation with her father and the past. But as English critic Tim Pulleine has observed, a reference to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt in El sur (South, 1983) points to an elaborate system of doubling and duplication that underlies the film’s structure as a whole, operating on the level of shots and sequences as well as themes (north and south, father and daughter, real and imaginary). Although this subtle spellbinder ends somewhat abruptly, reportedly because the film’s budget ran out, it seems to form a nearly perfect whole as it is: a brooding tale about an intense father-daughter relationship and the unknowable past, mysterious and resonant, with the poetic ambience of a story by Faulkner.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader

El Sur is a simple film, rich in interesting childhood observations and perspectives. It is marred, however, by underdeveloped characters and the lack of a sense of closure.

The character Estrella (Sonsoles Aranguren) is well developed and thoughtful. Estrella's actions and emotions are full of meaning and insight and not too na"ive. The film successfully explores a unique father-daughter relationship and the accepting nature of children.

Agustin (Omero Antonutti), however, is not fully developed as a character, despite his central role in the movie. Although the father character is meant to be mysterious, the reasoning behind many of his actions often needs more explanation. For example, his feelings for a past lover are never fully explained, leaving the viewers with an awful sense of being shut out. This and other underdeveloped aspects of the film ultimately affect the film's ending, which is unfulfilling, predictable, and not at all tragic.

- Ricardo Rodriguez, The MIT Tech, February 28, 1989

INTERVIEW WITH VICTOR ERICE

Geoff Andrew:  I'd like to move on to your next film,The South [El Sur, Spain/France, 1983]. Some of you may remember it from when it was released in 1983. It's a quite wonderful film, I think, and is totally coherent, yet it's a film that was never finished. You weren't allowed to shoot everything that you wanted to, and it's shorter than it would have been as part of the story isn't there. Was that a very painful experience for you?

Victor Erice: Yes, it was very painful for the drama [of the film] but, of course, for film-makers this is quite a common occurrence. The film was interrupted for financial reasons. On the other hand, in terms of production it went very well, it was a happy time. Even in the state it is in, the film had a lot of commercial success in Spain, and especially from the critics. It should have been one hour longer, although many critics and spectators have applauded the fact that the south - which would be the south of the country - is never actually seen in the film. My taste is a little more common: I wanted to show it, especially as I was born in the north but lived many years of my life in the south. I felt that this was a wonderful opportunity to have the north and the south coming together in the film. Naturally this was a metaphor for the divisions that became apparent in the Civil War and, similarly, the divisions in a person who can't assimilate or join two parts of his own being.

The figure of the father in The South is a man divided between two loves: his romantic passion and his mundane life with his wife. It's about a man who always wants to go to the south but never manages to go. The train is always going past the station but he never manages to get on. He returns home like a clandestine person and he dies. And in a sense he leaves a mandate because, when he is about to die, he leaves under the pillow of his daughter the symbol of the communion, the thing that tied them together in their youth. This is the last thing that he does in his life so he is there, working like an impulse to provoke the daughter to make this trip that he was never able to make - and she does do what he could never do.

In the part that was never filmed, this girl does reach the south in Andalusia, where her father was born and lived his own childhood, so it completed the story of her father's death. In this way she was able to reconcile herself with the image of her father. This was the original project of the film. The film as it is now is still under the weight of the pain and, of course, the visit to the south was the redemption and she could grow up and become an adult. I can't say it would have been a happy film but there would have been a new energy and vitality because, in every story, to understand the history of one's parents is so important for every human being.

- Interview at the National Film Theatre, London, September 2 2003

CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS

Based on the novel by Adelaida García Morales, El Sur is a deceptively lyrical and delicately realized, yet haunting portrait of maturation, estrangement, alienation, and dislocation. Victor Erice achieves an atmosphere that is both naturalistic and mystical by shooting in natural light to visually reinforce hues and gradations that, in turn, reflect Estrella's gradual perceptional shift towards her father. Exploring similar themes that would also pervade Theo Angelopoulos' subsequent 1986 film, The Beekeeper, Victor Erice draws an implicit correlation between geographic division and the legacy of civil war: the parallel rites of passage between the marriage of Spyros' daughter in The Beekeeper and Estrella's first holy communion in El Sur; the profoundly isolated Spyros' apicultural migration to the south that represents a similar lure of an ephemeral (or unrequited) paradise lost to the melancholic and withdrawn Agustín (as well as both filmmakers' paradoxical characterization of the south as a destination that represents vitality and figurative death); the complex role of the cinema as a place of escape and also a contemplative medium for introspection and personal assessment. Erice further integrally incorporates cinema into the development of the multilayered narrative through a passing homage to Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (through a preview poster at the CineArcadia) that uncoincidentally bears a similar plot of a young woman's demystification of her idolized, charismatic uncle with whom she believes she shares a profound connection (also note a similar integration of homage and narrative Erice's earlier film, The Spirit of the Beehive and the James Whale film, Frankenstein). However, unlike the intrigue of the seminal Hitchcock film, the mystery of El Sur unravels with the imperceptible weight of a tossed skein of red yarn - exposing, not a barbarous crime, but the unendurable realization of being ordinary and unremarkably human.

- Acquarello, Strictly Film School

Víctor Erice’s second feature, shot 22 years ago, ten years after his first, El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive), took as its starting point a 47-page story by Adelaida García Morales that was published two years earlier. I’d recommend reading it after watching El sur, mainly because its last 12 pages allow us to imagine how the film would have developed if Erice had been allowed to shoot his adapted script in its entirety (the story originally concludes in southern Spain). For reasons never sufficiently explained, or openly discussed – though I do have a theory of my own about these complex, deep motivations – the shooting of El sur was halted, allegedly for the Christmas holidays, never to be resumed. Perhaps naïvely hoping to finally be allowed to shoot a second part – which was never intended as such or to be a separate movie – Erice kept diplomatically quiet, and edited a coherent film from the material available to him; it was sent to the Cannes Film Festival where it was hailed as a masterpiece, and the second part was silently but definitely shelved.|

Once you know that what you’re going to see, or have just watched, is only half the movie Erice wanted to make, and despite the fact that there are some things which never get explained or fully developed, you should forget this knowledge and enjoy what there is to see and hear, which is plenty. Regardless of the understandable frustration Erice still feels about the issue, while shrinking from others descriptions of the film as a masterpiece, El sur is still substantively a great film like Stroheim’s Greed (1924) or Peckinpah’s Major Dundee (1965). If you haven’t read either the original screenplay or the tale, you might never imagine that the film is not a fully mastered and completed work. In fact, despite its unfinished state, El sur is for me – and others – one of the greatest films ever made in Spain, and perhaps Erice’s most refined and mature work as a director.

From the opening sequence – in my recollection the most impressive since Dreyer’s Ordet (1964) and Ford’s The Searchers (1956) – one gathers that everything in this picture has been thought through and carried out with extreme care and precision; that there can be no loose ends, only cut threads owing to the film being only half of what Erice intended at over three hours. If the South announced in the film’s title remains a felt, mythical presence, almost dreamt but never reached or seen (only glimpsed on postcards while accompanied by the chords of Enrique Granados’ piano music on the soundtrack), it nevertheless remains a key reference, a significant motif in the film’s narrative. Although uncompleted, El sur is a much more accomplished, richer, deeper, complex and moving picture than El espíritu de la colmena. It marks a decisive step forward in Erice’s progression as a filmmaker. El sur is much more dense and allows us to get much nearer to several of the characters; its silences are not of the same kind as those that are so significant in El espíritu de la colmena. There is more interaction, and much more feeling and confrontation too, in El sur. In contrast, most adults in El espíritu de la colmena, even the parents – who never exchange a word - are kept mainly at a distance, in a different, separate world from that inhabited by the two sisters who are so alone that they are ready to see ghosts. The relationships in El sur are more real and painful.

- Miguel Marais, Senses of Cinema

In The South we watch a group of mostly disconnected individuals try to deal with the legacy of a receding past; the Civil War and the divisions it has forged within families and between generations. Although this film is a somewhat truncated version of Erice's original vision—he conceived of a final section actually set and filmed in the 'south'—its refusal to move outside the isolated northern community which the family inhabits, in a kind of exile, leaves open the potentiality for the processes of imagination and creative subjectivity that define Erice's work (as well as his characters). In a scene reminiscent of the Stereoscope sequence in Malick's Badlands (1973), Estrella, the young girl who is the 'focus' of the story, uses the material things that surround her to create an understanding and sense of the somewhat inconceivable world beyond her immediate experience. Because her parents rarely discuss the past, she has to extrapolate from the old-fashioned hand-coloured photographs she finds in a family album, or imagine her father's past lover from a lobby card she picks up at the local cinema (as in The Spirit of the Beehive, cinema is used as a means to spark imagination and to create identity). The worlds of Erice's films emerge as a collection of disconnected but connected signs—aural and visual—that enable the characters to come into being.

It is the look and sound of Erice's films that is often their most remarkable and telling characteristic. His work is full of ambient, often isolated, perhaps not even adequately sourced, sounds. It is often these sounds which most clearly haunt and disturb the characters. These sounds are also an indication of a world outside of the explicitly framed—this is a cinema full of frames-within-frames, doorways, windows, metaphors of entrapment—and often boxed-in environments we are shown (gunshots, barking dogs, train whistles, vehicles shifting gear). Sound is often figured as a site of the imagination and the unknown, a trigger for processes of creativity, memory and identity formation. For example, early in The South the narrator tells of her first memory (assumedly 're'-constructed at a later time from a story told by her parents), in which her father mysteriously 'designates' her gender while she is still in the womb—the first of a series of uncanny connections that bind father and daughter together in this family romance. Thus, it is not just sounds but words that are central to the make up of the characters.

- Adrian Danks, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

Erice is concerned with the exploration of myth, and the fragile balance that exists between its positive and negative qualities: the positive being the capacity of myth to provide explanations for the inexplicable, to help us to bear the unbearable, and the negative being its potential for aiding mass manipulation and subjugation. (Both qualities exploited freely by the Franco Regime, although that is not the focus here.) The godlike power of creation, control over human destiny and (to a greater or lesser extent) over the consumer form a basic link between cinema and the myth of the father in this film. The paradox lies in that, although we may not live so easily without them, if myths remain unquestioned, we run the risk of becoming their victims. Myth offers coherence and consolation, but should also provide a focus for the kind of curiosity aroused in Estrella that will, sooner or later, destroy it. El sur is  a celebration of the way film constructs its own myths, and the cinema is an ideal vehicle for the  analysis of our capacity and need to construct personal versions and visions of life as we 'see' it. It is also a moving illustration of the power of cinematic myth and of the paradox that we are safest in our enjoyment when we can acknowledge with more confidence than Agustín  that 'las cosas que ocurren  en el cine son mentira'.

- Jo Evans, University College London

ABOUT VICTOR ERICE

IMDb Wiki

Victor Erice has directed just three features and two shorts in a little over thirty years (the shorts, included in portmanteau films, bookend the three features he has made roughly ten years apart). (2) In its studied and contemplative approach to cinema, as well as its meagre productivity, Erice's career can be compared to that of Carl Dreyer and Terrence Malick. The connections to the work of these great, visionary filmmakers do not end there. Like Malick & Dreyer, Erice is a filmmaker who explores his environments through precise, lyrical, light-filled or filtered compositions. He also presents characters that are inseparable from or mired in particular times, spaces and historical moments. Erice's first two films (like Malick's) also feature strong, structurally central female characters forging their identity within masculine environments (a striving which often stages itself as act of speaking, of finding voice). (3) Although his films are artfully composed, Erice also shoots in a manner that, like Malick, is responsive to the sound-image possibilities and accidents that emerge on location. But whereas one can imagine, or even fantasise about, the philosophical questioning of Malick and the spiritual contemplation of Dreyer occupying them between films, Erice throws up another 'picture' all together. Although he actually has made his living writing film criticism, screenplays and directing for television (including a surprisingly large number of commercials) one would rather imagine, or at least easily conceive, that his films are the product of a deep, extended process of reflection, of repose, the outcome of an accretion of details and minute, precise observations captured over a sustained period of time (a process/practice suggested by the knowledge that he insisted on filming every day during the two-month shooting schedule of his third feature, The Quince Tree Sun [1992]—resorting to video when film stock, and the money for it, intermittently ran out).

The most remarked upon quality of Erice's cinema is its visual dimension. His films are dominated by the juxtaposition of often stark long shots and beautifully composed and lit vignette– or tableau–like compositions. His camera moves intermittently, but usually only to reframe or follow the characters. Thus, his films do have a studied, contemplative quality on a compositional level (they are full of repeated set-ups and move between a sense of closeness and distance). The most remarkable element of his films' visual dimension is the qualities of light that they capture—not unlike a painting by Vermeer or Valázquez (though modern, this also hints at the timeless, partly anachronistic quality of Erice's cinema). This light is often sculptural, its physical dimensions affecting both the perception of the spectator and the actions of the characters. (For example, the browns, burnt yellows and oranges that dominate the bleak interior and exterior landscapes of The South express the muted anguish of the characters, but also seem to shape their literal movement in space.)

Both The South and The Spirit of the Beehive are films about the experiential realities of characters, communities—and a country—in isolation. They each primarily focus on female characters attempting to forge their own identities within somewhat barren, chilly and mute environments. Erice's films are also remarkable for the space they give to all of their characters—even the woman (played by Aurore Clément) only seen in the film-within-a-film in The South is able to express herself through the long letter she sends to Estrella's father. This virtual dialectic, between specific, knowable entities/characters and the world that surrounds them, is carried over to a general understanding of the connections between images and sounds in Erice's cinema. Thus, although many of the images and sounds of his films seem to partly exist for themselves—highlighted by the common use of the fade to black, which tends to isolate shots—they are also part of a rich fabric of associations. In regard to this, Erice's films constantly play upon the tension between movement and stillness, ambulation and repose, the isolated observation and its macroscopic implications.

- Adrian Danks, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

Geoff Andrew: You were a film critic yourself and you've always been a cinephile. What was it that attracted you to the cinema in the first place? When did you become interested in films?

Victor Erice: It's difficult to say. It's more like an experience. I don't feel that I chose cinema or films. I feel they chose me. I don't mean this to be pretentious. In my childhood, films were fundamentally important. In a country that, especially in the 1940s, was very isolated from the rest of the world and marked by the Civil War, films gave me an extraordinary possibility to be a citizen of the world.

GA: And did you always want to make films as well? Obviously, maybe not as a kid, but you did become a critic when you were quite young...

VE: It was an evolution, I suppose, and I became conscious of it when I was about 19. But you don't choose to be a film director when you are small. You would be a small monster. Also, you can say that nobody chooses whom to love.

- Interview at the National Film Theatre, London, September 2 2003

It was like this - through writing - that one day I began to think about cinema, and discovered another way of prolonging its vision, of realising it. It was in the summer of 1959, after having seen The 400 Blows at the San Sebastian Film Festival. At the end of the screening, I came out onto the street, moved. And that same night I felt the need to put into words the ideas and feelings that had been awoken in me by François Truffaut’s images. It was the first time that such a thing had happened to me. The years have passed and, though I have been able to shoot a few films, I continue to write every now and then.

We did know it, without a doubt, though perhaps we forgot: ‘Cinematography, art of the Century’. This is precisely what was once said of cinema when, in a gesture not exempt from bad faith, justice was sought by virtue of bestowing upon cinema all the privileges conferred by social recognition. Never, not even at that solemn moment, did we imagine that with the passing of years cinema would become an essential element of our memory, the container capable of holding the images that best reflect the human experience of the century that has just died. How could we not find in that gaze that we project backwards, suspended in the air, the figure of the angel of melancholy! It is, in some way, inevitable. Since that single history, that of cinema and the twentieth century, is confused, irremediably, with our own biography. I am referring to the people of my generation, born in the time of silence and ruin that followed our civil war. Orphans, real or symbolic, were adopted by cinema. It offered us an extraordinary consolation, a sense of belonging to a world: precisely that which, paradoxically, Communication, in its present state of maximum development, does not offer.

Cinema nowadays, since it is based on technical reproducibility and universal dissemination, features accelerated by the effects of video and television (both capable of multiplying these aspects ad infinitum); cinema as product and nothing more than product (according to the rules of the Market – more unrelenting than ever, to the extent that it has accomplished the alienation of the notion of the author), is merely allowed, socially and on a global scale, by the established powers, a sole destiny: a destiny proper to the entertainment industry [la industria del espectáculo]. It is for this reason that, at the present crossroads, cinema may have no alternative other than to fall back on itself so that it may, once it has assumed its solitude, affirm itself in its dignity: a dignity conferred onto it by virtue of being the last of the artistic languages invented by man. This is its differentiating quality, what truly distinguishes it from other audiovisual communication media.

Every now and then, transformed into ghosts, the bodies that are present in the images of those films that (as Jean Louis Schefer has written) ‘have looked at our childhood’ rise from their graves and appear on the small screen of the television, at the latest hours, nearing dawn. Offering themselves to our insomniac eyes, they seem to tell us something: what? Amongst other things, that cinema today exists so as to bring back what was once seen. Its future, in this sense, is its past, though on the condition that we contemplate it with an undeceiving eye, with no dread. Given that, as Jean-Luc Godard affirmed, ‘cinema authorises Orpheus to look back without letting Eurydice die.’

- Victor Erice. Originally published in Banda aparte no. 9/10 (Valencia, January 1998). Reprinted with permission of the author. Translated from the Spanish for Rouge by Carlos Morrero. Thanks to Alvaro Arroba.

989 (121). Toute une nuit / All Night Long (1982, Chantal Akerman)

Screened November 29 on YouTube (thanks to Gina Telaroli for the tip) in Brooklyn NY TSPDT Rank #975  IMDb

touteunenuit1

In a way it makes sense that Chantal Akerman's 1982 masterpiece is (for the moment) available on YouTube, because it resembles a fan video compilation of dramatic scenes from the movies, stitched together in one ecstatic montage.  Instead of ripping them from her DVD collection, she's reshot them in her own beloved Brussels. By my count we're looking at 55 dramatic encounters, embraces and separations involving 75 nameless characters, usually in couples, lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes, arranged in loose chronology from anticipatory dusk to weary dawn. It's a puzzle-form film that practically begs to be re-watched and broken down by geeks to find patterns and beguiling inconsistencies - like when a woman checks into a hotel in one scene only to be seen running into the same hotel a few scenes later. Many characters resemble each other in appearance and dress (women in blue dresses, men in white shirts) such that they all bleed into each other - only upon close observation does one realize that only a few characters reappear, and mostly near the end.

This convergence of the universal and the specific is but one of the film's several paradoxes. With it's actors' balletic movements, rushing up and down streets and stairwells, pushing and pulling their partners in bars and bedrooms, it's a musical, except  without music (save the recurring clacking of heels, as irresistible as fate). It depicts a city teeming with human life, energy, lustful passions, yet nearly every figure seems touched with lonely desperation even in their moments of consummation.  Or the way the characters move and speak like automatons following pre-programmed behaviors to express their most selfish desires. Love and lust, so exciting in an isolated moment, so banal in the context of human history, a script that essentially has never changed.

For me, this dialogue between love in the movies and in real life is the film's most beguiling paradox. These fleeting scenes of romantic union and dissolution somehow embody both the larger-than-life drama of movie climaxes (and cliches) and the quotidian pleasure of everyday people-watching. Because these sublime encounters are devoid of the larger narrative granted to movie characters, they become as anonymous as people embracing on the street. The thrill of the movies aren't just on screen, they're everywhere around us, if we have the eyes to see them. This movie grants us that gift.

PART ONE OF TEN:

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Toute Une Nuit among They Shoot Pictures Don't They's 1000 Greatest Films:

Berenice Reynaud, Sight & Sound (1992) Helmut W. Banz, Steadycam (2007) Peter Korte, Steadycam (2007) Jim Jarmusch, Premiere: The 1980's Best (1989)

PART TWO OF TEN:

Chantal Akerman said good-bye to minimalism with this 1982 feature, which finds its model less in Michael Snow than MGM musicals. A hot summer night in Brussels is covered in brief narrative fragments centered on couples coming together or breaking up; as the film continues, it acquires an almost choreographic sense of rhythm and space. A real pleasure to watch, though Akerman doesn't skirt the darker implications of this dance of desire.

- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader

PART THREE OF TEN:

Chantal Akerman presents a structurally challenging, yet emotionally honest, understatedly humorous, and visually compelling choreography of motion, rhythm, and passion in Toute une nuit. Using short takes, minimal dialogue, and fragmented narrative, Akerman distills the visual narrative into the brief, yet essential moments that define the spectrum of human interaction: separation, attraction, reconciliation, reunion, intimacy, absence, rejection. Filmed as a narcoleptic journey through a sultry and languorous evening in summertime Brussels, Toute une nuit becomes a subtle and relevant validation on the singularity of human existence - a chronicle of the irrepressible passion and vitality that lay beneath the surface of an alienating urban landscape.

- Acquarello, Strictly Film School

PART FOUR OF TEN:

Akerman, the mistress of minimalism, has made her own midsummer night's sex comedy, with a superabundance of stories and a cast of (almost) thousands. The film shows an endless series of brief encounters that take place in Brussels in the course of one delirious, torrid June night, with the twist that each relationship is condensed into a single moment of high melodrama - the coup de foudre, the climax of passion, the end of an affair - with the spectator left to fill in the fictional spaces between scenes. Each couple compulsively plays through the same gestures, each mating rite is a variation on the same theme: repetitions which Akerman uses both as a rich source of comedy and as a device to show erotic desire as a pattern of codes and conventions. Marrying the pleasure of narrative to the purism of the avant-garde, this is her most accessible film to date.

- Time Out

touteunenuit3

In Toute une nuit Akerman displays her precision and control as she stages the separate, audience-involving adventures of a huge cast of all ages that wanders out into Brussels byways on a hot, stormy night. In this film, reminiscent of Wim Wenders and his wanderers and Marguerite Duras's inventive sound tracks, choreography, and sense of place, Akerman continues to explore her medium using no conventional plot, few spoken words, many sounds, people who leave the frame to a lingering camera, and appealing images. A little girl asks a man to dance with her, and he does. The filmmaker's feeling for the child and the child's independence can't be mistaken.

- Lilian SchiffFilm Reference.com

PART FIVE OF TEN:

Toute une nuit continues the theme of solitude, as it follows the monotonous sexual encounters of one particular night, as sugested in the film's title. Couples do not get together in All Night Long. Marsha Kinder describes the challenges posed by this film:

"By denying us a single unifying story, by frequently pitting word against image and non-verbal sound, by discouraging us from identifying with any of the anonymous characters, by denying us a single unified subject position... Toute une nuit makes us change the way we read a film."

Gwendolyn Audrey FosterIdentity and memory: the films of Chantal Akerman. SIU Press, 2003. Page 3.

Chantal Akerman's work has a dry, cumulative intensity. Extended takes, fixed frames, and a resolutely frontal camera position efface the conventions of analytic editing; precise and repeated framings are coupled with a consistent focus on single characters and an insistence on time. In the 1970s films, single protagonists propel the narrative through visible displacements (Je tu il elle, 1974, Meetings with Anna, 1978) or increasingly charged stillness (Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, 1975). This premise is reversed in the '80s work - in Toute une nuit (All night long, 1982), for example, whre Akerman's narrative, though still predicated on accumulation, is spread over multiple episodic threads, as characters couple and decouple according to a logic of the romantic - through longing, sexual desire, boredom...

In Toute une nuit, Akerman passes from the minimalist narratives of her earlier films to her later, idiosyncratic use of the movie-musical form - a natural outgrowth of her attention to the rhythms of gesture and dialogue, and to her transformations of them into an antinaturalistic choreography of concreteness. "No links except a musical one, with recurrences and ruptures," says Akerman of Toute une nuit's fragmentary structure...

Ivone Margulies. Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's Hyperrealist Everyday. Duke University Press, 1996. Pages 171-172

PART SIX OF TEN:

Toute Une Nuit exemplifies her fairy tale wish granting on a grand scale. As in the other films, extremes of hunger and appetite, need and excess, too-much and not-enough retrain our senses. Avant-garde filmmaker Anne Severson once made a film of animals running, culled from archive footage, to satisfy her own childhood hunger to see more jungle every time the Hollywood camera returned to Ava Gardner, or some such colonial-abroad star, wiping sweat from her brow. I can imagine Akerman indulging the same hunger for the archetypical movie embrace, that mad dash into (or out of) each other's arms in the cathartic moment of numberless Hollywood or French movies of the thirties. Enter the fairy tale. Akerman stacks her film with these embraces - and virtually nothing else- so that they are totally stripped of psychological definition and narrative meaning. The embraces become, like many of the actions in her films, very nearly existential. They have no meaning beyond their visual literalization. And yet, having given up the expectation of emotional drama, the viewer is rewarded with a semblance of a post-modernist musical in which the tableaux, rhythm of shots, exchanges of looks, even falling of glasses, become a choreographed and scored performance played to the hilt. The film turns itself inside out, embodying a critique of romance and the musical genre all at once.

Akerman adds an extra layer to her metacinema by seeding her films with jokes and references to earlier work. In Toute Une Nuit, Akerman's own mother smokes a cigarette as her daughter cries "Mama on the soundtrack, in a simultaneous invocation of News from Home and Rendez-vous d'Anna's pillow-talk sequence.

B. Ruby RichChick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement. Duke University Press, 1998. Page 172.

PART SEVEN OF TEN:

PART EIGHT OF TEN:

Another beautiful insomniac's journey from Chantal Akerman. Narrative is La Ronde fractured, spun out of dozens of fragments of personal dramas not quite intertwining over a humid, languorous night in oppressively impersonal Brussels. A woman meets her lover in a bar while another couple looks on from a nearby table, separated until a tentative embrace breaks through the symmetry of the frame; a trio splitting leads to another couple dancing around a jukebox in a deserted restaurant; another middle-aged couple decides to go out while a woman packs up her things and takes off while her husband sleeps, and so on into dawn. Huddling actors and non-professionals (the only recognizable one is Aurore Clément, Anna in Les Rendez-vous d'Anna), Akerman grids out a panorama of aching city dwellers stepping into and out of apartments, hooking up or barely missing each other, a rendezvous kept and then broken, each and every affair marinated in its own flavor of heartbreak. Her Brussels is a democratically alienated center, with young and aged, straight and queer, local and immigrant soaking in the heat and suffering through the mysteries of human interaction with delicate variations of an ongoing plaintive murmur ("Come with me. No? ... I don't think we still love each other ... Keep me from drinking. I am scared.") Akerman's framing and panning are as severe as in her previous films, yet the duration of her shots is lighter, more elastic, reflecting the ephemeral feel of the passing fancies she captures -- a notion expressed in the closing passage with sublime consequences for Tsai Ming-liang and Claire Denis, Clément dreamily swaying with her lover through a reverse tracking-shot down a corridor while in the soundtrack their romantic Italian chanson battles it out with the disembodied honking of cars implacably ushering in the early morning, and reality.

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Although Toute Une Nuit is not as personal as Akerman’s most powerful films, her methodic filmmaking, sly humor, and obsession with relationships is firmly on display in her pseduo-conceptual work.Toute Une Nuit, like most Akerman films, contains minimal dialogue, and slowly tracks over two dozen characters as they move around urban Brussels passionately connecting with one another, if only for brief moments. It is hard to imagine Richard Linklater’s great film Slacker working, or even existing, without Chantal Akerman. While Toute Une Nuit is still only available on VHS, it is worth seeking out (and can be found on Amazon for under $5!) It is a good introduction to Akerman’s work (although I think News From Home (1977) would be the best introduction) and has quietly thrilling aspects that have become part of Akerman’s signature voice.

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PART NINE OF TEN:

Instead of a safely potted narrative plant, Äkerman gives us a plethora of seemingly random narrative shoots. These bits of life reflect how we experience our own lives. Characters are let go of for a while and picked up again. While her husband soundly sleeps, a woman noisily packs her bag right on the bed and leaves him, goes to a hotel, but returns home at dawn defeated, gets back into bed just in time for the ringing alarm clock to presumably awaken her, as well as him. For years I took exception to this artificial aspect, this miniature story, but now I find that it underscores by contrast the different method of the rest of Äkerman’s formally rigorous yet open-ended film.

- Dennis Grunes

The odd adventure in filmmaking is worth savoring because of its uniqueness, its lingering hypnotic effect, the artistic way all the brief encounters reach a melodramatic moment and in the delicate manner Miss Akerman tells her amorous narrative in an experimental film style. Miss Akerman plays with the same theme for each couple, as the repetition offers both a mix of sad and happy moments. It's surprisingly an accessible film (at least for her), and combines a sense of absurd humor with the erotic. Not a great film, but one that catches your attention.

- Dennis Schwartz, Ozu's World Movie Reviews

PART TEN OF TEN:

The yearning for romance and for the romance of the ordinary is a central ingredient of her work, but the most remarkable moments in her films are those in which her other, demonic impulses rebel against this fantasy. Emblematic in this respect is the ending of Toute une nuit, an insomniac's movie about insomniacs, in which a couple's lovemaking is gradually smothered, and all but obliterated from our attention, by the hectoring sounds of early-morning traffic outside. The tortured aggressiveness of such a moment is finally what her filmmaking is all about--her cold, elegantly symmetrical compositions and brutal sounds being hammered into our skulls with an obstinate will to power that makes Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Peckinpah, and Clint Eastwood all seem like pussycats.

Jonathan RosenbaumThe Chicago Reader, January 26, 1990

ABOUT CHANTAL AKERMAN

IMDb  Wiki

The following quotes are found on the TSPDT Profile Page for Chantal Akerman:

"At the age of fifteen Chantal Akerman saw Godard's Pierrot le fou and realized that filmmaking could be experimental and personal. She dropped in and out of film school and has since created short and feature films for viewers who appreciate the opportunity her works provide to think about sounds and images. Her films are often shot in real time, and in space that is part of the characters' identity." - Lillian Schiff (The St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia, 1998)

"Belgian-born director who makes long, often tedious, but sometimes hypnotically watchable arthouse films in which the camera's concentration on scenes for a long period of time can turn the viewer's pleasure into discomfort, interest into boredom or disinterest into perception. A unique film-maker, she continues to alternately baffle and fascinate her audiences." - David Quinlan (Quinlan's Film Directors, 1999)

"Independent filmmaker noted for her minimalist narratives and static visual style...Her films, often dramatically vague and nearly plotless, typically seek to explore human emotion and character through unorthodox cinematic means. Although she is admired by serious critics, her films are barely accessible to general audiences.." - (The MacMillan International Film Encyclopedia, 1994)

On one hand, the films of the 39-year-old Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman are about as varied as anyone could wish. Some are in 16-millimeter and some are in 35; some are narrative and some are nonnarrative; the running times range from 11 minutes to 205. The genres range from autobiography to personal psychodrama to domestic drama to comedy to musical to documentary to feature-in-progress--a span that still fails to include a silent, not-exactly-documentary study of a run-down New York hotel (Hotel Monterey), a vast collection of miniplots covering a single night in a city (Toute une nuit), and a feature-length string of Jewish jokes recited by immigrants in Brooklyn exteriors (Food, Family and Philosophy), among other oddities.

On the other hand, paradoxically, there are few important contemporary filmmakers whose range is as ruthlessly narrow as Akerman's, formally and emotionally. Virtually all of her films, regardless of genre, come across as melancholy, narcissistic meditations charged with feelings of loneliness and anxiety; and nearly all of them have the same hard-edged painterly presence and monumentality, the same precise sense of framing, locations, and empty space. Most of them are fundamentally concerned with the discomfort of bodies in rooms. (Akerman is basically geared toward interiors, which may be one reason her latest feature, Food, Family and Philosophy, set mostly in exteriors, is not one of her strongest. The fact that virtually all of Window Shopping, her musical, is set inside a shopping mall sets up an interesting ambiguity about whether one is inside or out--until the shock of the ending, when the film finally moves out into the open air.)

If I have a reputation for being difficult, it's because I love the everyday and want to present it. In general people go to the movies precisely to escape the everyday.

--Chantal Akerman

A yearning for the ordinary as well as the everyday runs through Akerman's work like a recurring, plaintive refrain. It is a longing that takes many forms: part of it is simply her ambition to make a commercially successful movie; another part is the desire of a self-destructive, somewhat regressive neurotic--Akerman herself in Saute ma ville, Je tu il elle, and The Man With a Suitcase; Delphine Seyrig in Jeanne Dielman; Aurore Clement in Les rendezvous d'Anna--to go legit and be like "normal" people. Je tu il elle and Les rendezvous d'Anna both feature a bisexual heroine who wants to either resolve an unhappy relationship with another woman or to go straight; in Saute ma ville, Je tu il elle, Jeanne Dielman, and The Man With a Suitcase, the desire to be "normal" is largely reflected in the efforts of the heroine simply to inhabit a domestic space.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader, January 26, 1990

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Akerman's defiance of cinematic conventions - not just the faster takes but the intrusive soundtracks, the constant visual fidgeting, the tendentious editing - has something liberating about it. Her approach, characterized by extreme restraint, makes you aware of just how manipulative, even bullying these conventions can be, though we rarely give them a second thought.

Her own slow style discourages the suspension of disbelief, allowing the mind time and space to roam, to contemplate, to question. Of course, her style can also frustrate. Akerman toys deliberately with our desire to know more, to see more, to glean a plot or grasp what is going on. Her strategy can make you resentful, but it also creates tension.

- Sebastian Smee, The Boston Globe, June 8 2008

What has made Chantal Akerman such an important part of world cinema has been her ability to raise, across a wide variety of forms, common questions that touch the core of both cinematic aesthetics and feminist political practice. The flexibility she has exhibited over the years should confirm her status not as a progressively more compromised filmmaker, but as an artist committed enough to ask questions in different idioms, instead of piously relying on one (supposedly) politically or aesthetically purified form, as so many members of both the political and romantic avant-gardes have.

- Jerry White, "Chantal Akerman's Revisionist Aesthetic." From Women and Experimental Filmmaking, edited by Jean Petrolle, Virginia Wright Wexman. University of Illinois Press, 2005. Page 47.

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978 (110). Oci ciornie / Dark Eyes (1987, Nikita Mikhalkov)

Screened July 13 2009 on a DVD burned from a digital file created from a dub of an out-of-print VHS rented from the now defunct Kim's Video, in Brooklyn NY TSPDT rank #964 IMDb Wiki

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Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with a Dog" is arguably my all time favorite short story. It's so many beautiful things at once. Descriptions as light and delicate as snowflakes are combined with a hearty narration that's both impassive yet empathetic. In a half-hour's reading time you marvel in a symphony of moods: melancholy, sarcasm, infatuation, disdain, lust, hope, despair, and finally a sense of love that's as helpless as it's hopeful. Josef Heifetz made a masterful Soviet film adaptation 50 years ago, but I would love to see another version - possibly even set to contemporary times, since Chekhov's brilliant diagnosis of the social circumstances that breed love can be applied practically anyplace and anywhere. I'd certainly welcome such an effort over Nikita Mikhalkov's supersized and superficial international prestige parade, a film so bombastic and unsubtle that it's everything Chekhov isn't.

For one thing, it stitches "The Lady with a Dog" with elements of three other Chekhov stories, forming a gargantuan picaresque whose sprawl undermines the intimacy that's a Chekhov lynchpin. (Compare to what Robert Altman does with Raymond Carver's stories in Short Cuts, which builds its landscape on carefully observed moments and interactions within each scene.)  This romp through 19th century Russia is driven by Marcello Mastroianni in a shamefully hammy performance, leveraging his brand name charisma with broad gestures and slapstick.

Setting the non-Chekhov objection aside, the film could fit within the other Mikhalkov films I've seen (A Slave of Love; Burnt by the Sun) as another runaway dream of what Russia was, is and could be. It easily courts and exploits nostalgia, though not without some  tweaking of those impulses. I can't say I appreciate the stylistic idiom Mikahlkov chooses to explore his ideas, such as his characteristic warm orange hues that seem to swaddle viewers in a giant fuzzy blanket of period splendor. The film struggles to establish its position with Mastroianni: it obviously wants to skewer his Italian playboy's narrow, over-romanticizing regard towards his adopted Russian homeland, but at the same time it obviously wants to capitalize on Mastroianni's charm, playing up his goofy charm, which muddles its critical program. Finally, when the film gyrates through a trifecta of 11th hour ironic whammies, it feels like a cheap, desperate bid for profundity, to whack the viewer into a metaphysical contemplative stupor lest they were having too much fun. Chekhov be having none of that.

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WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

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The following citations were counted towards the placement of Dark Eyes among the 1000 Greatest Films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

Barbara Schweizerhof, Steadycam (2007) Harlan Jacobson, Steadycam (2007) Ingmar Bergman Paul Lee, PopcornQ (1997) Halliwell's Top 1000 Films (2005) New York Times, The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made (2004)

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Dark Eyes" tells one of those stories where you think you know everything, but you do not, and at the end of the story you know that everyone is very unhappy but you cannot see precisely what they should have done differently. The movie is based on stories by Anton Chekhov and has been directed by a Russian, Nikita Mikhalkov, who is not afraid of large romantic gestures and tragic coincidences. You realize after awhile that it doesn't matter that Mastroianni can do nothing, that his tragedy is in the past; the telling of the story is the whole point, and he travels the world with his sad tale, telling it probably again and again, for the whole importance of his life has been reduced to his great loss.

This is a beautiful film, lavishly shot on location at Italian and Russian spas and in great houses. The 19th century period is important, not simply because it recalls a time before telephones (which could have solved the whole tragedy), but because it recalls a state of mind before telephones (a time when people did not much believe in easy solutions). The movie is intriguing because of its moral complexity. After it's over, you find yourself asking hard questions about who did right and who did wrong, and you're confronted with the ironic possibility that maybe it didn't matter, that maybe everyone was doomed from the start. The ending of this film is a real stunner. If you see "Dark Eyes," ask yourself this question afterward: How would it have felt if the movie had provided what we anticipate will be the last scene, but isn't? Would it have been simply corny? Or too heartbreaking to be endured?

- Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times, November 20, 1987

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NIKITA MIKHALKOV'S ''Dark Eyes,'' tonight's convivial opening attraction of the 25th New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, is both enchanting and enchanted, a triumph composed of seemingly irreconcilable contradictions.

Though it's about a man with the soul of an artist and the manner of a buffoon, about the man's abandoned aspirations and doomed love affairs, as well as about the heedless follies of the new European bourgeoisie, ''Dark Eyes'' is consistently exhilarating. In the steadfast resolve of a fellow who's an utter failure, it dramatizes a truly Chekhovian concept of comedy.

Mr. Mastroianni's remarkable performance, both heartbreaking and farcical, sets the tone for ''Dark Eyes,'' whose emotional landscape is as broad and rich as its physical terrain. The screenplay, by Alexander Adabachian and Mr. Mikhalkov ''with the collaboration of Suso Cecchi D'Amico,'' makes astonishingly successful and intelligent use of the Chekhov material. Mr. Mikhalkov and his collaborators have folded key elements from ''The Name-Day Party'' into ''The Lady With the Little Dog,'' borrowing from another tale, ''Anna Around the Neck,'' for the substance of Anna's character, and taking inspiration from ''My Wife'' to arrive at their own conclusion.

Occasionally (especially in the spa sequences) Mr. Mikhalkov's vision appears to have been unduly influenced by the style of Federico Fellini, possibly because the orchestrations make Francis Lai's soundtrack score sound uncomfortably like one by Nino Rota. There also are times when the lip-synching of the Italian dialogue is off. These are minor reservations. That the film is the work of a singular, very Russian artist, a man with a profound appreciation for his sources, is apparent throughout, from the indolent luxury of the great party scene until the final, elegant shot of the beloved Anna.

- Vincent Canby, The New York Times, September 25, 1987

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Mikhalkov's adaptation of several of Chekhov's short stories makes for bland viewing indeed. Mastroianni is in fine form as the fickle, philandering and finally irritatingly spineless Romano, a wealthy Italian whose dismay at the imminent bankruptcy of his wife's bank takes him away from family and mistress to the distracting lassitudes of a health spa, where he encounters and seduces the shy, reluctant Anna (Sofonova). When Anna returns to Russia and husband, Romano follows, but will he do the honourable thing and tell his wife (Mangano) the truth? Mikhalkov manages, remarkably, to render the harrowing dilemmas thrown up by problems of adultery, commitment, disillusionment and solitude woefully shallow. Mastroianni apart, the film is a glossy, unprepossessing example of the mainstream art movie.

- Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide

Once upon a time—in 1959, to be precise—Soviet director Josef Heifits filmed a lovely, exquisite, and by now all but forgotten adaptation of Anton Chekhov's story “The Lady With the Dog,” which wisely restricted itself to Chekhovian dimensions, giving the plot and characters their full due but never any more. By grotesque contrast, writer-director Nikita Mikhalkov's elephantine set piece for Marcello Mastroianni (1987)—which came about through Mastroianni's desire to work with the Soviet filmmaker—loosely adapts that Chekhov story along with elements from three others (“My Wife,” “The Birthday Party,” and “Subjugated Anna”) to produce a film so sprawling and ungainly that Chekhov is turned into chopped liver. Atrociously out-of-sync dubbing, shameless mugging and prancing from Mastroianni, and an unearned (and decidedly un-Chekhovian) grandiosity are the main elements on the bill of fare, all working overtime to register life's little ironies; Elena Sofonova, Marthe Keller, Silvana Mangano, and a cute little dog are on hand to teach Mikhalkov and Mastroianni a few lessons in restraint, but alas, to no avail.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader

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Like so many Soviet moviemakers, Mikhalkov works in a tempo meant for patient, stalwart audiences. He lingers over his ornate sets, photographing the furniture as if he were shooting a House & Garden center spread. And not a rosy landscape goes unswept as the director scans Mother Russia's misty panoramas; the sparse story looks overdressed, like Elizabeth Ashley in Elizabeth Taylor's earrings.

The whole thing is precisely acted, with Marthe Keller pert as a Neapolitan Goldie Hawn in the role of Romano's other mistress, and Larionov immensely likable as the passenger sympathizing with Romano's pitiful autobiography. Skilled as the cast is, however, there's a chilly chemistry, as if the actors had just met at a cocktail party. Even the appearance of a caravan of gypsy dancers can't heat things up.

The screenplay, thoughtful, but skimpy, is written by Mikhalkov, his close colleague Alexander Adabachian, and Suso Cecchi D'Amico, coauthor of such landmark movies as "The Bicycle Thief" and "The Leopard." This trio of wild romantics can't resist a contrived and easy ending. Or dialogue like this: "The boat will rot. The sea dry up. But the good and evil we have done will always exist."

- Rita Kempley, The Washington Post

Add this film to the list — Belle de Jour, Juliet of the Spirits, Last Year at Marienbad — of the dreamiest movies ever made. Directed by Nikita Mikhalkov, Dark Eyes is loosely based on several short stories by Anton Checkhov and stars Marcello Mastroianni in one of the most masterful performances of his career. As Romano, Mastroianni is a charming man who savors life but inwardly remains a confused little boy who doesn’t know what he wants. Under-appreciated by his rich and domineering wife (Silvana Mangano), he falls in love with Anna (Elena Sofonova), an elegant Russian lady he meets at a health spa. Concocting a business trip to Russia, he hopes to woo Anna away from her husband. Against a backdrop of exquisite landscapes, costumes, and buildings, Dark Eyes has the ambiguity of a dream that gently muses on the different shades of love.

-Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat,  Spirituality and Practice

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Mikhalkov offers two perspectives: the view on Italy seen through the eyes of a Russian director (himself) and the view on Russia seen through the Italian visitor. He also introduces two spaces of Russian life: the provincial town and the city, which are facade only, and the countryside, which is genuine. The emphasis on the national 'peculiarities' of drinking, dancing and singing turned Dark Eyes into a cheap 'kitsch' version of Chekhov for Western consumption.

- Stephen C. Hutchings, Anat Vernitski, Russian and Soviet Film Adaptations of Literature, 1900-2001. Routledge, 2005. Page 148.

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It is worth comparing Mikhalkov's film with an earlier film version of the story, Kheifits's Lady with a Lapdog [Dama s sobachkoi, 1960]. Kheifits's film demonstrates fidelity to the original, which it follows meticulously, and endows the background with the social ills of the time, exposing poverty and offering a critique of Russia in the late nineteenth century that is much in line with socialist values. It is a critical view of Russian society as a redundant world, destined and doomed to be replaced by the new socialist Russia in the twentieth century. Mikhalkov clearly departs from this view, idealising the Russia of the late 1890s as a place of idleness but no social hardship. Even the vagrant life of the gypsies and the stifled life of Anna in the provincial town are glossed over. Mikhalkov creates a myth of the life of provincial Russia in the late nineteenth century, ignoring the encroaching hardship on the middle classes that was perceived in Mechanical Piano (the servan't refusal to obey, the reports of women working in the fields, the bankruptcy of the estate). There is neither critique nor irony in the portrayal of Russia in Dark Eyes, which is therefore mythogogic. The Kheifits film adaptation treats Chekhov in the conventional and conservative Soviet way, seeking to explore the social injustice of imperial Russia.

Dark Eyes has received little critical attention in Russia. A review after the television screening of the film in 1994 comments on this fact, and Pavel Lebeshev remembers the House of Cinema audience leaving even during the screening. The hostility to the film is also illustrated by the relative absence of reviews of the film in the major film journal (iskusstvo kino) and other major newspapers with serious film columns. Instead, Sovetskaia kultura carried several readers' responses and short critical comments. The film was criticized for its profanation of Chekhov and the parody of Soviet bureaucracy, but the main accusation levelled at the film was the attempt to cater for Western audiences by producing a kitsch version of Chekhov. The most outraged responses came from provincial readers (as if they were the most qualified to comment on the portrayal of life in Sysoyev)...

Both Dark Eyes and Tarkovsky's Nostalgia look at Russia from a distance, and both film-makers are dislocated from their homeland at the time of the film's making (and both intending to return at the time of filming). In Nostalgia approaches and conclusions are entirely different from Dark Eyes. In Andrei Tarkovsky's films Russia is rendered through the poetic image of a landscape with a country house (Mirror), or a meadow with a hut by a little pond where past and present merge (Nostalgia). In Nostalgia the wooden house is not only in the past but also in the distance, and it is simultaneously in the present and in Italy, surrounded by ruins. Tarkovsky's Gorchakov harbours values within himself, within his personal memory, that he transfers onto other times and spaces, aware of this in a reflective nostalgia. Tarkovsky transposes his image into the here and now, unifying the space of Italy and Russia while representing through this very same image the dichotomy of his character, split between Russia and Italy, past and present. Romano longs for a country that was never his, trying to build for himself a different past that he feels closer to than the lullaby of his grandmother, a past that has no images. He betrays himself, not only restoring a past but building a past that he never belonged to, either in time or space. Romano falls in love with a woman he cannot understand, with a country that he cannot understand. He fails in the here and now because of his inability to realise that his 'longing' (algia) is based on a misunderstanding of the 'home' (nostos).

The Russia that Mikhalkov presents is a country seen through the eyes of a foreigner, who views superficially (he really is searching for Anna) and fails to look beyond the surface (literally, in the case of the unbreakable glass). On that surface he finds all his prejudices confirmed: petty bureaucrats who cannot or will not make decisions; beautiful facades; vodka-drinking people; young men obsessed with the environment; good-hearted people; and charming and cheerful gypsies. Clearly this view of Russia is cliche-ridden, and represents the impressions of a traveller who wants to have his preconceptions confirmed. As a Russian director Mikhalkov could have taken a different approach. Instead, he confirms to the West its romanticised and idealized view of nineteenth-century Russia. He presents a cheap print (lubok) of his own country as a space that is, as such, neither desirable nor within reach. Only its attributes (Anna's devotion, the gypsy's carefree lifestyle, the beauty of the countryside glorified visually and in the words of the vet) are desirable for Romano. He mistakes the part for the whole, and his illusion makes him a character dishonest with himself, despicable in his conduct, but lovable for the actor who plays him - Marcello Mastroianni. With Dark Eyes Mikhalkov moves the furthest away from the reflective or ironic nostalgia of his earlier films towards a restorative nostalgia that tends towards nationalistic revival.

- Birgit Beumers, Nikita Mikhalkov: Between Nostalgia and Nationalism. I.B. Tauris, 2005. Pages 84, 89, 90

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EXCERPTS FROM NEW YORK TIMES INTERVIEW WITH ACTRESS ELENA SOFONOVA

ELENA SOFONOVA DOES IT ALL with her eyes. She suffers with them, smiles with them, searches with them - now for love, now simply for self-respect. Soft and deep-set above the high Slavic cheekbones, they seem by far the strongest of her tools as an actress. For her last two films, first the 1985 Soviet film ''Winter Cherries'' and now the widely admired Italian-Soviet offering, ''Dark Eyes,'' they have given her a way to evoke eloquently and almost silently the emotions of a charming and charmable woman who wants something more out of life than charm.

''I was playing for the people who will watch the film, and I was trying to open for them a part of their own soul, or something they know very well about themselves.''

''It's the dream of any actor to work with Nikita,'' Miss Sofonova said. ''An actor always wants to work for a director who takes care of him and loves him. Nikita is the master of this.

''And Marcello was so simple to deal with. He doesn't have the star attitudes that you'd have to get used to.''

She did, however, find that Mr. Mastroianni was used to a different filming rhythm. ''We are taught to play through a long scene in which there are several transitions from one mood to another. For Marcello this was incomprehensible. He likes to play the various fragments and then splice it together.''

But, as Mr. Mikhalkov was directing, Mr. Mastroianni played it his way.

She knows, she said recently, that some Soviet critics, although they have remained largely silent, dislike the film, which has been seen only at this summer's Moscow Film Festival. (Soviet distribution rights haven't yet been sold by the Italian producers.) Among the criticisms: that it creates a prettified, cliched portrait of Russia designed for foreign consumption and that it lacks Chekhovian depth of character.

Miss Sonfonova argues, however, that the objections really arise from the sometimes unflattering portrayals of Russians - the ''chinovniki,'' or petty bureaucrats who revel in red tape, for instance.

''Russians can see many of their own negative sides in this film, and they don't like it,'' she said.

- Felicity Barringer, The New York Times, October 4 1987

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ABOUT MARCELLO MASTROIANNI

IMDb Wiki

Since the 1950s, Marcello Mastroianni has been Italy's favorite leading man, as well as one of his country's finest actors. Until the emergence of Gérard Depardieu on the international film scene, Mastroianni also was the most famous European actor in America. This renown is symbolized by his earning the astonishing total of three Academy Award nominations (for Divorce, Italian Style, A Special Day, and Dark Eyes), quite an accomplishment for an actor working in non-English-language films.

In his long and prolific career, Mastroianni almost singlehandedly defined the contemporary type of Latin lover, then proceeded to redefine it a dozen times and finally parodied it and played it against type. He remains unsurpassed as one of the most universally popular and beloved of all motion picture personalities.

Elaine Mancini, updated by Rob Edelman, Film Reference.com

He was worshipped as the ultimate Latin lover. Yet the qualities Marcello Mastroianni most consistently projected in his films were weakness, weariness, sadness, and uncertainty -- all of which suggest an ambivalence well outside the usual stereotypes of male sexuality.

- Chris Fujiwara, The Boston Phoenix

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ABOUT NIKITA MIKHALKOV

IMDb Wiki

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Possessing an impeccable artistic pedigree, actor-writer-director Nikita Mikhalkov prospered during the Soviet era and survived the collapse of Communism, becoming his country's best-known and successful film director, not to mention a leading candidate to succeed Boris Yeltsin as President of Russia. His father was Sergei Mikhalkov, a poet and author of children's books, who wrote the lyrics to the Soviet national anthem and whose Communist Party ties (he was head of the Soviet Writers Union) helped shield Nikita from the censorship and persecution that forced other filmmakers to curb their careers or compromise shamefully with the government. His mother, Natalya Konchalovskaya, descended from aristocracy, was a poet-essayist and the great-granddaughter of Vasily Surikov, one of Russia's most famous painters, and her father Pyotr Konchalovsky was a major painter of the post-Impressionist school. Older brother Andrei Konchalovsky, also a renowned filmmaker, moved to the West and made a splash with "Runaway Train" (1985), but his subsequent Hollywood films failed to live up to its promise (or that of his epic "Siberiade" 1979). Remaining behind in his Russian homeland, Mikhalkov managed to forge the more acclaimed career.

- Turner Classic Movies

mikhalkov

Although he did not come to prominence as a director until the mid-1970s, Nikita Mikhalkov ranks among the most gifted Russian filmmakers of the entire post-World War II era. His films are highly emotional examinations of what it means to be Russian amid the swirl of politics and turmoil that has characterized his homeland during the twentieth century. In fact, he presently finds himself one of the few Russian directors whose career has flourished since the disintegration of the USSR. While Mikhalkov's equally celebrated brother, director Andrei Konchalovsky, decided to leave their homeland in the early 1980s and work in the West, Mikhalkov chose to remain in Russia. From that vantage point he watched his international reputation expand while steadfastly continuing to make films that are uniquely Russian in subject matter and flavor.

Despite his loyalty to Russia, Mikhalkov has not worked exclusively in his homeland. He went to Italy to film Dark Eyes, featuring Marcello Mastroianni in a role he was born to play: Romano, a likably charming but lazy lothario whose soul is sadly hollow, and who cannot comprehend that he has allowed life to pass him by. The scenario is loosely based on several Chekhov short stories. Regarding his affinity for Chekhov's works, Mikhalkov once observed that the writer "feels very close to me because he offers no answers to the questions he poses. Chekhov's characters seek an answer which they never find. I too don't know the answer. I'm not even sure that knowing it would make me any happier. What is important is the search for the truth; that is happiness." This statement relates not just to Chekhov but to the manner in which Mikhalkov has attempted to depict and, ultimately, understand the changing face of Russia.

- Rob Edelman, Film Reference.com

970 (112). Moy drug Ivan Lapshin / My Friend Ivan Lapshin (1983, Aleksei German)

Screened May 24 2009 on 35mm at Anthology Film Archives, New York NY TSPDT rank #934  IMDb

My Friend van Lapshin is an attempt to retrieve lost time that itself may be in need of revival. Upon its 1982 release, it garnered equal parts acclaim and controversy for its frank depiction of 1930s small town Soviet life, with comrades threatening to report each other and casual references to drugs, prostitution and secret police backroom brutality.  The film was heralded as the greatest Soviet film of all time, beating out the likes of Tarkovsky and Eisenstein; today it's largely unremarked outside of (and even among) Russian film circles.

The narrative is an extended series of unfiltered incidents of the past strung together in a loosely linear sequence. Despite being mostly shot in black and white and sepia, the film is alive with an unruly, uncentered and unprocessed feel of communal activity. Alexsei German orchestrates this action with masterful long takes and tracking shots.  But unlike the employment of this technique by Tarkovsky or Bela Tarr, German doesn't so much connect images along a meditative stream with his more roughhewn, often handheld camerawork as clash them in an animated clatter of incongruity, something resembling collage art.

Deep staging among multiple characters and a thin discerning between throwaway gestures and primary action within in a scene evoke a society moving in a perpetual fog - not for years will people remember what mattered among so many things that happened. The post-dubbed soundtrack gives the effect of hearing dialogue through waterlogged ears, adding to a vaguely claustrophobic sense of warped perception (an effect taken to an even greater extreme in German's follow-up Khrustaliov, My Car!).

By the end, we’re not even sure what to make of the film’s nominal protagonist, a captain of the local police squad, who’s a seemingly nice guy who mediates squabbles and even a suicide attempt among his five roommates. He also goes practically berserk during a climactic police raid, shooting a man dead rather than taking him in. The ambiguous portrayal of a Stalinist authority figure may have been as edgy as German could have gotten away with in the 80s, though some critics saw it as not overtly critical enough.  The film’s embrace of indeterminacy may on one hand compromise the forcefulness of its political critique; on the other hand it amounts to a critique in itself, of the overdetermined, two-dimensional propaganda that propagated itself through Soviet film history (and that gets lampooned in the film's opening sequence). One feeling the film distinctly leaves us with is a sense of the stories that give form to our lives being as much a bewildering work in progress then as it is now.

YOU CAN WATCH THE ENTIRETY OF MY FRIEND IVAN LAPSHIN ON YOUTUBE WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES. Here's Part One.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of My Friend Ivan Lapshin among They Shoot Pictures, Don't They's 1000 Greatest Films:

Peter Rinaldi, The Cinematheque Top 10 Project (2008) Quay Brothers, Time Out (1995) Sergei Bodrov, Sight & Sound (1992) Verina Glaessner, Time Out (1995) ? Empire (Russia), 50 Best Russian Films (2008) ? Rough Guide to Film, Russia & The Soviet Union: 5 Lesser-Known Gems  (2007)

Alexei Guerman's 1984 film, based on short stories by his father Yuri Guerman and scripted by Eduard Volodarsky, is set in a remote and impoverished Russian village in 1937, where as a boy the narrator shared a cramped apartment with five men, including Ivan Lapshin, the head of the local police. The film alternates between black and white, sepia, and a few shots in color, though without any rationale that I could discern. Despite a supple and original camera style, some powerful acting, and a refreshing absence of sentimentality, the loose, episodic structure makes for a certain dullness, at least for spectators with no more than a glancing acquaintance with the Stalinist period that this film meticulously re-creates and addresses. Guerman has expressed some doubts that this film can be properly understood in the West, and it does pose difficulties for spectators who don't know much about the historical context. But anyone with a serious interest in Soviet cinema won't want to pass it up.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader

ONE'S sympathies are all with Aleksei German. The Soviet director has had his troubles with his country's authorities; movies that he made 10 and 20 years ago have only recently been released in the West. His fourth and latest effort, ''My Friend Ivan Lapshin,'' which will be shown at the Museum of Modern Art as part of the New Directors/New Films series tonight at 8:30 and tomorrow at 6 P.M., is one of the first proscribed films to benefit from glasnost. Scheduled to open next month at the Cinema Studio, it is evidence that not every movie that has displeased the cultural commissars is a masterpiece.

Mr. German's knack for visual authenticity provides the movie's main interest. Scene after scene, shot for the most part in the sepia of old photographs, catches the poverty and confusion of a hard time - the crowded apartment, the beat-up cars, the dreary town and its shabbily dressed people, the outbursts of desperation and nuttiness. In his treatment of a troupe of actors and some musicians jangling along on a flag-festooned little trolley, the director seems to have picked up some tricks from Fellini, but the spirit is very different. It's mostly complaint and bickering; only the policemen seem in good humor. People quarrel constantly about food and living space; a woman goes into hysterics over the loss of some gasoline.

The scattered reminiscences, unrelated to the boy from whom they ostensibly originate and about whom we learn nothing, keep getting in the way of the rather casual plot, which has Ivan's best friend, a journalist, becoming involved with the actress and the murderer. Mr. German shows more consideration for his father's anecdotes (much is made of little practical jokes, youthful byplay, awkward accidents that add up to nothing) than for his audience's comprehension. You can hardly tell one policeman from another and often can't be sure where they are or what they are doing there.

- Walter Goodman, The New York Times, March 24 1987

Gherman's masterly film (his third) is framed as an autobiographical reminiscence of the 1930s, just before the Stalinist terror began to bite. Through the eyes of a nine-year-old we watch episodes from the life of a small town police chief: his home life in a ludicrously overcrowded apartment, his unsuccessful courtship of a glamorous actress, and his rather more successful campaign to hunt down the criminal fraternity of the Soloviev gang. There is nothing sinister about this Ivan, but the film is crammed with tiny suggestions of the horrors to come, designed to provoke disquieting speculations about the eventual fate of this potentially dangerous man. Gherman's methods are resolutely observational and low key, and his subject is the lull before the storm; the drama emerges as if by accident from a collage of resonant and deeply felt scenes from day-to-day life. Wonderfully vivid performances and amazingly original camerawork (mostly in elegantly faded monochrome) bring a vanished world to life with complete conviction.

- Tony Rayns, Time Out

Alexei German's third film as director is based on stories written by his father, prominent author Yuri German. The mostly black-and-white film begins with a present-day color sequence, then reverts to monochrome and the freezing winter of 1935, when the narrator was nine years old. The boy lived in an apartment with his father and two other men, Police Chief Ivan Lapshin (Andrei Boltnev) and his officious underling (Alexei Zharkov). The story focuses on Lapshin as he tracks down a gang of crooks in his provincial Russian village, helps his recently widowed friend, and enters into a tentative relationship with an actress (Nina Ruslanova). Capable direction by German and a talented ensemble cast make this detailed look at the pre-purge Soviet Union both entertaining and richly rewarding.

- Robert Firsching, Allmovie

Aleksei Gherman’s legendary My Friend, Ivan Lapshin (Moj drug Ivan Lapshin) has been called by Andrei Tarkovsky and many Russian critics, both Soviet and post-Soviet, the greatest Soviet film ever made. Its complex, stormy vision of drab provincial life in Soviet Russia has the visual elan to drug, and the power to sweep away, the viewer. I am sorry to say that the film left me cold. There’s no question that the film is great. There is some question, though, whether anyone needs to see it. It doesn’t strike me as essential, as did, for instance, Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Autumn (1960), which I left the same sick bed to go see at the movies the night before. Dazzlingly brilliant, My Friend nonetheless afforded scarcely a moment of pleasure to justify my years of anticipation of one of cinema’s most heralded accomplishments.

Gherman may be playing with time, but he isn’t playing games with his audience. The confusions are to the point since one of the film’s themes is the psychology of memory. In this instance, memory is hampered not only by the passage of time but also by the persistence of harsh socioeconomic conditions over time, thus eliminating, by implication, the points of normal reference that might better distinguish one time from another. Formally, it’s a sophisticated procedure that Gherman employs, and had I been a tad healthier I might have been fit to meet its challenges. As it is, at times the film’s parallel universes of different times made me hanker for the clarity of the parallel universes in the Wachowski brothers’ The Matrix (1999).

Critics are divided as to what this all means about Ivan Lapshin. Is Gherman whitewashing the Soviet police by not showing them going after ordinary citizens, or is he demonstrating by metaphor state police brutality? But more is involved here than metaphor, for the gangsters are, on the one hand, driven to their viciousness by the dire nature of Soviet economic conditions and, on the other, hunted down and murdered by the police for their viciousness. It’s a losing state of affairs.

Still, Gherman hedges his bets formally. The climactic gunfight at the U.S.S.R. Corral includes extraordinary tracking shots; but their effectiveness would have been that much greater had Gherman earlier not overused his tracking camera, thus robbing the shots of their unique character when they finally arrive at a real purpose and point. Gherman, earlier, tracks simply because he can, and his showiness costs him points at the end. Nor am I as impressed as are others by all the times a tracking camera follows the characters just to reiterate a child’s point of view. There’s a lot of formal messiness in the film before Gherman “pulls it all together.”

- Dennis Grunes

The technique of switching between colour and black and white from one scene to the next has always fascinated me. It is such an effective stylistic tool for quickly creating atmosphere and striking a contrast. It’s also a powerful way to jolt the viewer into a dialogue with the film. My Friend Ivan Lapshin begins in colour, with a long handheld tracking shot that examines various objects and people as it searches carefully through a quiet house. This is the only time we will experience such ultra-personal camera work, as the film soon jumps back 50 years to the mid 1930s, now in a mesmerising black and white. Our narrator continues speaking from his present time, reflecting through memory on his experiences as a child living in a small town in Soviet Russia just before the Great Purge. It is essential to keep this time period in mind to fully appreciate the contradictions and ultimate decline that the film explores. The parties, the music and laughter, the joking and pranks, all mislead and clash with the depressing situation that surrounds the town, expressed elegantly through the constant thick fog.

Editing is used sparingly, placing value on the natural progression of time. Long tracking shots quickly become familiar as they fluently create a circling world which is able to encompass expansive outdoor locations as easily as it manages confined indoor spaces. Haphazard jumps between scenes often occur without any causal reasoning, resulting in a level of chaos and confusion that reflects the social and political situation present within the film. For the most part the narrative works as a stream of consciousness, and this allows for dramatic shifts in mood and importance whenever necessary. There is still a plot, and even a few subplots, but these fall secondary to the precise study of life, which is exemplified in a number of near silent moments that watch characters from a distance as they go about routine daily tasks.  Such scenes are contrasted with loud, grandiose street marches, and then again with serious, dramatic instances of desperation. Clever uses of light, snow and night photography create images of exquisite beauty out of ugliness. As the world declines into darkness the use of colour also disappears, leaving us to pessimistically contemplate the bleak future ahead.

- Polar Bear's Film Journal

INTERVIEW WITH ALEKSEI GERMAN

How long did it take to complete Moi drug Ivan Lapshin?

As for the film Moi drug Ivan Lapshin, it took a year to write the script. Then it took a year to make all the preparations. Because we had to buy the technical means, and then we had to collect all the costumes. We visited many people and tried to find all the costumes we needed. We collected a lot of photographs because we didn't want to use the archives. Because the archives in all the countries are lying. The things put into the newsreels for the archives are all lies. In America, in Germany, in Russia most of all. What am I talking about? I'm talking about those newsreels that were supposed to show the positive things in life. The joy, all the good things. Not just showing a street. So in order to understand what kind of life it was, we had to find things, pictures about, for example, how something was being built.

For example, we watched some short films about building water pipes. Of course, the cameraman was showing all those pipes. At the same time, when he moved his camera from one place to another, to look at the street, to look at the boys, who were probably not always very polite, who didn't have very good manners. Or we saw a woman with quite a few bags. So we could see the real life. We couldn't make the film without all these things. That's why it took so long for every film. If you want to know, Moi drug Ivan Lapshin is really filming. It was introducing something new.

What sorts of "new things" were introduced in Moi drug Ivan Lapshin?

If you want, I can show you in a very short way which technical means we used. Just what kind of film is Moi drug Ivan Lapshin? This is a story about the 1930s. Margarita Aliger wrote about the period that we were young, and there was no war that we couldn't win. And now we are accused of every fault. There is no fault that we are not accused of. So this is said about the 1930s. This is just a phrase.

What was happening back then? A lot of repressions took place. Many peasants were made to leave their residence and their property to the State and go away. The Party was being destroyed. The village, the whole system was being destroyed. The idea of the revolution was being destroyed. And all the moral principles were being destroyed. And all these things happened.

But were there any good people? Yes, there were. Good people with moral principles? Yes, there were. People who tried to live according to the truth. Yes, there were. My parents lived at that time. So we tried to speak about the 1930s, about life in those days. We wanted to show life and some of the things that brought the people to death later. So this is a film presentiment. It shows the people who will die. We don't know about their death yet. And they think they will live. They think about a very good and happy life.

How do you position, or employ, the camera during shooting?

The camera is there in order to capture these particular conversations from this angle of perspective right in the middle of the action. In particular, the camera is to show this or that at this special time, and in this special way. After all, a conversation is supposed to have a certain particular reason or sense to it. For instance, the conversation with the young man is also a conversation about the gulag [prison camp]. Someone says something. And suddenly the question is raised: I'll put you in jail, I'll throw you in prison. Of course, that's a little bit of a joke. But a joke set in these very times. And then if you look at it, someone really did put somebody in prison. In other words, the following sequence does show that somebody was thrown in prison. So along these principles, along the principles of a turntable, that's the way we shot this film.

Is Moi drug Ivan Lapshin primarily about Stalin and the "Great Terror"?

Of course, when you make a film about Ivan Lapshin at this time, you are also including things that refer, of course, to Stalin. And, of course, later also to Beria. But on the whole we simply wanted to show the times. And we wanted to avoid this vulgar way of stating everything so clearly. Such a vulgarity would be a discussion in the film about Stalin, or even a way of behavior. We wanted to avoid all these clichés, and we wanted instead to dive deep into the lives of the people. Of course, they talk about certain things. For example, they talk about the death, the suicide, of Mayakovsky. But this is always in the background of the film.

How did the Russian public respond to Moi drug Ivan Lapshin?

They can be divided into three groups. The first group wrote to me, saying that I was an idiot. They were very furious, especially when it was shown on television. Millions of people who saw it were furious. There was an article in the newspaper before the film was shown. A good article, saying that you should watch the film, really watch it, not just come and go. Then, when the film was shown, some lady made a telephone call, saying that the film should be burned—together with the director. So the Russian newspaper Izvestia responded: why should the film be burned? Just turn to another channel if you don't like it. So a third of the audience was furious and said that the film was worth nothing.

There was another third. It was very interesting that they headed their letters with the words: "A Copy to the Central Committee." Or: "A Copy to the KGB." This third thought they were speaking the truth about the film-maker. These people were from institutions, or scientific establishments. And the citizens of .... collected all their signatures, so that the film-maker would never come to their places of work. I don't know why the editor was like that. Very often, their letters started with "Dear Editor" and ended "With communist regards." All these letters were written by old Bolsheviks. When I saw that they ended "With communist regards," then I knew that a copy of such a letter would be in the KGB files.

I am not being ironic about these letters. It wasn't funny for me at all. I was really hurt. Because these letters said: "Yes, probably all those things in the film are right, but we won't give you the right to show all these things. There were letters with the words: "Solzhenitzyn with his dirty boots and criminal characters is allowed to dance on our future and our past. And now you are allowed to do the same thing, and so on." It was really very trying to get all those letters.

- Excerpted from interview with Aleksei German by Ronald Holloway, published in Kinoeye, Sept 2004

DEEPER READINGS

'This is my declaration of love for the people I grew up with as a child’, says a voice at the beginning of Aleksei German’s Moi drug Ivan Lapshin (My Friend Ivan Lapshin). There is a pause as the narrator struggles for the right words to express his feelings for the Soviet Union of the thirties; when they come—ob”iasnenie v liubvi—it is with a strained emphasis on ‘love’. The film, released in 1984, is set in 1935 in the fictional provincial town of Unchansk, where a young boy and his father share a communal flat with criminal police investigator Ivan Lapshin and half a dozen others. It weaves together elements from the director’s father Iurii German’s detective stories and novellas of the same period: a troupe of actors arrive to play at the town’s theatre; Lapshin tracks down a gang of criminals trading in human meat; a friend of Lapshin’s, Khanin, becomes unhinged after his wife dies of typhus; the spirited actress Adashova falls in love with Khanin, and Lapshin with Adashova. The authorities are largely absent: it is a film about people ‘building socialism’ on a bleak frozen plain, their town’s one street a long straggle of low wooden buildings beneath a huge white sky, leading from the elegant stucco square by the river’s quayside out into wilderness. There is a single tram, a military band, a plywood ‘victory arch’ of which they are all proud—‘My father’, the narrator recounts, ‘would never take a short cut across the town’: he always went the long way round, under the victory arch.

The film holds hope and suffering in the balance. Adashova proudly boasts about what the 1942 production quotas for champagne will be; Lapshin declares, ‘We shall clean up the earth and plant a garden, and we ourselves will live to walk in it’—just as the hacked-up corpses hidden by the meat-traders are loaded onto a truck. The film is full of such alarming details and ill omens: dubious meat, which retains the headline offprint of the newspaper it was wrapped in (‘WE REJOICE’) even after it’s been cooked; febrile explosions of rage over spilled paraffin; flocks of crows cawing across the sky. There is a mismatch between the optimism of the characters and what we know of subsequent events. ‘I’m going on a course’, Lapshin says towards the end of the film, and his words are left hanging in the air. These are people whose faith in the future remains intact, but whose betrayal is imminent. German has said that his main aim was to convey a sense of the period, to depict as faithfully as possible the material conditions and human preoccupations of SovietRussia on the eve of the Great Purge. It is for this world, for these people that the narrator struggles to declare his love—unconditional, knowing how flawed that world was, and how tainted the future would be. German compared the film to the work of Chekhov, and one can see in it a similar tenderness for the suffering and absurdity of its characters.

Loosely episodic, the film is remarkable in its resistance to linear narrative: dialogue is often drowned out by senseless chatter or the clanging of buckets; our view of important characters is frequently blocked by figures crossing the screen. In its cinematography, Ivan Lapshin consistently refuses to accept established priorities: as though every element of each shot must be allowed its meaning. The camera often enters the room behind characters’ backs, like a guest, or at elbow-level, like a curious child. There is no sense that the scenes are choreographed or pre-arranged, but rather a feeling that the camera, wide-eyed, is capturing what it can of a bewildering world.

Filming on Moi drug Ivan Lapshin finally began in 1979 and finished in 1982. Although the first screening was greeted with a standing ovation, the film was immediately attacked from within German’s own studio, Lenfil’m—an article in the studio’s newspaper called it a ‘gadkaia kartina’, a ‘disgusting film’. An official of Goskino informed him that everyone knew 37 and 38 weren’t good years, but he shouldn’t destroy all people’s illusions—‘leave 1935 alone’. German was then told to re-shoot half of the film, and when he asked which half, the head of Goskino replied: ‘Either. Leave half of your crap and do half as we want you to’. [3] Fortunately, due to lack of finance and the director’s protestations, the re-shoot never took place. After prolonged debates within Goskino, the film was released in 1984, to critical acclaim and even a certain commercial success.

Gorbachev’s accession signalled a turning point in German’s career. The Conflict Commission established in 1986 by the Cinematographers’ Union at last sanctioned the release of Proverka, along with over seventy other ‘shelved’ films, including such masterpieces as Aleksandr Askol’dov’s Komissar (1967) and Tengiz Abuladze’s Monanieba (Repentance, 1984). In 1987, Lapshin was voted the best Soviet film of all time in a national poll of film critics, ahead of anything by Eisenstein, Pudovkin or Vertov. German’s film is in many ways a precursor to the series of films of the glasnost’ period that return obsessively to the era of Stalin—much as one of the characters in Repentance keeps exhuming a small-town tyrant. It encapsulates the issues that were to haunt the Soviet Union until its demise, and continue to resurface in contemporary Russia: how are we to retell our history without disgracing our forefathers, magnifying them out of proportion or simply deleting them from the record? Which memories should we claim as ours?

- Tony Wood, The New Left Review, January-February 2001

My Friend Ivan Lapshin, made in 1983 by Alexei German, was released in 1985 after a two-year skirmish with Goskino. The dispute was due in part to the fact that it dealt with a very sensitive period of Soviet history - the 1930s, the years of forced collectivization, famine, the purges. Although this background is absent from the film, the realistic portrayal of ordinary life in those days, so different from the propagandistic films of the period about the marvels of industrialization, was in itself unacceptable. To make matters worse, the film was the creation of a very original talent, which automatically made the censors uncomfortable. The ambiguity of the multilayered text and the lack of clear narrative closures looked like an ideological trap to the official scanning eye, a visual quagmire that might harbor insidious meanings.

When the film was broadcast on television in early 1986 it became the subject of heated debate among the public. The film was at once exciting and disturbing. It offered a glimpse of an historical period that had been proscribed until then. But the portrait of that period was very personal, and left many viewers uncertain about the intentions of the director. What was his point of view? Why did he choose a police officer as the hero? What was he really saying about the Stalinist years, besides the fact that life was hard and drab in the provinces? The confusion was reinforced by the subjective camera and the post-modernist montage, virtually new in Soviet cinema. It was too early for the general audience to believe what they were seeing on the big screen, in the open. Later, it became obvious that German's hero, Ivan Lapshin, was presented as a victim of the system - a true believer in the communist ideals, doomed to perish, strangled by the machine that he helped to build. His fate was similar to that of many others - Kirov, for example, whose portrait opens the retrospective core of the film and sheds a mournful shadow on the whole narrative. The year 1935, right after the Leningrad party chief was assassinated, was the last moment before the beginning of the great terror, a moment when it was still possible to nurture the illusion of a future, perfect world. German intended to pay a tribute to a generation that believed in the Stalinist myth and perished with it. He said in an interview: "The story I am telling is about the real life of these people, their faith, their melancholy, the fact that they go straight ahead toward communism without understanding that the road is long and dangerous. Maybe these people included my father and my mother."

- Anna Lawton, Kinoglasnost: Soviet Cinema in Our Time. Published by CUP Archive, 1992. Pages 146-147, 148

Having heard for weeks that this unusual film would be showing sometime in late January 1985 (Step One), we began rousing ourselves from bed several Saturdays in a row to buy Leisure ( Step Two). Finally, in the last week of January, Leisure printed a one-line announcement that My Friend, Ivan Lapshin would be playing on January 26th in only one Moscow cinema. Thus began the final Step Three. After several days of fruitless telephoning, we went to the cinema the day before the showing and were told that the film would be shown the next day only at 7.00 p.m., that tickets would go on sale that day at 4.00 p.m. and, in the curious logic so common here, at that point there would be no tickets anyway, since they were already all sold out. After an hour's tactful inquiry, rediscovered that there were in fact at least three other unannounced showings there on that same day, to which we were at last permitted to buy tickets. The whole experience was a little like standing in front of a locked door with a ring of skeleton keys, knowing that one of them, if jiggled just right and not too loudly, would let us in.

The film itself has generated enormous interest here. One Soviet acquaintance described it as a devastating critique of the secret police activities in the 1930s. Another acquaintance travelled approximately 600 miles from Riga to Moscow in order to see the film. There are several reasons for this interest. First, the original stories, romanticizing the lives of the secret police, are transformed by the director-son into a depiction of the brutality, lawlessness and hardships of life in a small provincial town: communal apartments, overcrowding, lack of privacy, chronic shortages of food and firewood. The depiction of the seamier aspects of Soviet society - a thieves' den, prostitution, a raid on a hoarder's underground storehouse - are filmed in black-and-white, creating the atmosphere of old, documentary footage that has finally come to light. Other technical features of the film - open-microphone recording, alternating colour footage (though not consistently carried through in the film, the tendency is to record events of the 1980s in colour, of the 1930s in black-and-white), and the accuracy of historical detail (interiors, costumes, village scenes) - are also unusual.

By de-romanticizing the depiction of life in the provinces, the director has not, however, demystified the way in which agents of the secret police are represented. The characterization of the police, and in particular of the police-chief, Ivan Lapshin, is every bit as idealized as in the literature of earlier times; Lapshin and the police are indefatigable, dedicated, honest, fair. They are almost saintly figures, who are trapped in a hellish life. Their occasional callousness is the result of the conditions with which they must deal uncomplainingly; their brutality, that of the avenging angel. German succeeds in having Soviet audiences respect and praise their depiction for two essential reasons. First, the narrative frame of the film is the reminiscences in the presence of an ageing writer, who recalls his childhood awe of Lapshin ("the servant of the people and a father to his men," to paraphrase paradoxically Lermontov's words in the poem "Borodino", about Kutuzov, the saviour of Russia during the war with Napoleon). The camera is the eyes of the child. Like Cherkassov in Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible, the gaunt and chisel-faced Lapshin towers above everyone else in the film. Second, the case on which Lapshin is working belongs more to the domain of the militia than to the secret police. He is pursuing vicious gangster-murderers, rather than engaged in the activities traditionally associated with the secret police: surveillance and repression of citizens, purging of dissidents from society, searching for counter-revolutionaries and "cosmopolitan" traitors.

As a result, although Soviet audiences react very favourably to the honesty with which the difficulties of life in the 1930s are portrayed in the film, a Western viewer is more attentive to the ways in which the film engages in white-washing the activities and personalities of the secret police agents. From this point of view the film is exciting because it dares to address the existence of the NKVD in the years immediately before the purges, an association that most Soviet citizens also make; but it is disturbing because it refuses to challenge received ideas and official ways of describing the role of the secret police in that period, or even to undermine some of the dominant clichés in Soviet cinema. In Lapshin we still have a positive hero, however tarnished his image has become with time. "Good guys" never die in this film, nor do they die in other Soviet films, war films being the one exception to this general rule. In My Friend, Ivan Lapshin, one eviscerated NKVD member survives a long drive in the back of a truck, bumping over provincial roads. Released from the hospital after a remarkable recovery ( a real testimony to rural emergency medical procedures in the 1930s), he is gruffly reminded by Lapshin, "Don't forget to bind your guts with a towel." Having seen this film, so praised by progressive intellectuals for its verisimilitude and honesty, we find it lacking above all in precisely those two traits. The film, however, continues to play to packed theatres in at least one out-of-the-way cinema in Moscow each week.

- Vladimiar Padunov and Nancy P Condee, Framework 29, 1985

Like much of recent Soviet cinema, the film repeatedly returns to a flashback structure, with a prologue and epilogue, accompanied by the off-screen voice of a witness who was at that time a 9-year-old boy. The flashbacks illustrate the theater of action in the thirties today in 1984 (thus in color, with our new signs of the times). But the current frame doesn't serve to confer any real tenderness to the memory, or to connote it sentimentally, ideologically, or even formally. Nor does it serve to glorify, or even to justify, the present, the "leap forward." It serves, first of all, to give a feeling of truth to the testimony. Not autobiographical, however, in the strict sense of the word (Alexei German was born three years after the year he set the action, 1935). The flashback structure series, if anything, to reconfirm and repropose the theme of the passage of "direct" testimony from generation to generation, from father to son, even if both the boy-witness and the father are secondary figures, silent mediators of a historic moment that towers over them and goes beyond them. Once again the film is based on pages by Yuri German, and only in that sense is it autobiographical.

At the end of the film, after the catharsis and the catastrophes, the "return to the future" from the Stalin-period town, from the poverty and marching bands ("There's an orchestra for every inhabitant"), to the same city fifty years later, isn't the return to a more livable, more comfortable, more judicious contemporaneity. Today the city has asphalt, they say, but no metropolitan symphony follows even the top brass there. Today there are lots of streetcars, buses, trains, modern and efficient means of transport; back then there were only two trams - tram number one and tram number two. With Stalin's face over them. German doesn't try to approach the new city, almost as though he were afraid of having to assume a celebratory tone. He contemplates it from afar. The colors don't get brighter, don't ring out. The voice of memory is tender, but firm.

- Giovanni Buttafava, "Alexei German, or the Form of Courage." From The Red Screen: Politics, Society, Art in Soviet Cinema. Edited by Anna M. Lawton. Pages 281-282.

ABOUT ALEKSEI GERMAN

Wiki

All German’s films focus on moments in which history and myth have become entangled, if not dangerously indistinguishable. He has described his films as ‘antipotochnye’, ‘against the current’: disrupting certainties and undermining convenient truths. [1] The Stalin era, his principal subject, is the period of his own childhood and youth. Born in 1938 in Leningrad—the same generation as Tarkovsky and Mikhalkov—he grew up in a milieu frequented by leading cultural figures of the time: Kozintsev dropped by regularly, the playwright and fabulist Evgenii Shvartz was his ‘uncle Zhenia’, and even Akhmatova was seen on occasion at the Germans’ flat on the Moika. German graduated from the Leningrad Institute of Theatre, Music and Cinematography in 1960 as a theatre director; it was not until the mid-sixties that he made the shift to scripting films, during the extraordinary rebirth of Soviet and East European cinematography—influenced in part by Italian neo-realism but also by the French New Wave—that came with the Khrushchev thaw. In career terms, German made the move just too late. By the time he had scripted Trudno byt’ bogom(It’s Hard Being God, 1968), based on the Strugatskii brothers’ science fiction novel, and Ivan Lapshin (1969), Brezhnevite conformism had set in; neither film could be made.

German comes from a generation of filmmakers unable to make their reputations (as Tarkovsky did) before the liberalization of the Khrushchev years evaporated under Brezhnev; witnessing, as students, a burst of cinematic creativity that they were not allowed to carry forward. Tarkovsky’s Stalker apart, the late 1970s are more known for likeable comedies than for films of great import. The comparison with another near-contemporary is instructive: German and Nikita Mikhalkov (The Barber of Siberia, Burnt by the Sun) both come from well-connected families of the Soviet artistic elite—Mikhalkov’s father wrote the lyrics to the Soviet national anthem, German’s breakfasted with Stalin at least twice—yet where German chose to be antipotochnyi, Mikhalkov’s films have been lush and uncontroversial: Western money has flooded in. German’s hardships and professional struggles have been one result, a career caught between the more open, experimental wave of the sixties and the harsh realism of the perestroika years. Paradoxically, German’s films properly belong to this period in which they could not be released: a bridge between two phases of Soviet filmmaking. They both refer to and prefigure a range of stylistic devices and strategies, rarely seen in the work of one director: each frame of Ivan Lapshin is loaded with potential meanings and suggested histories that emerge differently with every viewing; Khrustalev, mashinu! is now gaining a reputation as a misunderstood classic. German’s current project—the adaptation of the Strugatskiis’ Trudno byt’ bogom that he first scripted in 1968—continues his engagement with difficult areas of Russia’s past. Two observers from earth visit a planet similar to their own in mediaeval times, and find themselves constantly tempted to intervene and change the course of events. The book was a talisman of the Soviet thaw of the early sixties; it was the invasion of Czechoslovakia that put an end to its filming then. In returning to it now German has the possibility of commenting not only on the Prague Spring but perhaps also on Russia’s present ‘intervention’ in Chechnya.

But although his films abound with real details and concreta, German does not see himself as documenting or reporting events. When he portrays the past it is always as a morass of anecdotal details and forgotten objects, forcing us to recognize its complexities and confusions. There is a continual denial of certainty in German’s films: definitive explanations of the ‘real’ are undermined in a way that reveals to the viewer the impossibility of ever remembering anything totally—along with the hazards of forgetting even the smallest of incidental details. Indeed, it is often these that speak most powerfully in German’s films: champagne quotas never to be reached, empty plains that are left unplanted, the stray dog in the snow-covered street.

- Tony Wood, The New Left Review, January-February 2001

966 (108). Bad Timing (1980, Nicholas Roeg)

Screened April 17-18 on Criterion DVD in Berlin, Germany TSPDT rank #926 IMDb Wiki

A fairly simple break-up story told through a dizzyingly baroque narrative flashing back and forth, Bad Timing is a buzzing paradox, revealing Nicolas Roeg at his most controlled and most unhinged; this study of a relationship on life support is both coldly clinical and emotionally raw, sometimes in the same scene. Roeg slices and shuffles his film like a puzzle, putting the viewer in an obsessive mystery-solving mode not unlike that of Art Garfunkel's psychoanalyst researcher Alex as he tries to impose order on Milena, a wild-eyed, beautifully impulsive Theresa Russell.  The two have next to no romantic chemistry, which is just as well since the film aims to be the ultimate depiction of breaking up in all its brutal truth. It's obvious that the two have next to no business being together: Russell as a wolverine of an aimless twentysomething wishing for unbound adulthood but who falls apart without a steady paternal presence; Garfunkel (impressively understated) as a intellectual whose attempts to convey rational authority give way to smugness and acts of male insecurity. But the leads give in fully to the frustrations of their characters, making their frequent miscommunication painfully compelling, especially in the erotic charge to their desperate attempts to connect.

The eroticism of disconnection is also scored brilliantly through Roeg's associative editing: Garfunkel's raising of a cigarette in one shot recalls a similar moment in another (him catching Russell lighting up with another man) and whose emotional subtext (jealousy, insecurity) loops back to the first. The piece de resistance is one of the most unromantic yet cinematically sexy love scenes ever filmed, cutting between Alex and Milena's emphatic fornicating and a comatose Milena undergoing a bloody tracheotomy on an operating table.  She's is a numb body being vivisected, not unlike like her dead-end relationship under the surgical scalpel of Roeg's editing.

Bad Timing is as obsessed with sex as Don't Look Now was with death, substituting the moody gothicism of Don't Look Now's Venice with a Vienna that evokes a Freudian commingling of civilized living and ominous sensuality. In both cases, the strenuous leaping to and fro of the narrative leads to a stark naked moment of confrontation where one's dark dreams erupt into full enactment: in the case of Bad Timing, a climactic rape scene of unapologetic frankness, ugly, brutal, and heartbreaking.

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The following citations were counted towards the placement of Bad Timing on They Shoot Pictures list of 1000 Greatest Films:

Dominik Graf, Steadycam (2007) Frank Arnold, Steadycam (2007) Lee Hill, Miscellaneous (2004) Simon Ward, Independent Cinema Office (2005) David Thomson, Have You Seen...? A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films (2008) Sight & Sound, Fistful of Five: Amour Fou (2006)

Wonderful Bad Timing photo essay from Rotating Corpse that showcases Theresa Russell's many looks and the often exquisite compositions.

Nicolas Roeg's Cuisinart cutting strains to create the impression of meaning in this rather dishonest 1980 thriller about a Freudian psychiatrist's destructive involvement with a mystery woman. Apparently the decision to jumble the time scheme was made after shooting was completed, which may explain the mysteriously misplaced emphases in the playing, yet the film's real problem is Roeg's willingness to sacrifice the logic of situation and character to facile shock effects. In his way he isn't much different from the director of Friday the 13th.

- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader

When a film is structured like a puzzle, qualities that are merely bewildering can be made to seem mysterious, if only for a while. Nicolas Roeg, who habitually structures his films this way, has again relied on jumbled time sequences, allusive cutting and a wealth of similar techniques to give ''Bad Timing/A Sensual Obsession'' its suggestive, secretive air. But ''Bad Timing,'' unlike Mr. Roeg's ''Performance,'' ''Walkabout,'' ''Don't Look Now'' and ''The Man Who Fell to Earth,'' has a ponderous, trumped-up feeling. It lacks the shimmer of Mr. Roeg's best work. And it manages to seem both weighty and insubstantial.

The problems of ''Bad Timing'' can be traced, in part, to a screenplay that ascribes equal importance to all the incidentals of the love affair; they also stem from Mr. Roeg's confidence in the shaky proposition that these two characters hold a fascination for his audience. Dr. Alex Linden, played by Mr. Garfunkel, and Milena Flaherty, played by Miss Russell, are too often an unremarkable team. Alex, a celebrated professor of psychology, encounters Milena at a party, where she looks drunk and behaves brazenly; this is virtually her constant condition during the course of the film. ''If we're going to meet, it might as well be now,'' she says, blocking the doctor's exit with her leg. ''Why spoil the mystery?'' asks he. With that, they are off and running.

The struggle between Alex and Milena has to do with her desire for secrecy and his desire to know her, and with the contrast between her wantonness and his reserve. As the film begins, Milena has attempted suicide, which would suggest that their effort to bridge their differences has been unsuccessful. (If the suicide attempt doesn't do that, it at least gives Mr. Roeg occasion to cut repeatedly to the operating table, where Milena undergoes a grisly tracheotomy, and to juxtapose her cries of ecstasy with gasps from the operating room.) However, the events that lead her to such a desperate measure have no discernible momentum. The film is so jumbled it lacks a steady rhythm, and the story offers few clear highs or lows.

Mr. Garfunkel does a very creditable job of conveying Alex's reserve, but there is little in his performance to suggest a man in the grip of an obsession. And Miss Russell, who has also made memorable appearances in ''Straight Time'' and ''The Last Tycoon,'' brings to her role a reckless physicality that is both overwhelming and overused. Miss Russell makes gestures that involve her whole body, gestures that are almost frighteningly carefree; she is also capable of making almost any kind of behavior seem lewd. Her performance is hugely effective for a while, but Mr. Roeg allows her to repeat herself, and eventually monotony sets in. She and Mr. Garfunkel are given ample opportunity to connect, but they never manage this. Even in its moments of greatest urgency, their affair remains lukewarm.

Mr. Roeg goes to great lengths to make ''Bad Timing'' as exotic as he can. In a typically strained flourish, Alex and Milena are transported to Morocco, a transition Mr. Roeg accomplishes by letting sand pour out of a hollowed-out stone in Vienna, then cutting to the desert. And Alex is driven to commit a crime of passion, which is meant to be shocking, but hardly seems disturbing at all. The crime is uncovered by a detective, played by Harvey Keitel, whose movements are carefully integrated with Alex's, as if to establish a parallel, a duet, a duel. Like too many aspects of ''Bad Timing,'' this point is elaborately detailed, repeated frequently, and barely of any interest at all.

- Janet Maslin, The New York Times, September 21, 1980

Bad Timing (1980) is one of Nicolas Roeg's least seen films. The studio, Rank, hated it, publicly disowned it and briefly banned it from its own cinemas. This is particularly unfortunate, since it is a pivotal film in Roeg's career. The experiments in non-chronological storytelling that stretch back to Performance (co-d. Donald Cammell, 1970) blossom here in a film which is, on first viewing, difficult to follow, but is ultimately extraordinarily insightful and moving in its painfully close examination of a destructive love affair.

Abandoning chronology, Roeg jumps around, taking cues from objects, pieces of music, habitual gestures and various artworks, all of which link one moment in time to another. This makes the film a little disjointed at first, but also gives the relationship more of a sensory impact, as we go from highs to lows with little warning. The explicit sex, a Roeg commonplace since Performance, is interesting here for how un-erotic it is. There is a disgust throughout, about sex and about the human body, frequently distorted in mirrors, glass and paintings - the key moment being the intercutting of a bloody operation on Milena's throat with a particularly passionate sexual encounter.

The film marks the third collaboration between Roeg and Anthony Richmond, and the cinematography of Vienna is suitably cold and oppressive, which contrasts well with the brief excursion to Morocco. Tony Lawson's editing is exemplary, fracturing the narrative without rendering the film incoherent. Also noteworthy is the soundtrack, which mixes Pachelbel, The Who, Billie Holiday and, most memorably, Tom Waits, whose poignant 'Invitation To The Blues' sets the perfect tone.

- Mike Sutton, BFI Screen Online

Bad Timing is a clear example of a film way ahead of its time. What seemed obscure in 1980 is now crystal clear, and we follow Roeg's non-linear cutting patterns without the slightest confusion... The boundaries of normal flashbacks are clearly marked, allowing no confusion between the past and present. Roeg doesn't use flashbacks in the normal sense, but adapts film grammar to express a flowing state of consciousness. Past events become alive as we recall them. Colors, actions and dialogues trigger specific memories. Through the clarity and richness of Roeg's vision, they take on patterns that encourage meaningful interpretation. Artworks, music and objects are woven into the memory-fabric. Roeg 'encourages' some of these patterns to comment on the neurotic love relationship of Alex and Milena - the Kilmt paintings, for example, that center on brooding, intertwined lovers. At other times our attention is drawn to details given compositional stress, such as the pattern in a bed spread next to Linden's conflicted face. How many of our memories of important places and events are inexplicably dominated by images of unimportant details like wallpaper patterns, or cracks in a tile floor?

The density of Roeg's visuals enables reality to be eclipsed by an ever-changing set of visual interpretations. Alex Linden looks at a room, which pops back in forth between tidy and messy states, with and without Milena's drugged body as part of the decor. In his jealous delirium, a glimpse of her face will trigger memories of earlier moments - enigmatic smiles, provocative pouting. Netusil finds some photographs lying on a table, and comes up with another incorrect interpretation to add to Linden's own. Also, entire scenes are warped by a character's subjectivity. Linden confronts Milena in a college corridor, and her close-ups alter radically to match his inner turmoil - the focus becomes shallow, the background diffused.

Roeg also elects to change subjective viewpoints when he shows Milena's back story with her sad Czechoslovakian husband Stefan Vognic (Denholm Elliott). Lest we think her a helpless victim in this psychosexual drama, we see Milena toying with Stefan's affections. She pretends to be concerned, when she's actually amused by her ability to walk away from a man so hopelessly in love with her. Milena cherishes her sexual freedom, whereas Alex is rooted in the need to possess her, to make her exclusively his. Alex doesn't realize that he already 'has' Milena as much as she can be 'had', and it's his damning flaw (shared by most men) that he wants excusive rights. The conventional Alex is obsessed with Milena and can't stand the thought of her being with someone else, an attitude that naturally drives her into the arms of others. The movie is less about bad timing then it is about bad sexual chemistry. During a trip to French Morocco the lovers are in total harmony. She's ready to see their relationship go on forever, just as it is. But he wants to hurry to a position of control - a bill of sale in the form of marriage. Milena accuses Alex of being greedy in love, of demanding too much. Her continual question is, "What do you want?" (spoilers follow)

Art Garfunkel's poised inexpressiveness is perfectly suited to an intellectual accustomed to hiding his feelings to the point where he's not sure he still has any. Theresa Russell's performance is outstanding and as brave as can be imagined - one can picture a thousand actresses terrified by her ability to be truly uninhibited. Harvey Keitel would seem to be a terrible choice for an Austrian policeman. He underplays the role so thoroughly, we accept him without question.

Bad Timing is perhaps the culmination of the 70s idea of a director's picture. Ex-cameraman Roeg expresses more with his camera and cutting than any dialogue script could - the characters' attempts to use words to psychoanalyze each another repeatedly fail. Inspector Netusil bears down with a rational approach to the truth, like a Monk who has never seen a manifestation of God but knows his lot in life is to keep searching. Roeg and his cameraman Anthony Richmond get the maximum from their images. The visually precise Bad Timing outpaces even Roeg's earlier 'masterpieces' The Man Who Fell to Earth, Don't Look Now and Walkabout.

- Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant

Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing is one of the most harrowing looks at human relationships ever told as a movie. In terms of sheer emotion and fortitude it ranks with Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage as a marvelous portrait of male-female relations, but it is far more cinematic than Bergman's film. The claustrophobic, hermetically sealed cinematography and performances are so strong, and the subject matter so compelling that the film will remain with you long after it finishes.

Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell are stunning in the lead roles. Garfunkel is utterly convincing as Alex. He captures well the intellectual prowess of a psychologist and the primitive desire of men; the controlled aggression of Alex towards Milena is quietly portrayed in Garfunkel's performance. Russell is even more impressive, however, being utterly captivating every moment she's on screen. Her performance is filled with remarkable courage, but not merely because Russell is willing to display her body with tremendous candor. The strength in her portrayal of Milena comes from her willingness to play the emotional dichotomy of the character. Denholm Elliott and Harvey Keitel are also effective in their roles, though they receive little room to develop their characters. In terms of the narrative's focus on the disastrous relationship, the underdevelopment of the supporting characters is understandable. However, part of me wishes that Keitel's Inspector Netusil received more attention in order to make the final scenes stronger.

Bad Timing is another excellent study in human nature from Roeg. His unique visuals and storytelling style never feel forced, but aid the themes of the film. Indeed, the cinematography and production design are uncomfortable, but they reflect the events on the screen. This is not a picture interested in utilizing Vienna's beautiful scenery to achieve visceral effects; rather, Roeg and his crew prefer to externalize their characters through the film's look and sound. The music is an eclectic mix of classical music and pop songs of the 1970s, but it almost always strikes the underlying purpose of a scene.

Some viewers may be turned off by the emotionally exhausting experience of viewing this movie, while others will see it as a rewarding experience chronicling human flaws. I belong to the latter group, having been stirred by Roeg's film in a manner similar to Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris. If you are willing to commit yourself to these characters, you'll find they provide a fountain if insight.

- Nate Meyers, Digitally Obsessed

For me, Bad Timing, Roeg’s tale of erotic obsession starring Art Garfunkel and his wife, the actress Theresa Russell, has always been less of an unqualified success... Screenwriter Yale Udoff said that he wanted the film to be “Antonioni with humor,” but Roeg’s finished piece is not funny at all. It’s queasily disorienting, a film that feels like a hangover in which the good times are only hazily remembered.

Seen, however, 25 years after its release and in comparison to Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which also invoked the Vienna of Sigmund Freud (that movie was based on Arthur Schnitzler’s Vienna-set novel Traumnovelle), Bad Timing seems the more truthful take on sexual obsession and the question of how much we can ever really know about a partner in a relationship.

- Scott Macaulay, Filmmaker

To hide the fact that this is all much ado about nothing (well, very little), Roeg cuts the film together so it's impossible to figure out what's going on until midway through the film. (Once you get there, you shrug -- "That's it?" -- and most viewers will tune out.) He also saddles the movie with subplots and side stories that never pay off: Milena is still married and her estranged husband (Denholm Elliott, the classiest thing in this movie) pops up from time to time. Milena is also under investigation by the American military, and Alex is called in to evaluate her file. Neither of these plots amount to anything. In fact, the whole government investigation thing is all but dropped midway through the movie.

Roeg was probably right to try to salvage the film this way, attempting to create a mystery with few other options left to him. But given his two leads, there's really nowhere special he could have gone. Russell is indistinguishable here than in nearly any other movie she's made, and Garfunkel, a bad actor of epic proportions, is impossible to believe as the lover of such a brazen hussy. Even Keitel overdoes it: It's impossible to believe he'd spend so much time trying to reconstruct this case (which ultimately turns out to be a question of rape), when the victim will be up and around in a few days to simply tell him what happened. Do cops in Austria have this much free time?

Roeg gives the film a unique look, and the snappy cutting at least gives it some energy. Less can be said for his penchant to suddenly zoom in on random objects in the frame (an out of focus lamp?), but as an example of what was both good and bad in 1980s filmmaking, Bad Timing is at least instructive.

- Christopher Null, Filmcritic.com

I didn't enjoy watching Bad Timing. It is, indeed, a sick film, sick to the core (though made by nonsick people for nonsick people, despite the famous quote). Its sickness will invade you as you watch it. If you've had a bad breakup, been a bad man or woman, or ever been with one, this film will open up old wounds and pour cheap liquor into them. It is voyeuristic, yet seems so personal that it makes you feel narcissistic. Even if you personally would never throw a mentally ill woman down onto the stairs and ravish her in front of her neighbors, Bad Timing makes you feel like you might. Top that uncomfortable dose of perceptive insight with an overly convoluted narrative and visual style, mix in a healthy dose of padding—Bad Timing becomes one bitter pill.

With that nastiness out of the way, let's step back a second and evaluate this thing clinically. Bad Timing is exceptionally multilayered; you could literally write volumes on the themes within its deeply nested plot. It is helmed by a great, if unfairly marginalized, director. Bad Timing is honest, gritty, and dense, with intense visual imagery. If you can get past the unwholesome core and irritating trappings, Bad Timing offers a challenging artistic experience.

In Bad Timing, Roeg elevates Walkabout's creepy Agutter riff into an in-your-face refrain. It is intentionally voyeuristic, intensely intimate, and highly creepy. Perhaps films should be judged solely on their own merit and not in comparison to similar works. Nonetheless, the temptation to compare Bad Timing to Walkabout is hard to ignore. Both films had intense sexual politics set within forbidding social environments. Both films highlighted voyeurism and victims. But Walkabout featured innocent victims who did not choose their circumstances. Bad Timing has the same undercurrents, but with consenting adults who are free to take different paths. If you took Kramer vs. Kramer's sunny interpersonal banter, then mixed in some psychological rape and the bunny from Fatal Attraction, you'd be close to the feeling you'll get from Bad Timing.

Despite Roeg's best attempts to keep us off guard, Bad Timing wears itself out by the middle act, which seems to go on forever. We're long past the point where we "get" Alex and Milena's interpersonal dynamic. Nonetheless, we must suffer through Alex's tedious path of clinical discovery, a side trip to Africa, several breakups and get-back-togethers, and exhaustive police questioning before the twist-riddled denouement arrives. It all piles on top of itself to make Bad Timing a draining journey..

Roeg graces these scenes with powerful visual style. Bad Timing is carefully rendered throughout, telling us what undercurrents are present simply through lighting and set decor. The interplay between characters and environment is nuanced and complex. It should come as no surprise that Criterion's transfer flawlessly captures this style. The famous 1970s film stock degradation, if it even exists in this 1980 print, has been erased. Colors are muted but saturated well, with deeper black levels than I expected. The detail is passed through without molestation. There are some strange blurred effects in the last few reels, and I cannot tell if these are intentional or not.

- Rob Lineberger, DVD Verdict

DEEPER READINGS

If something in the scheme of things has put them down for each other, then something else might equally have kept them apart—something called chance. As Roeg has said of their initial encounter at the party: “If he had left a little earlier or a little later—it’s just bad timing.” There are so many ambivalences in the scheme of things—so much shifting between the operations of hazard, choice, and predestination—and the dazzling, fragmented style of the film is designed to catch this play.

There’s play as well around the concept of “bad timing,” when it ceases to signal a romantic collision and becomes a matter of police investigation. A problem emerges—it becomes the framing drama for the story of the love affair itself—about Alex’s own timing, what he did and when, on the night that marked the convulsive end of their affair, when Milena was rushed to the hospital in a coma, from a drug overdose. This triggers the intervention of police inspector Netusil (Harvey Keitel), who is the third point in what becomes an unusual triangular relationship, as well as the man who owns a ball-in-a-maze puzzle to match Alex’s. There is a case to be solved here, but like the impasse that confounds Alex and Milena, Netusil also has his own identity puzzle to solve. In part, this is a doppelgänger story, but an incomplete one. The detective sees himself in the psychiatrist, but imperfectly reflected: the two men dress alike, but Netusil’s suit is, as Roeg puts it, “off the peg”; the policeman has a diploma from Harvard, but it’s for athletics. Netusil’s struggle—to better, to transform himself—seems almost to be a physical one, whereas Alex works only through mind games.

Roeg plays on the similarities between the two men in dress and mannerism, and in their disdain for the messiness of Milena’s life. But they have arrived at different points in life; at that moment they are, as Roeg puts it, “on opposite sides of the mirror.” For Netusil, “his demon was leading him somewhere else. I don’t know where he’d go, but I know he was in a lot of pain in the end, Inspector Netusil.” The name itself is a key. Roeg tells how it came from a visit to a painter friend, in the Ariadne Gallery, in Vienna. The owner of the gallery was Frederick Netusil, a Czech name. “He said, ‘Do you know what it means? It means “the man who didn’t know something.”’ And he laughed—that’s why he’s a gallery owner, because he doesn’t know about painting. I said, My inspector must be Inspector Netusil.”

Roeg’s achievement, through the seventies and eighties, was to construct a form that might not have approached Greed in physical length but whose glittering piecemeal construction was another way to create this density of suggestion. Many critics who only noticed the glitter accused Roeg of being merely a glorified cameraman, dressing up the job he had previously carried out for other directors. But photography is no more important in this scheme than editing and production design. The turn-of-the-century Viennese art world is part of the emotional texture of Bad Timing, the contrast between the romantic shimmer of Gustav Klimt and the psychological darkness of Egon Schiele.

Udoff has talked about how his and Roeg’s conceptions of the project did differ slightly in one respect. According to Udoff, some humor was lost. “I wanted to be the Antonioni with humor,” but Roeg’s drive was to make it more intense. “There was always a push to make Garfunkel really a heavy, to make him unbearable. As the script evolved, I got the feeling that Nic thought of himself as the Theresa Russell character, and I was, in his eyes, the Garfunkel character. Nic is always being pursued by the studios, by people with scripts, just as, in Garfunkel’s mind, Theresa is being pursued by all these people. And I think he felt, in a way, in his own career as a director, a fear of being devoured by people who want him to do their work rather than his work. That was, in a sense, what he saw in the Theresa Russell character. It’s in how he directed her.”

- Richard Combs, The Criterion Collection

The tragic reality of Alex and Milena’s affair is beautifully hinted at in the opening scene. As Tom Waits sings ‘An Invitation to the Blues’ (’She’s a moving violation from her conk down to her toes…’) on the soundtrack, Milena stands in a gallery, studying Klimt’s painting, The Kiss. At first, the artwork appears to be a study of an amorous clinch. But closer inspection reveals a chilling undercurrent: the man in the painting is passionately kissing the woman but his lover’s cheek is slightly turned, a disengaged gaze in her eyes. Klimt captures this fleeting moment forever. And in that suspended beat, the couple have never been further apart.

Like Klimt, Roeg is fascinated by these momentary incidentals. In his films, the edge of the frame, the split second is where the truth is hidden, or briefly held. This can be nothing more than a humorous aside: as in the scene where Alex meets with a tea-drinking diplomat to discuss the legalities of divorce in a foreign land. Roeg’s camera glimpses a bowl of heart-shaped sugar cubes: a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cry for sweet love perhaps. But Roeg also uses these flashes for unsettling purposes. And he does so with devastating effect early on in Bad Timing.

Alex is stood talking to a nurse in the hospital corridor, while a team of surgeons try to revive Milena. Netusil is led by the night duty officer past Alex. The two characters have not yet been introduced: they are strangers. Alex briefly looks up at Netusil and in that fraction, Netusil winks directly at him. It is nothing but, at the same time, everything. A link is made between the two: they are now somehow complicit in the events about to unfold. It is random, dazzling and confrontational. Just like the film.

- Ben Cobb, Electric Sheep

A corresponding sense of pressure-leading-to-fracture informs Roeg's visu­als. At first it looks in Bad Timing as if Roeg has gone for baroque, or, more ac­curately, for art nouveau. A Gustav Klimt portrait of a woman, her softly outlined head emerging from a razzle – dazzle mo­saic representing the sitter's dress, looms over the art gallery interior where Garfunkel and Russell meet. And it's not the film's last nod to that fin de siècle Aus­trian artist. Klimt was a painter who broke up the classical contours of oil painting into rainbow – hued fragments. In much the same way, Roeg has splintered and rear­ranged the linearity of orthodox movie storytelling.

If Klimt is a taking – off point for the film's style, the paintings of his pupil Egon Schiele add force and meaning to its content. Schiele's swirling expression­ist couples, bound in a morbid frenzy of lovemaking, were an offspring of art nou­veau, and it is no accident that Schiele's work is constantly glimpsed in the back­ground of Roeg's Vienna-set meditation on love and death.

The film's eye-blink editing and sudden juxtapositions create a running concatena­tion between Eros and Thanatos: Scenes of lovemaking between Garfunkel and Russell cut (in flash-forward) to scenes of Russell lying on the hospital operating table after her suicide attempt. And throughout the movie, structure is dictated less by the demands of linear chronology than by the polar attraction of opposite themes.

Furthermore, where Garfunkel and Russell are set against each other in the film, Garfunkel and Keitel – two ob­server-investigators – grow mysteriously together during the film as hero and doppelgänger, ghostly comrades. "One of the basic ideas of the film," says Roeg, "is observing, spying. In the scene where he lectures a university class, Garfunkel talks about the voyeur impulse. And he him­self, an analyst, is a spy of sorts. Every­body watches everybody. That's what we all do – not least film audiences. There's a voyeuristic appetite for detachment, for the vicarious, that's a key part of people's personalities. "

Roeg adds, "Keitel and Garfunkel in the film are really aspects of the same character. Keitel's a kind of alter ego. They're both watchers and analysts – men who want everything to be tidy, obedient, pliant to their wills."

This theme of moral manipulation runs right through Bad Timing. Allied to the film's recurring voyeur motif and to Roeg's use of erotic angles in the love scenes – the camera shooting over thighs or between legs – it virtually invites us to see an analogy with cinema itself, and perhaps with Roeg's own cinema in par­ticular. More than any living director, Roeg makes an audience feel that his film is not so much taking place on a flat screen, in finite space and time, as ex­ploding multidimensionally around them.

Roeg pursues this multidimensional­ism right from the beginning of his plan­ning on a film. I asked him if he story-boarded or meticulously prepared his films. He replied, "No, no, no, no. Not meticulously in that way. I like to get who the people are safely in my head, what their problems or their happiness or their sadness is from. After that, I like to keep a certain plasticity about them. Otherwise, they're no longer living. I like to keep them living right up to the time the print comes out of the lab."

- Harlan Kennedy, American Cinema 1980

To conclusively detail all this film’s stylistic quirks would be impossible in anything less than novella form.  As previously stated, flashbacks are integral to the film’s construction, and come in many forms: as quick two-or-three frame intercuts, as flashbacks within flashbacks and even flashforwards within flashbacks.  At one point Alex brutally reprimands Milena and then his mood abruptly changes...and we realize we’re watching the moments preceding the outburst we’ve just witnessed.  Disorientation seems to be Roeg’s overriding goal.  Note his preference for jarring music cues, in particular the song that plays over the opening shot: a view of a museum painting whose serene mood is broken by Tom Waits at most gravelly.  Waits’ voice is in turn cut off by the even more discordant tones of a siren...a perfect lead-in, it turns out, to a singularly bleak story.

- Adam Groves, Fright Site

"The ground that makes me nervous in Bad Timing," says Roeg, "the thought that makes me tremble, is that I don't want to see in this love affair that sentimental middle area that I think we all know. It's a real, very painful love affair. When one's in love, the moments of lyrical love are to me implicit in people's behavior. It's actually something in that other, pub­lic manner that makes you understand that they have those moments of lyrical love.

"I remember when I'd finished Don't Look Now, I was cutting it and looking at it. There's a love scene between Julie and Donald – it's only an interlude – and I wanted to see what I was doing with that scene, whether the intention was right. So I tried taking it out. Now, in that film the emphasis is on a state of mind; things aren't necessarily what they seem in life. Without that love scene, you never see them get happy together; they're always rowing, Julie's always grumbling and running beside this tall chap saying, 'You don't understand.' They seem so miserable all the time! But most people do seem miserable: Love is a very miser­able affair. And when I put that scene back in, suddenly you can't get confused about them. They're like a married couple. They are a proper married couple. They don't get up and open doors, they don't have candlelight dinners, but – in that scene after they've made love – he washes his toothbrush in her bathwater, she brushes up against him, he touches her. It makes you safe that they're happy, or, anyway, that they're real."

- Nicolas Roeg, interviewed by Harlan Kennedy, American Cinema 1980

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

Four days into the shoot his two tyro stars begged Roeg to let them leave, and he knew he was on the right track. "Theresa came first. She said, 'I don't think I'm up to this. I'm terribly nervous. Please let me leave.' I said, 'No. I won't let you. I'm glad you feel that way.' Then I asked Art in. I told them, 'This isn't like another movie. We're shooting fragments of scenes; there's nothing to rehearse. We're in a city none of us knows, an empty landscape. I must ask you to trust that I know where I'm going. It's a maze, but there is an end to it.' We had some Martinis, and they agreed. Somehow, it was a release. I felt all right about pushing them further and further."

One of the many emotional scatterbombs stumbled over was that Roeg and Russell fell in love (they later married). I wonder if the fearless chaos of her performance is what he fell for. "When you admire someone's work, you are amazed by who you think they are," he says. "But their real secret is masonic: they keep it right to the end. Very few people are prepared to let you all the way in - to Kafka's 'point of no return'. We went very far. As it turned out, not all the way. Theresa knew it was too dangerous. That's all in the movie."

It was worse for Garfunkel. Like his repressed character, he had little idea what was in store. "As we worked, I think he recognised a truth in his character's obsession in himself," says Roeg. "Then he had to decide whether to play it so people he knew would recognise it. It was like coming out. The actors were all nervous and guilty."

The actors' immersion into their parts became painful. At the film's half-way point, when Russell vengefully demands sex with Garfunkel on the stairs, and he looks up at what's on offer like a naughty schoolboy, fearfully grabbing her, her skin mottling and flushing, the old claims that there was real penetration on the set of Performance seem small beer: here, psyches are stripped. And soon the fever spread through the crew.

"Everybody was peeling themselves open," Roeg remembers. "It was a wild time, there was a great feeling of release - sexually, emotionally. It was exhilarating. I remember one day we shot for 24 hours. I think I was the one who said, 'I can't take it any more. I've had enough.' We were shooting six or seven days a week. It was claustrophobic - play the part, go to sleep, go back. I abandoned control, and something magical came in. Bad Timing began to live itself. I kept out of the way of its forcefield. It was a bit of suspended time. A parallel universe."

Everyone caught their breath when Garfunkel and Russell's characters took a break in Morocco. Shooting on the edge of the Sahara, they felt free, adventurous. But it was the calm before the storm - the long day, back in Vienna, spent filming the rape. It looks deeply uncomfortable - Russell's head hanging back from her bed, while Garfunkel tears her clothes with a penknife, and enters her over and over. Shooting it was "shocking", Roeg remembers. 'The actors were frightened when they realised the disgust you feel when you can't control yourself. It's an extraordinary, horrible crime, rape. And you don't often see the rape of the unconscious. Usually it's someone dragged screaming into the bushes. There's a lot of acting going on. There wasn't a lot of acting in that scene."

After a break, some of the crew reassembled for a final scene in New York. But Garfunkel's performance was distant. They'd left their parallel universe and couldn't go back. Roeg scrapped the scene. But he began post-production thrilled at the work they'd done, sure audiences would recognise the characters' emotions.

But, Roeg recalls, "it was received for the most part very poorly." At the first test screening in America, I was going to meet a friend, a quite well-known actor. Afterwards, he got into his car, drove it at me, and swerved off. He wouldn't speak to me for three years. I didn't realise till then how seriously people resent you holding a mirror to their face."

Keitel and Garfunkel became firm friends from the experience. Roeg and Russell returned to Bad Timing's themes in other undervalued work such as Cold Heaven (1993), in which Russell's half-dead, cuckolded husband recovers from the surgeon's scalpel to test their love.

- Nick Hasted, The Guardian

ABOUT THE CRITERION DVD

One of the most film-like transfers I have seen from Criterion.  I don't even think the screen captures give it true justice in this case. Everything seems perfectly balanced and exacting in the color dept. with a clean anamorphic, progressive transfer that produces a sharpness that appears acute. Extras speak for themselves - and I was most keen on the enigmatic Roeg being interviewed and discussing the film (I do suggest watching it after the film itself as it does give away a lot of the film's plot details). Theresa Russell comes across is a far better light as a serious actress than a lot of the T&A fluff that has become associated to her through her career. Strongly recommended DVD package from Criterion.

- Gary Tooze, DVD Beaver

The deleted scenes are interesting for historical context, but it is obvious why they were cut. The photo gallery and liner notes booklet seem to have taken uppers and turned into mega-gallery and super-booklet. The liner notes are particularly impressive, with an informative essay and a telling interview with Art Garfunkel from Rolling Stone, and more.

The interviews are the real heart of the extras. Theresa Russell is luminous and salty while discussing this soul-rending film. She seems refreshingly normal in comparison to the intensity she shows in her scenes. This is one of the most peppy, informative, and involving actor interviews I've seen. It goes on forever, and gets more interesting as the interview goes on. Roeg and producer Jeremy Thomas somehow manage to seem stuffy and maverick at the same time, which goes along with their jocular dismissal of the intense pain and frustration involved with Bad Timing's distribution. Their interview also goes on forever, and is as informative as Russell's but not as engaging. Maybe it has to do with Theresa's considerable screen presence, so the comparison is hardly fair. The point to take home is that this pair of interviews is as detailed as a full-length commentary, but even richer for the face time and stills from the production mixed in.

Roeg appreciators will be in heaven with this DVD package. This is one of his most hotly contested films, and it was a turning point for him artistically and commercially. For these reasons, Criterion's interest in the film is understandable. Nonetheless, some of the stylistic decisions are best left in the seventies—and it is a psychologically brutal film that will terrorize you if you've ever been in a bad relationship, or been the bad one yourself.

- Rob Lineberger, DVD Verdict

ABOUT NICOLAS ROEG

IMDb Wiki

Magician with a Movie Camera: Nicolas Roeg tribute at the 2009 British Academy of Film and Television Awards, with video clips of Roeg's acceptance speech, on-camera tributes by numerous directors and a tribute video by Steven Soderbergh

The following quotes are found on They Shoot PIctures' profile page for Nicolas Roeg:

"A former clapper boy, lighting cameraman and cinematographer who belatedly moved into directing, Roeg never seemed totally at ease in front of the camera (or, perhaps more accurately, beside it). His visuals are often wonderful, but his later scripts can be woeful, particularly in the case of Eureka (1983)...If this all sounds unduly critical, it shouldn't be taken as such, for Roeg's standards and his expectations of himself are high, and his is a genuinely eclectic talent which can provoke, puzzle and satisfy in roughly equal measures." -     Mario Reading (The Movie Companion, 2006)

"Nicolas Roeg is a visual trickster who plays havoc with conventional screen narratives. Choosing an oblique storytelling formula, he riddles his plots with ambiguous characters, blurred genres, distorted chronologies, and open-ended themes to invite warring interpretations." - Joseph Lanza & Rob Edelman (The St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia, 1998)

"From his directing debut Performance (made with Donald Cammell) onwards, Roeg deployed a fragmented, associative editing style to shift between reality and fantasy, fear and desire, past, present, and future in diverse genres...Excepting Walkabout and Don't Look Now, the results, while intriguing, have often lacked coherence; the narrative complexity and bold, baroque images can seem a gloss imposed on conventional stories." - Geoff Andrew (The Director's Vision, 1999)

"When I was 12 years old, my father said the most extraordinary thing to me. 'The day you're born is your only chance to really have tomorrow, because by the day after you've got yesterday.'"

- Roeg, interviewed by Richard T. Kelly for Film In Focus

"I  don't like the film business. I don't like the British film business. I don't like the American film business, I don't like the French, German … I don't like the film business. I like filming. I'm a filmmaker."

"I've always wanted to get my thoughts over in film visually, without the intermediary of literature. I actively prefer to be in the cinema, but not the cinema of literature, which is like Victorian picture books. Faced with that, I'd rather stay at home and read."

"Before the whole Gutenberg galaxy thing, storytelling was more intimate, more immediate – like film. Printing con­fined a story within a binding and imposed artificial limits. It made stories into lengths. But before that, in the oral tradi­tion, stories could continue forever. It's one of the basic concepts of living that stories are one great story of which all stories partake."

"When I was in India," Roeg con­tinues, "I watched storytellers on the street corner. They used a very different form from that postulated by the printed page. Although I couldn't understand a word, I was fascinated! The storyteller would entice his audience, first putting a hand in his pocket and then gradually taking out a packet of matches, then a candle, then a knife, and an old flower. And he talked, gradually telling a story of death – some old extraordinary raja, you know. And then the story would de­velop in his, and out of his, own person­ality – and that was the storyteller's life and world."

- Roeg, quoted in interview with Harlan Kennedy, American Cinema 1980

Another 1980 interview, from the Toronto Film Festival (where Bad Timing won the Audience Award) by Gerald Peary

Your work also has a marked juxtaposition of fantastic and realistic scenes. Is this unusual mixing of styles conscious or once again an intuitive thing?

Well, more a mixture of the two. At times I've consciously wanted to get within the 'mind' of the story, which has meant getting away from realism. In other times it has happened unconsciously, evolving from the situation, location or the direction of the performances, all of which have taken on an unreal state.

Do you bring any influences to bear when creating these juxtapositions?

I really liked the work of Michael Powell, and in particular films such as A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and Peeping Tom (1960). When you think of his work, it was also a mixture of realism and extravagance. I thought he was an extraordinary figure and a very daring director.

When you began experimenting with this gap between fantasy and reality, was 'realism' still deemed to be the 'accepted' form of British filmmaking?

Well, there was this idea of 'naturalistic' cinema, but it was very falsely realistic. It wasn't that true to the outside world because it was very controlled. You must remember that a film production is a living thing, as it is being shot it begins to have a life of its own. The director's role then is more like a jockey who is impatient to start the race; he just wants to go. But a film can never fully be controlled in any sense. Too much control kills anything!

- Interview with Roeg by Xavier Mendik for kamera.co.uk

"Everything has a price," reflects Roeg. "Is it the right price? I don't know. It depends what you want in life. I've never been rich and I've always done okay. The price I've paid is that I haven't been able to do all the pictures I'd have liked to do. That's the price. Maybe I've stuck with things too long that haven't been made, and the thing has exhausted itself or the idea has been done by somebody else. Sometimes people say to me, 'oh whatever happened to that old thing you were working on?' and I've dug it out, and found that its time has gone."

- interviewed by Matthew Sweet for The Independent

On the surface it would appear that Roeg has fallen distinctly out of fashion, but one only has to list the four films he made in the '70s to be reminded how important Roeg was and still is. In Walkabout (1971), Don't Look Now (1973), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and Bad Timing (1980), Roeg rendered the very real and specific locales of the Australian outback, the canals of Venice, the American Southwest, and Vienna with both an appreciation for their exotic appeal and a dread of their terrifying unknowability. Behind all of these films is a question about landscape: how can we even think we can understand the ones we love, when we can't even feel at ease in the places we live in? To the chagrin of many critics, Roeg did not delineate this existential paradox with the austere moralism of Bergman or the godlike minimalism of Bresson, but instead seemed to revel in the beauty of this horrifying enigma. In Roeg's films, characters don't realise they are in hell because they have been having too much fun for the most part. And by the time they do realise what is happening, they have resigned themselves to the fact that they are past the point of no return. When I first became enamoured of Roeg's work as an overenthusiastic teen cinephile in the '70s, I called him a "romantic nihilist." I think the label still applies and I think this combination of overreaching expressionism and elegant despair is what makes him such a fascinating director.

- Lee Hill, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

Dissolves were a technique used during the early days of cinema that lead viewers from one image to another without losing the audience’s train of thought. The logic, thus, was to ease the viewers into scenes without startling them by a cut. However, if executed properly, viewers can certainly follow a story that is cut and mangled. On example is in Bad Timing, where a young woman and a doctor have a relationship that goes terribly wrong. The film opens with the young woman is in the hospital, and we watch as a doctor dances around the questions posed by the police. During this sequence, the doctor remembers aspects of his relationship with the young woman; a fight, a look, them having sex, etc. By the end of the film, we can piece together what happened to this young woman; although it feels disjointed and erratic, it’s actually quite logical. Roeg pointed out that the film is constructed according to the shape of human memory and, thus, doesn’t develop as one complete story but, rather, in pieces.

Order is something that Roeg likes to play with frequently, especially the flash-forward. In Performance, Mr. Turner is shown early in the film, long before he’s introduced. We don’t hear any dialogue, nor do we encounter any other significant information about him. But a connection is being created here between Turned and Chaz. Roeg uses the flash-forward in a way to temporarily disrupt continuity, or to give the illusion that things are out of sync when, in actuality, they aren’t.

There’s a particular scene in Don’t Look Now where John and Luara are having sex, but while they having sex the continuity is intercut with them dressing right after and it goes from them having sex to each of them dressing and back and forth until both acts are completed. Here, the illusion of time is suspended between the couple having sex and then re-dressing, but the cutting blends together the time of the couple having sex and of them dressing into one time frame, comparing the routine of their having sex with getting dressed.

There’s a definite arc to Roeg’s early films - from a visual director who captured counter-culture and beatniks in Performance, to a director who blended images and content to convey story and emotion in Walkabout, and to a complete dismantling of how continuity works in relation to what we are seeing. Roeg’s early work is a testament to a strong visual story and the progression of someone who wants to astound the audience by making them not want to look away from what they are seeing.

- Meseret Haddis, Tisch Film Review

953 (95). Heimat (1984, Edgar Reitz)

Screened over January 8-30, 2009 on Facets DVD on flight en route to Tokyo, Japan, in Taipei, Taiwan, on flight en route to Newark NJ, and in Weehawken NJ IMDb Wiki

It would be fascinating to see a compendium of landmarks in the history of television series from around the world, if only to discern any common themes or aesthetic approaches among them. Two qualities that I associate with television - intimacy and duration - lend themselves well to novelistic narratives that sprawl across time and space and yet stay trained on conversations and seemingly small moments that unfold into the next, and whose implications may take several episodes to fully register (yes I'm looking at you, The Wire). Such is the case with Heimat, a 15 hour series made for German television that covers a 63-year period from the end of World War I to the early 80s. Set in a quiet town in the picturesque pastoral Hunsruck valley, the film reconsiders - and ultimately renews - the heimat movie genre that celebrated a nostalgic German ideal of rustic home life, frankly depicting a provincialism among its denizens that compelled them to comply with the Nazi regime.

The film succeeds, especially over the first half of the series leading to World War II, in resurrecting a bygone way of life simply through quietly observed details - the sound of the blacksmith's anvil, the cumbersome lugging of a phonograph to an outdoor picnic - that fill the frame with textural authenticity. Family members come and go, and - like most great television series - the evolution of their relationships with each other is a major source of captivation.  As both individual and collective fortunes rise and fall, the response of each distinctly defined family member to the prevailing mores of each successive era accumulates into an awesome genealogical tapestry. While stuffed with dramatic incident, to its credit the series never succumbs to melodramatic excess, with nary a brawl or screaming match in sight; instead we get lingering resentments or quiet acts of abandonment, the accumulation of which leads to the spiritual disintegration of the clan and the way of life they've held dear. Its insistent focus on small, in-between moments is a key to its persuasive effect of life in the act of being lived.

At first it's puzzling to think that, despite the vivid, meticulous detail of ethnographic reconstruction of early 20th century small town life to behold, one can criticize the film, as many have, for holding a blinkered view of German history. Reitz barely makes mention of the Holocaust, though he does obliquely depict pre-War anti-Semitism and one Marxist family member being rounded up for re-education. His aim is to show life as it was lived and perceived by everyday rural middle class Germans, who implicitly stand in for the soul of the nation. Not unlike Forrest Gump, this approach yields a narrow, even self-satisfied approach to understanding the social forces that shaped the world around these people.

My other complaint with Heimat is that in its last few episodes it loses its focus on capturing the fabric of everyday life, instead succumbing to a dour view of present-day society presumably corrupted by the disposable values of American capitalism (symbolized by one family member who runs away to the US to become a millionaire). In this sense it truly is a heimat film, marked as it is by a comforting, restorative nostalgia for a past; this despite initially cataloging the many shortcomings of that era. It's just ironic that a film that ultimately declares itself as a statement on behalf of meticulous authenticity against superficial product ends up compromising its own claims to the former in trying to rail against the latter.

Would you like to learn more?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Heimat among the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films:

Callisto Cosulich, Sight & Sound (1992) Hans Gunther Pflaum, Steadycam (2007) John Pym, Time Out (1995) Kathleen Murphy, Steadycam (2007) Philip Haas, Sight & Sound (2002) Richard Barkley, John Kobal Book (1988) Tom Abell, PopcornQ (1997) Film (Eyewitness Companions) Top 100 Movies (2006) Halliwell's Top 1000 Films (2005) John Kobal Poll John Kobal Presents The Top 100 Movies (1988) Michael Wilmington 100 Best Films of the Century (1999) New York Times The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made (2004) Sight & Sound Fistful of Five: The New German Cinema (2006) The Guardian 1,000 Films to See Before You Die (2007) They Shoot Pictures Highly Recommended Films

Website with summaries and links on the complete Heimat series. English/German frames version of the same

From the first site, here's an account of the film's historical reception in the United States:

Unlike the films of Fassbinder, Wenders and Herzog, Reitz's HEIMAT and DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT remain largely ignored in the United States. Undoubtedly the intimidating length and foreign language have had much to do with this neglect, however even within the rather specialized world of cinema critics and foreign film addicts, the works of Edgar Reitz are seldom cited. Now with its release on video in the United States it is possible HEIMAT will find the audience in America that has ignored it for the past twelve years.

HEIMAT received two national American television broadcasts: the first on the limited Bravo cable network in 1985 and the second on PBS during the fall of 1987. When I inquired of one of the programmers of Boston's WGBH (the sponsoring PBS affiliate) why HEIMAT was never rebroadcast, I was told, "Very simple: no one watched it." The PBS stations that did chose to pick it up broadcast HEIMAT in non-prime time schedules; in Boston it was shown at 11 PM or midnight on Saturday nights.

Prior to its broadcast incarnation in America HEIMAT also received very limited theatrical distribution. (Here it had a theater screening at Boston's Institute for Contemporary Art.) However unlike the nearly unanimous favorable critical reception in Europe, HEIMAT received a number of attacks by a few noted critics, criticism that has apparently colored the reception to the film in the United States in the years since 1985.

In particular essays by J. Hoberman, "Once in a Reich Time" in The Village Voice (16 April 1985) and Timothy Garton Ash, "The Life of Death" in The New York Review of Books (19 December 1985), both took HEIMAT to task for excluding important aspects of German history during the period of National Socialism. As part of his attack Ash wrote:

"When you show the 1930s as a golden age of prosperity and excitement in the German countryside, when you are shown the Germans as victims of the war, then you inevitably find yourself asking: But what about the other side? What about Auschwitz? Where is the director's moral judgment? To which the color filters insistently reply: 'Remember, remember, this is a film about what Germans remember. Some things they remember in full color. Some in sepia. Others they prefer to forget. Memory is selective. Memory is partial. Memory is amoral.'

With this simple trick, Reitz manages to escape from the chains that have weighed down most German artistic treatments of twentieth-century German history. 'We try to avoid making judgments,' he writes. Not for him the agonizing directorial evenhandedness, the earnest formulations of guilt, responsibility, or shame. Not for him the efforts to 'come to terms with' or 'master' the past. Not 'Vergangenheitsbewaltigung.' Not Bitburg. Just memory and forgetting."

In part it seems Reitz and his publicists may have brought this on themselves. When introduced in America, HEIMAT was described as "the German answer to NBC's HOLOCAUST." After these early reviews, the difficulty of actually locating a screening or airing of the film and the time investing while watching it deflected all but the most curious viewers.

Were one to search for literature on HEIMAT in an American library, there is little available. Two of the few scholarly books on German cinema currently available in America, FROM HITLER TO HEIMAT: The Return of History as Film by Anton Kaes (Harvard, 1989) and NAZI-RETRO FILM: How German Narrative Cinema Remembers the Past by Robert C. Reimer and Carol J. Reimer (Twayne, 1992), both cite Hoberman and Ash.

In addition Anton Kaes in his lengthy chapter, "Germany a Memory," points out the "near total exclusion of the Holocaust" from HEIMAT. "Five of the eleven episodes (episodes 3-7 ) take place during the Third Reich, and the second episode includes the year 1933. Three segments deal with the years before the war (1935, 1938, 1938-39), while two concentrate on the war at home and on the front ('The Home Front,' 1943 and 'Soldier's Love,' 1944).

Almost half of the film, a chronicle spanning sixty-three years of German history from 1919 to 1982, takes place during the twelve years of Hitler's regime; thus more narrative time is granted in HEIMAT to the exploration and visualization of the causes, progress, and consequences of German fascism than in most full-length feature films or documentaries on National Socialism." Like Ash, Kaes finds Reitz's failure to directly address the social and political origins of the Nazi past a fundamental, if not, corrupt flaw in the film.

A more reasoned American critical response can be found in Thomas Elsaesser's NEW GERMAN CINEMA: A History (Rutgers University Press, 1989).

Appropriately, the catalyst for Heimat was a cliche-ridden American TV miniseries called Holocaust that Reitz saw on television in the late-1970s, which he felt traduced German history in the Nazi era. At the time, Reitz had retreated to the North Sea island of Sylt in order to write poetry. He had ostensibly given up his career in cinema - one that started with a bang when his debut Mahlzeiten (Mealtimes), a love story about a couple that ends with the man's suicide, won the best first film award at Venice in 1967. Like Fassbinder and Herzog, he seemed to be a titan of the new German cinema. By the late-1970s, though, he appeared to be washed up: critically mauled for his 1978 film, The Tailor of Ulm, deep in debt and out of ideas. He vowed never to make another film. Snowed-in at his island retreat, however, he watched TV and saw something that revolted him back into film-making.

The sentimentalism of the Holocaust series made him reflect on German history, but also on his own biography. Reitz had been born in 1932 in a Rhineish village called Morbach, leaving home at 19 in order to pursue an artistic career. He had thus rejected his Heimat, a German word that means homeland, connoting one's spiritual roots, but that also signifies a place of innocence and childhood security. As with many of the characters in Heimat, he often felt an unfulfillable desire to return.

He started to make notes. Soon Reitz had a 250-page draft story set in a fictionalised version of his own village. He collaborated with writer Peter Steinbach, and that story became a 2,000-page screenplay. Released in 1984, Heimat 1 began with a young soldier, Paul Simon, walking home in 1919 from the battlefields of France, ostensibly to resume his life at his father's blacksmith's. But Paul casts off the stuffiness of his destiny: one day, despite having a wife and two young children, he leaves - and fetches up on Ellis Island.

Reitz was keen, in making his drama, to overthrow the traditional German genre of Heimat sagas that had focused invariably on German village life, and that had been used by the Nazis to romanticise the country's past. The genre had been revived during the 1950s when, as an anti dote to the so-called Trümmerfilme, or "rubble films", Heimat films became popular, if conservative, celebrations of Germany's rustic past. "When I chose the title it was, of course, an important debate with the use of the term Heimat," says Reitz. "I was countering two things - the pseudo-folklore form of Heimat used by the tourist industry, and its ideological use during the Nazi period. It was hard work to clean the term from the burden of history." How did he try to do that? "What I tried to achieve is a realism of observation. It's important not to be sentimental or engage in ideological preconceptions of one kind or another because all you achieve when you do that is put one ideology against another ideology."

For some sceptics, he did not succeed. Critic Leonie Naughton accused Reitz of having created a "bourgeois history of the Third Reich, a homespun tale of innocence". How does Reitz respond to claims that his work is reactionary and bourgeois? "These definitions are now outmoded," he argues. "In the 1960s and 1970s they were used as weapons, but now there are more important truths than these ideological truths. In life there are certain things that are important. They are a house, family, emotional connections through love. In all eras, all cultures have these things and that means if I tell a story using these things they can be understood worldwide. That's why Heimat has not just been a German phenomenon but something that has been watched and understood around the world."

- Stuart Jeffries, The UK Guardian

EDGAR REITZ'S ''HEIMAT'' is a cinematic event, if not quite a masterpiece. It's a massive, nearly 16-hour chronicle of life in Germany, from 1919 to 1982, as reflected in the fluctuating fortunes of the members of one family, initially peasant-farmers, in the fictitious village of Schabbach in the Rhineland. As literature, ''Heimat'' bears the same relationship to Rainer Werner Fassbinder's magnificent, equally long adaptation of Alfred Doblin's ''Berlin Alexanderplatz'' that Herman Wouk's ''Winds of War'' bears to Thomas Mann's ''Buddenbrooks.''

In spite of its length, ''Heimat'' is immensely, easily watchable, a succession of mostly ordinary events and characters - history seen from ground level - vividly acted by a huge cast. It is, most of the time, a work of imagination and feeling, a real achievement for Mr. Reitz, who conceived the project, wrote it, with Peter Steinbach, and then directed it, with the backing of German television interests.

As the stoicism and peasant manners of the people of Schabbach give way to the easier expression of emotions and even to a kind of middle-class sophistication, the style of the film becomes more complex. ''Heimat'' never looks like a television movie. It is beautifully photographed by Gernott Roll. Unlike television films, it does not place the most important information at the center of the image, in tight close-up. ''Heimat'' looks big.

Mr. Reitz switches back and forth between images in black and white, or monochrome, and images in full color. Sometimes he will print a scene entirely in black and white with only isolated objects - in one case, the brilliant red of the Nazi banners -seen in color. Occasionally, this is quite marvelous - it has the esthetic effect of physical movement. At other times, though, it seems to be redundant or just self-conscious, which is also the case with some of the references to Great Moments of History.

Mr. Reitz is not a firm, original stylist like Mr. Fassbinder, whose films - even ''Berlin Alexanderplatz'' - are breathtakingly concise. On the evidence of ''Heimat,'' Mr. Reitz is a looser sort of film maker, but he is certainly an organizer, and ''Heimat'' has a broad vision and a leisurely manner rarely seen in anybody else's movies.

- Vincent Canby, The New York Times, April 6 1985

When Heimat was shown in Germany it was a major media event, surpassed only by the television screening of the American miniseries Holocaust in 1979. In fact, the genesis of Heimat lay in its director Edgar Reitz's reaction to Holocaust. Reitz accused Holocaust of reducing the misery caused by the Nazis to a "welcome background spectacle for a sentimental family story," of trivializing German history and, indeed, of willfully expropriating it for simplistic, entertainment purposes. He argued that what Germans needed to do was to take "narrative possession of our past" thus "breaking free of the world of judgments and dealing with it through art." The way to do this, he argued, was to tell stories: "there are thousands of stories among our people worth filming, which are based on endless minutiae of experience. These stories individually rarely seem to contribute to the evaluation and explanation of history, but taken together they could compensate for this lack. We should no longer forbid ourselves to take our personal lives seriously." The source of the problem is, of course, the Nazi past: "we Germans have a hard time with our stories. It is our own history that is in our way. The year 1945, the nation's 'zero hour,' wiped out a lot, created a gap in people's ability to remember. As Mitscherlich put it, an entire people has been made 'unable to mourn.' In our case that means 'unable to tell stories' because our memories are obstructed by the great historical events they are connected with. Even now, 40 years after the war, we are still troubled by the weight of moral judgments, we are still afraid that our little personal stories could recall our Nazi past and remind us of our mass participation in the Third Reich. . . . Our film, Heimat, consists of these suppresed or forgotten little stories. It is a chronicle of both a family and a village and is an attempt of sorts to revive memories. . . .We try to avoid making judgements."

Reaction to the film in Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, was extremely positive. It was only when Heimat was shown in the United States that the negative opinions which had been expressed in Germany gained a wider hearing. In the light of the above this should not have been surprising; as Thomas Elsaesser noted, calling a German film Heimat was a "calculated provocation and was bound to be controversial." Likewise Anton Kaes: "scenes of provincial life are never innocent in Germany."

According to its critics, Heimat's main problems lie as much in what it does not show as what it does. The argument here is one leveled against any broadly realist text, namely, that it cannot escape from the mental horizons of its protagonists. The same criticism can be leveled at some versions of the "history from below" mentioned earlier. Major political events and wider economic factors, which undoubtedly have their influences on individual private lives, are ignored or glossed over because that is what the characters themselves do. This might matter rather less if that history did not include the Third Reich. Indeed, almost half of the film takes place in the years 1933–45. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Timothy Garten Ash stated: "when you show the 1930s as a golden age of prosperity and excitement in the German countryside, when you are shown Germans as victims of the war, then you inevitably find yourself asking: But what about the other side? What about Auschwitz?" Or as one of the film's sternest critics, Gertrud Koch, has it: "in order to tell the myth of 'Heimat,' the trauma of Auschwitz had to be shut out of the story." The Third Reich seems almost to take place off screen, and when Nazi activities are presented (which is not often) it's in a curiously elliptical fashion and usually without much explanation— on the grounds, presumably, that this is how they were actually experienced by the characters. Accommodation with the Nazi regime is shown largely as comical, or merely opportunistic, or as the result of seduction of one form or another. Admittedly one or two characters— a Jew, a Communist—disappear, but no one seems to show the slightest curiosity about this. Again, all this might matter less were it not for the historical fact that the countryside was extraordinarily important to the National Socialists ideologically, politically and economically, and found a good deal of support amongst the peasantry. Reitz himself has said that to have taken on the Jewish question would have "overburdened the narrative" and that "the story would have immediately taken a different turn." He has also argued that there were very few Jews in the Hunsruck and that people there were largely ignorant of Nazi genocide.

Unease about the representation of the Third Reich period is further compounded by the way in which postwar, modern Germany is shown. In short, it appears to be downhill all the way, and the main villain here is definitely America. (One begins to see why it was in America that misgivings about the film were voiced). But this is only the most extreme instance of a process throughout the film whereby no good comes from events, influences or people outside the Edenic, pastoral idyll of the Hunsruck. This comes dangerously close to a reactionary agrarian romanticism with disturbing similarities to the "Blood and Soil" ideology; moreover, it also seems to suggest that all of Germany's contemporary problems, whether it's the despoilation of the countryside or people's inability to connect with their past, can be laid at the door of the Americans, thereby neatly letting the past 100 years of German capitalism (in which the Third Reich and the "Wirtschaftswunder" were both highly significant episodes) neatly off the historical hook.

Julian Petley, Film Reference.com

Edgar Reitz's 15-hour film is an attempt to restore a sense of continuity to 20th-century German history by presenting 63 years, from 1919 to 1982, in the life of Schabbach, a small village in the Hunsruck region. The chief characters are the members of the Simon family--the grandfather is a blacksmith, the grandson will be the founder of a precision optical company--and the shape of the plot is dictated by the century's constantly changing economic and political conditions, driving some members of the family to emigrate, others to form alliances with the Nazis, others to find prosperity in the postwar "economic miracle." Reitz avoids the ceremonial events--births, deaths, marriages--that usually punctuate this sort of family chronicle, concentrating instead on the textures of daily existence and the shifting relationships among the characters. Though not without its longueurs (the treatment of the 50s, for example, is largely limited to an extremely conventional tale of adolescent frustration and romantic revolt) and marked by a rising nostalgia for the "good old days" as opposed to the debased present, Reitz's project stands as a monumental act of imagination, teeming with evocative incident and Proustian detail.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader

If you can imagine a work that fuses the collective memory of an area with that of the authors’, and then renders it on film in all it’s wandering yet richly detailed glory, you can conceive of the accomplishment that is known as Heimat. Drawing not only from his memories growing up in the region, but also from interviewing and conversing with hundreds of people from the Hunsruck region, Edgar Reitz created this cinematic version of oral history. Though the 52 ½ hour Heimat trilogy is fictional, Reitz’s cinenovel is far more true to life than at least 99% of the stuff that passes as docudramas or “based on a true story”. A dense multilayered text covering all facets of life from many angles, Reitz’s aim is to tell compelling stories that realistically observe mankind without judging them. Thus his study of life, which is never sentimental or ideological, helps free us from the stereotypical misconceptions about German citizens while providing an alternative to the tired accounts that dominate our perception of the past.

What we normally consider as history - the ruling party, the not so great dictator, the pointless wars - are always on the periphery in Heimat. Reitz avoids the usual cliches, refusing to depict the big names and notable events. He instead allows their respective presence and occurrence to seep into if not shape the narrative as much as it could be expected to, which in peacetime isn’t very much. However, if you’ve already returned from war you are forever changed, even if only through a certain alienation that’s inherent in trying to feel comfortable in a place that’s gone on without you for a number of years.

Though critics so used to old hat they miss it criticized Edgar Reitz for downplaying certain aspects that are thought to define 20th century German history, whether it be the depression or the concentration camps, I find Reitz’s film refreshing as it’s neither political nor apolitical. Reitz and cowriter Peter F. Steinbach show that while politics effect [sic] the lives of ordinary citizens to a certain extent, it’s rarely in the kind of direct, easy to pin down ways we typically see in the few movies that actually want to be political. In fact, the silly fads of the day hoisted upon the public by mass marketers and their enabling subordinates have far more obvious and widespread effects, if for no other reason then everyone encounters them everyday until they are replaced by the next craze. One example Reitz & Steinbach use is having Ernst get into the home “improvement” business, replacing traditional quality with phony stonewall facings. In all cases though, Reitz shows positive and negative aspects of change, and just as his characters do, the audience interprets the events through their own perspective.

Reitz’s masterpiece simply can’t be compared to traditional television, as there’s not necessarily a specific reason people do what they do, treat someone in the manner they treat do, especially one that’s specifically related to that character. One thing Reitz has done is eliminate the simplistic cause and effect that dope opera is based on, the actions of the characters are never so obvious we come to them ages before they do. Heimat isn’t the usual judgmental television crap that’s based on action and reaction, for instance someone has an affair so their spouse or lover breaks up with them and then everyone close to both of them is forced to take sides. There’s none of the typical situations that pit saint against sinner, everything exists in gray areas. Reitz isn’t about the decision or the damage done, so much as root of the problem. We see a person with an ambition, a discomfort, some subtle disquiet that nags at their soul until they follow it. He won’t explain it, and in fact it’s difficult to really put into words, but the central conflict of Heimat is between man and his homeland. His decisions aren’t based on loving his family or not, but rather whether he can be comfortable spending his life in the region. Everything else is secondary, and thus there’s a tremendous amount of collateral damage.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything where the characters have so many varying aspects. Reitz & Steinbach quite simply obliterate the concept of likeable and dislikable, allowing life to shape the characters and situation to shape life rather than consistently imposing a set of morals, values, ideals, which they either live up to or contradict. We are allowed to feel so many positive and negative emotions toward each character, many times at once, but also to so often be neutral. The characters are always complex, sometimes troubling, but at the same time both ordinary and impressive. We rarely focus too much or too long on their strengths or weaknesses. It’s not about flip flopping the characters, they change credibly but the goal isn’t to show them evolve or devolve as individuals, this is of course part of most great movies or novels, but greatness is never attained by narrow definition. Heimat is more about pitting the specificness of your roots against the universality of human experience to show lives so unique yet so familiar, a mix of the unfathomable (unless you’ve actually lived it) and the incredibly familiar (from your own experience). Reitz once commented that, “The work itself gives no answers whatsoever, but the observer gives himself answers. The work gives him time, and again the key to unlocking those secret rooms (of your own soul)”

Heimat is filmed as a memory, imbued with echoes of the past, both obviously (flashbacks) and symbolically (repetition of objects, events, with similar light and framing). Scenes of walking down a long straight road or even making a phone call are staged to evoke occurrences of the same event in the past. Life is a series of repetitions, differentiation coming from the ever changing if not evolving manner in which we experience it. The act may be the same, but each incident is slightly different, the aspects that are noticed, that come to the forefront or are disregarded yielding variance.

-    Mike Lorefice, RB Movie Reviews

Films about World War II continue to consider the atrocities, suffering, and associated guilt over the Third Reich. And yet, in movies like Saving Private Ryan, Enemy at the Gates, and The Pianist history is often rewritten by means of stereotypes, neglecting the agonies endured by most Germans and the cultural complexities that led to Nazism. And when a movie like Downfall does portray detailed, even sympathetic German characters, it is met with controversy. It almost appears as if it is incorrect for Germans to talk about the misery they suffered as a consequence of Hitler’s regime.

Candidly portraying the economic prosperity brought by Hitler’s regime to the humble people of Schabbach, Heimat questions the impartiality of traditional history texts, and highlights the complexities associated with racism. Heimat further complicates its political discourse by observing U.S. segregation of African Americans during World War II, and pointing out that this was not different from German intolerance ideologies. The first U.S. Army soldiers who arrive in Schabbach, spearheading the battle against Nazi forces, are African American. But in the following months, after the fall of Berlin and once combat operations are over, only white officers appear in town. The next black character we see the African American chauffeur who drives Paul’s limousine, when he returns “triumphant” from the states in 1948, a wealthy entrepreneur (now played by Dieter Schaad).

With such details, Heimat offers a new perspective of historical events, showing how they continue to haunt our present. As much as the series addresses broad historical events, it remains focused on the Simons’ lives, losses, and regrets.

Marco Lanzagorta, Pop Matters

DEEPER READINGS

In addition to its origins within German romanticism, the idea of Heimat also has more recent historical derivations. The Heimat movement of the 1890s arose in opposition to the rapid expansion of urbanisation and capitalism in what remained a largely rural society, and was grounded in a conception of German national identity premised on rural, traditional and feudal values. During the 1930s and 1940s the values of the nineteenth-century Heimat movement were also assimilated into the xenophobic 'blood and soil' ideology of National Socialism, and, in the 1950s, the spirit of Heimat reemerged yet again, within the genre of the commercial Heimatfilm.

The radical political configuration which emerged in West Germany during the late 1970s and early 1980s was characterised by a degree of anti-Americanism, and by the rise of anti-nuclear, environmental and devolutionary regionalist movements. Within this latter grouping, the regional and local were elevated in value over a national culture which was perceived as increasingly dominated by the materialistic values of consumer capitalism. It was against this context of a renewed interest in regionalism, and reaction to what was perceived to be the increasingly materialistic culture of the Federal Republic, that intellectuals turned to the idea of Heimat must, therefore, be seen as part of this more widespread attempt to both locate authenticity within local and regional experience, and resist the threat posed to such experience by mass consumer culture.

Heimat's detailed perusal of the gradual destruction of the traditional and everyday by a commercially driven modernity complements the microscopic perspective adopted within the film. The small-scale, gradual changes which Reitz documents have a direct impact on the culture of the village, and so can be easily depicted within Heimat's mini-narratives of a commonplace world which is under constant threat. However, this focus upon the fine textures of familiar life also means that Heimat inevitably pays less attention to larger-scale historical events, and this aspect of the film has led to criticism that Heimat is a revisionary and reactionary text, which avoids the more problematic, darker aspects of recent German history.

The style of editing and photography employed in Heimat also complements Reitz's account of the gradual decline of heimat. The greater part of Heimat is shot in a realistic style using a black and white photography which confers a degree of documentary authenticity on its subject matter. At the beginning of the film, the camera-work and editing is often slow and meditative, and long-take, moving camera shots are much in evidence. However, in addition to this lyrical documentary realism, Reitz also employs more formative techniques in Heimat in order to poeticise his images, and infuse them with a sense of larger symbolism. In such scenes, the camera often lingers over objects, which then take on added, though ultimately enigmatic, significance. This focus on the poeticised materiality of objects recalls Kracauer's demand for a cinema which can 'redeem' the physical world, and Reitz's claim that, in Heimat, he wishes to 'defend things in a society that consumes them and throws them away' warrants further comparison to Kracauer.

Colour is also used in Heimat in a way which corresponds to Reitz's wish to poeticise the traditional life of the village. Colour is only used in brief sequences, in order to suffuse particular actions and objects with a more general significance. However, the use of color, like the use of special lighting effects, complex multi-narrative structures and extreme close-ups, also makes Heimat a reflexive film. In addition to its realism, therefore, Heimat employs a series of formative devices whose principal function is to reveal the film's artifice and formal construction. For example, as the film proceeds, and the traditional life of the village gradually gives way to the intrusion of a more modern, instrumental culture, the dominant realistic style of Heimat also breaks down. The meditative, poetic qualities which characterised the opening episodes of the film are gradually replaced by a more gaudy, abrasive and discordant style of film-making, which also signals the coming destruction of Heimat. These two contrasting styles of film-making not only symbolise the existence and loss of Heimat, but are also deployed in order to foreground the function and role of the film-making process.

- Ian Aitken, European Film Theory and Cinema: A Critical Introduction. Published by Indiana University Press, 2001. Pages 218-222

Heimat, I argue, is ultimately an uncritical reproduction of the Heimat myth, for Reitz does not critically explore the origins and functions of the myth, and is instead absorbed by it...

Reitz appropriated the Heimat discourse about the past whose legitimacy was based on the belief that memory is immutable: "I produce German memories because you cannot invent memories." Unlike Hollywood films, the Heimat discourse, according to Reitz, did not manufacture the past, it reflected it genuinely. And yet, alongside this notion Reitz developed an acute awareness of the ways reality is constructed, rather than simply reflected, in films: "Many people in our profession make the mistake of confusing film images with reality... The entire lot of terrible television programs and commercial offerings in cinemas is in reality the revenge of the camera on those stupid abusers who think they are reproducing reality." Heimat includes sensitive scenes of the ways in which the camera and technical instruments reproduce reality, whether by Paul and his radio, Eduard and the camera, Anton and cinema, Hermann and electronic music. The film calls upon viewers to be conscious of the deceptiveness of the camera...

The discrepancy between the claim to recover in Heimat genuine German memories and the inherent impossibility of representing reality on film creates a fascinating tension in Heimat. On the one hand, Heimat feels like a documentary that records life accurately through the use of black and white, the depiction of everyday life, and the centrality of quotidian material objects. Watching the film, we want to believe, and no doubt many do, that this was the way things really were. On the other hand, Reitz always alerts the viewer to the need to distrust the camera by showing how reality is reproduced and constructed by technical instruments. In fact, Reitz seems to tell us that while memories are cultural artifacts, they are at the same time genuinely ours. But as a project of national identity, Heimat gives priority to the ability of memory and experience to capture the past over the constructedness of film images. Although film cannot reproduce reality, Reitz appears to be saying, the memories reflected in it are closer to the truth when they stem from "real" experiences. Thus, Heimat implies, the experience and memory of Reitz and the people of Schabbach go a long way toward overcoming the obstacles of technology, they cannot be totally fake because they are based on "real" experience...

Reitz was influenced by the Heimat-film genre that reached its zenith in the 1950s, when more than 300 films were produced. The genre communicated a world of "little people" in villages between tradition and modernity. It conservatively emphasized stability of human relations, conformity to common values, and security in a familiar environment. Heimat films made it possible for people to "dream" of marriage and a happy family, prosperity, leisure, and, for the refugees from Eastern Europe and East Germany, of a new Heimat. The genre came under attack in the Oberhausen Manifesto in 1962, in which twenty-six young German directors, including Reitz, opposed the conventional German cinema and the primacy of commercial considerations. Vowing to create "a new language of film," the new German cinema developed the "anti-Heimat film," which critically raised social, political, and ecological issues and demonstrated keen awareness of conflicts and injustices in German society...

Heimat... belongs neither to the classic Heimat films nor to the anti-Heimat films, but instead is, as one scholar put it, a "highly ambivalent adoption of the genre." Reitz's motivation was to counter the made-in-Hollywood rendition of German history by using an indigenous genre that represents and defines German identity. He created a unique Heimat film. From the classic Heimat films he adopted cinematic motifs and narrative patterns that had been considered trditional and conservative, while infusing them with New Left meanings from the 1960s and 1970s, such as rejecting the embellishment of reality and highlighting the experience of "little people" through oral history. From the anti-Heimat films he adopted the depictino of reali life (Schabbach is composed of hard-working people, of messy living conditions, and of jealousy), although he departed from it by not passing judgment and keeping a nostalgic longing for a putatively lost Heimat. By selecting elements from Heimat films and anti-Heimat films, Reitz seems to tell us that the genre is neither inherently conservative nor inherently progressive, but - if properly used through memory, experience, and storytelling - can be a mirror of the German ways of life...

For Reitz, the past was an organic part of reality before the foundation of West Germany and became a commodity thereafter. But this view has more to do with Reitz's deep antipathy to West Germany than to any complex understanding of the modern perception of the past in general, and of German's perceptions of the past in particular. The connection between consmer culture and perceptions of the past was common long before the foundation of West Germany. Heimatlers in imperial Germany saw in the Heimat idea not only a source of local and national identity, but also a source of profit. The two were united by the development of tourism. Heimat museums exemplified the connection because they attempted to attract tourists by marketing their past as worthy of a visit. But Reitz believes in a dichotomy of unconditional totalities between German national society dominated by consumerism and rootlessness after 1949 and a national society of authentic relations to the past, while refusing to consider that the both elements can intermix. Often (perhaps always) nations construct an idea that there once existed a pure, homogeneous national identity, uncorrupted by modernity and its offspring, consumer culture. This idea exists as an ideology, a belief, and a propaganda. But the coexistence of consumer culture with notions of roots and authenticity, that is, making authenticity a commodity for mass consumption, is what really happens. Here Reitz's description of German identity is unsatisfactory not because he fails to include the Holocause, but because he fails to embrace the complexity of modernity.

- Alon Confino, Germany as a Culture of Remembrance: Promises and Limits of Writing History. Published by UNC Press, 2006. Pages 58, 70, 71, 77, 78, 79

Since [Heimat] is about German memory rather than history, and because it represents that memory as wholly turned upon itself, it leaves no room for those whom the Germans would rather forget or repress, that is, their victims.

And yet Reitz's work too is dependent for its coherence not merely on an absence of representation, but also on a representation of absence. Conscious of a context of prejudice and genocide, evil and complicity, it must escape to the environment of a remote anachronistic village, finally connected to modernity only following World War II and the (apparently lamentable) Americanization of Germany. And yet, even in that distant location, the film cannot completely ignore a presence that its own realistic and traditional technique must somehow acknowledge. Hence, Reitz feels obliged to make for a momentary appearance of the absent, if only in order to indicate that the absent remained absent for his protagonists, even while they were actually there. He must make the point that the Jews had no role in German (rural) memory, precisely because he knows that German memory is inseparably tied to visions of genocide. Indeed, the major motivation of Heimat, as Reitz himself argued, was to give back German history to the Germans, after it was taken away from them by the Jews, who are the main protagonists of both Holocaust, the mini-series, and the historical event of Nazi genocide.

I suggest that the absence of the Jews is the fundamental subtext of Heimat, its motivation and the unspoken arbiter of its content. Without this absence, the film would have been nothing more than a sentimental, overlong tale of rural life in a God forsaken province. It is that absence that gives it meaning, providing it with the context it so emphatically rejects. In this sense Heimat is a film not about memory but about amnesia, that is, about the absence of memory and all that can be remembered and must nevertheless be erased.

- Omer Bartov, Germany's War and the Holocaust: Disputed Histories. Published by Cornell University Press, 2003. Pages 229-230.

ABOUT THE COMPLETE HEIMAT SERIES

The Wiegand and Simon family trees, featuring all family members who appear in the complete series:

Heimat 1 was accused in some quarters of bypassing key aspects of German history (notably the Holocaust); in Heimat 2, contemporary music and film were counterpointed against the heady politics of the ‘60s. Heimat 3, for all its filtering of history and politics postdating the fall of the Wall, is studded with more references to art, film and music than its even more monumental predecessors. Ultimately Reitz’ summation of the twentieth century seems to be a salvaging of the nineteenth. That alone is no mean achievement, and the three Heimat series must constitute one of the major contributions to film to date. But Heimat 3 in a sense returns to what the New German Cinema was not historically in a position to reclaim. With Heimat 1, Reitz claimed to be reappropriating German history (concretely, from its representation in the US series Holocaust [1978]). Via Heimat 2, his final epic stakes claim to German art as Germany’s abiding historical heritage. The nation of poets and thinkers, whose remoteness from politics was viewed as a primary facilitator of Nazism, has become an ideal nation of artists, filmmakers and musicians, and its welcome back to the world stage is not without historical irony. The postwar stability of the old/new Federal Republic of course makes possible both finding Heimat in art, and gaining global acceptance. The fact that the Reunification Symphony evaporates might be a blow for contemporary music. It most certainly is a pessimistic historical gloss, and it is that which pitches us back to nineteenth century art.

-    Roger Hillman, Rouge

ABOUT EDGAR REITZ

IMDb Wiki

Edgar Reitz was born on the 1st of November 1932 in Morbach*, a small town in the German Hunsrück Mountains. There his father Robert owned a small clockmakers shop, and his grandfather Johann Reitz worked as a Blacksmith in Morbach-Hundheim. Edgar Reitz has two younger siblings. His sister Heli, and his brother Guido who assumed his fathers trade and took over the Clock Shop.

During the time he attended school in Simmern, Reitz had already started acting and stage-managing in a theater subsidized by his German teacher Karl Windhäuser. After earning his Abitur (a diploma required to qualify for University entrance in Germany), he moved in 1952, motivated by Windhäuser, to Munich to study German language, literature, journalism, dramatics, and art history. During this time he was already sporadically publishing poems and narrations, and was a co-editor of a literary journal. He was fully engaged with the avant-garde of music, arts, literature and film, and in 1953 he was one of the founders of the "Studentisches Zimmertheater" (Small Student Theater), from which in 1954 the Studiobühne an der Universität München* emanated. However most of all Edgar was fascinated by Cinema and its technical side, and became a member of a film seminar, where film classics were analyzed and discussed. In other European countries, like in France or Poland, people attended film schools at that time to become filmmakers, but Reitz was learning to make films by actually making them. After his first attempts in 1953 he started opening doors to the professional world of filmmaking by working as a cameramans assistant, editors assistant, or production assistant. He started making his first own short films in 1958. In 1962 he joined the "Oberhausener Gruppe" around Alexander Kluge*. At the "Short-Film Days" of 1962 they published the "Oberhausener Manifest"* and declared the old german film as dead, promoting the "Young German Film". In the period 1962-1965 Reitz was working as the chief of the agency for development and experimentation at the Munich "Insel-Film". Together with Kluge and others in 1963, he founded the first German film school, the "Institut für Filmgestaltung"* at the HfG Ulm, where he taught direction and camera theory until it was closed in 1968.

In 1965/66 Reitz worked as cameraman for Alexander Klug’s Abschied von Gestern (Yesterdays Girl), in 1966 he produced his first own feature film Mahlzeiten (Lust for Love)* which in 1967 was awarded as the best debut feature at the Venice film Festival. For that film the camera work was done by Thomas Mauch, who 36 years later filmed the first four parts of HEIMAT 3. "Abschied von Gestern" and "Mahlzeiten" belong to the films, which influenced the "Young German Film" very intensely [besides: we can see the movie-posters of those two films in DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT, Film 13, at the wall of the bar he meets his assistant and Zielke]. In May and June of 1968 Reitz conducted a series of lectures in filming theory and practice at a Munich secondary school. This project was documented with the Film "Filmstunde" (Lesson in film). In 1971 he initiated the "Kneipenkino" (Pub Cinema), where visitors themselves were able to put together a program from 23 Kübelkind-Geschichten (Stories of the dumpster-child).

In 1971 Edgar Reitz founded the Edgar Reitz Filmproduktions GmbH* (short: ERFilm) in Munich, his own film production company, which since then produces not only his own projects, but also those films of other well-known directors. In the 70’s and 80’s they produced lots of documentaries, feature films and television plays, and were honored with numerous awards. Contemporaneously Reitz published many books and articles dealing with film-theory and film-aesthetics, but also narrations, essays, lyric poetry, and literal versions of his films.

After the flop of his most expensive film in 1978, Der Schneider von Ulm (The taylor from Ulm)*, Reitz turned away from feature film and his state-aided standards. He retired on the island Sylt in the north of Germany. There, after being poorly impressed by the American TV series Holocaust he developed his ideas for his most successful project, HEIMAT. With Heimat Reitz returned to his own homeland, the Hunsrück, and while working on the script for Heimat, released the documentary "Geschichten aus den Hunsrückdörfern" (Stories from the Hunsrück villages), which describes people’s life in the Hunsrück in an inimitable manner. After the release of HEIMAT in 1984, he immediately started working on DIE ZWEITE HEIMAT – The chronicle of a Youth, which internationally received even more attention than HEIMAT, but in Germany did not obtain that much acceptance.

In 1995 Reitz, among others, founded the European Institute of Cinema Karlsruhe (EIKK), and was appointed to a professorship at the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung* Karlsruhe.

"HEIMAT 3 – Chronik einer Zeitenwende" was made in 2002-2004 despite being troubled by serious encroachments in Reitz’s artistic liberty from the financing tax supported broadcasting companies. In 2006 he combined previously unreleased scenes from all parts of the trilogy for "HEIMAT Fragmente - Die Frauen", a philosophical discourse about memory.

Edgar Reitz lives in Munich and is married with Salome Kammer since 1995. Together with his son Christian he founded the company Reitz & Reitz Medien.

- Thomas Honemann, Heimat 123

When people and things pass out of reach of our sensory perception, when they go away, die or we go away, or time takes them from us, we experience pain. This pain is born of the hopelessness of ever being able to truly make things our own, of being able to love them, use or possess them. Even eating, the most intensive form of appropriation, is a modality of leave-taking. But in parting from things, they pass over into our memory, become integrated into the spatio-temporal relation to which we too belong. In taking leave, in this passage from a sensuous relation to a relation of memory, we discover the origin of the legends and stories, of the images that live on independently of any particular human being, like the wound that exists without a body. When one looks closely, film always has something to do with parting. Film concerns itself with things and people that disappear from our sensory perception, with this pain that every good frame reproduces and produces... Parting is the great theme of every film.

- Edgar Reitz, quoted in Eric L. Santner, Stranded Objects: Mourning, Memory, and Film in Postwar Germany. Published by Cornell University Press, 1993. Pages 68-69

949 (91). Radio Days (1987, Woody Allen)

Screened January 2 2009 on MGM DVD in Weehawken NJ TSPDT rank #880  IMDb Wiki

A series of loosely connected anecdotes reminiscing over the heyday of radio programs and their effect on a Queens household modeled after that of Woody Allen's childhood, Radio Days resembles a standup routine more than any of the work of this legendary comedian-turned-actor/director.  Allen's buoyant voiceover accompanies a wall-to-wall soundtrack of period jazz, a fluid, hard-driving talk-and-tunes narrative approach that anticipates the first hour of Scorsese's GoodFellas [TSPDT #99] by a few years.  A third of the anecdotes lead nowhere other than to provide amusing flourishes to this vivid period portrait, but the general narrative disjunction makes sense in a film whose underlying philosophy is to resist the passage of time, though history registers gently with the onset of World War II and its effect on both the family and the radio industry. Its hometown nostalgia owes a debt to Fellini's Amarcord [TSPDT #82] and Allen's cartoonish cast is also Felliniesque, with not one but two Giulietta Masini holy fool types who are the only characters possessing a narrative arc (Mia Farrow as an aspiring radio star and Dianne Wiest as a spinster aunt looking for Mr. Right).

It's typical of the leveling tendency of Allen's social worldview to make the radio stars seem banal in their appearances and concerns, while the humble working class Jewish family and neighborhood denizens carry the aura of genuine experience, especially in a series of coarse but witty family arguments.  The stars only matter because of the feelings and fantasies they evoke among family members, leading to some gently lyrical moments such as a girl in a makeshift Carmen Miranda getup doing a bedroom cha-cha while family members look on.  Allen's attempt to bridge the gap between the glamorous radio world the outer boroughs comes through Farrow's cigarette girl looking for a break into the studio, a saga whose exaggerated incidents (involving gangster hits and Pearl Harbor) are largely unconvincing despite Farrow's best attempts to channel Judy Holliday.  A number of the punchlines are quaintly anachronistic (i.e. one of Wiest's suitors aborting date rape when he hears Orson Welles' panic-inducing War of the Worlds broadcast on the radio) and for that reason a number of them land limply (i.e. one of Wiest's dates turning out to be gay).

But even these anecdotes roll by in a rush of such nostalgic goodwill that it's hard not to embrace its immense charms.  Those charms are due in part to fluid camerawork and triumphant art direction, each set filled with loving detail and shot in brown tones as cozy as a hot cup of coffee.  Ironically - and fittingly - the lush visual design could vanish, leaving the rich soundtrack of Allen's voiceover, the airtight comic banter and music to thrive as a ninety minute radio program of its own.

Wanna go deeper?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Radio Days among the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films:

Jaume Figueras, Nickel Odeon (1994) Mike Leigh, Empire (2008) Sonke Wortmann, Steadycam (2007) Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic: Must-See Films  (1987) David Thomson, Have You Seen...? A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films (2008) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

Radio Days screenplay accessible at Drew's Script-o-Rama

Stig Bjorkman: Was Radio Days a story you'd been planning to make for a long time? Woody Allen: It originated from an idea that I wanted to pick out a group of songs that were meaningful to me, and each one of those songs suggested a memory. Then this idea started to evolve: how important radio was to me when I was growing up and how important and glamorous it seemed to everyone. SB: It's a very elaborate script, considering all the elements in it: the family, the school, the radio events, the radio personalities.. WA: A film like Radio Days presents a particular type of problem. When you don't have a 'What happens next?' story, when you're working with anecdotal material, the trick, I feel, is that you have to sustain each thing on its own brilliance, on its own rhythm, on its own style. So you really have to work very, very hard to make a movie like that, because you have to know that the anecdotes that you're relating to the audience an hour, an hour and a half into the film are not going to bore them. That they're still going to find them fresh and funny. It's a difficult kind of film to do, a non-plot, a non-conventional plot film.

- from Woody Allen on Woody Allen: In Conversation with Stig Bjorkman. Published by Grove Press, 1995. Page 158

HISTORICAL REVIEWS

''Radio Days,'' which opens today at the New York Twin and other theaters, is as free in form as it is generous of spirit. It's a chronicle of a family during the radio years, as well as a series of short-short stories. These follow, one after another, like the tales of Scheherazade, if Scheherazade had been a red-headed little Jewish boy in the Rockaways, born poor, star-struck, infinitely curious, and seriously incompetent as a juvenile criminal.

''Radio Days'' is so densely packed with vivid detail of place, time, music, event and character that it's virtually impossible to take them all in in one sitting. Carlo Di Palma is again responsible for the stunning photography, and Santo Loquasto for the production design.

The film is nothing if not generous with - and to - its talent. Miss Farrow is hilariously common-sensical as the ambitious cigarette girl (''Who is Pearl Harbor?'' she asks in bewilderment on Dec. 7, 1941), and Diane Keaton, on the screen only a few minutes, helps to bring the film to its magical conclusion with a lovely, absolutely straight rendition of ''You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to.'' It's New Year's Eve, 1943, and Mr. Allen's radio days are as numbered as those of Proust's old Prince de Guermantes.

At this point I can't think of any film maker of Mr. Allen's generation with whom he can be compared, certainly no one at work in American movies today. As the writer, director and star (even when he doesn't actually appear) of his films, Mr. Allen works more like a novelist who's able to pursue his own obsessions, fantasies and concerns without improvements imposed on him by committees.

At this point, too, his films can be seen as part of a rare continuum. Each of us has his favorite Allen movie, but to cite one over another as ''more important,'' ''bigger,'' ''smaller'' or ''less significant'' is to miss the joys of the entire body of work that is now taking shape. ''Radio Days'' is a joyful addition.

- Vincent Canby, The New York Times, January 30 1987

Excerpt: Opening

Woody Allen offers brief, casually brilliant parodies of radio performers and formats: an inspirational sports storyteller modeled on Bill Stern; a smarmy counselor like Mr. Anthony; and, of course, a superhero for boys, the "Masked Avenger." The slender thread holding this part of the movie together recounts the rise from cigarette girl to airwaves gossip star of Sally White (played with her customary comic poignance by Mia Farrow).

The other part is about the listening audience. Here Allen finds cross section enough in a single source, an extended lower-middle-class Jewish family in Rockaway, Queens. Among these dreamers by the glowing dial, the most touching and memorable is again a woman, Aunt Bea (played with becoming lack of sentiment by Dianne Wiest). Since this nameless clan lives near Allen's old neighborhood and includes a shy, slender, red-haired boy, the unwary may conclude that Allen is being autobiographical.

But Radio Days has larger ambitions. Rather than a personal history or an exercise in nostalgia, it is a meditation on the evanescence of seemingly permanent institutions. To a child like Joe (Seth Green), it is inconceivable that something as powerful as radio could ever disappear. Might as well tell him that one day his family will cease to be a similarly compelling reality. But here it is, 1987, and Joe is a voice-over narrator of a movie with no coherent narrative, only such anecdotes as groping memory can rescue from the receding past. In the most delicate way imaginable, the snippets drawn from the seemingly great world of broadcasting and those from the little world of listening shed the most affecting and provocative light on each other. Somehow, one thinks of Chekhov, and is once again astonished by the complexity and clarity of Woody Allen's vision.

- Richard Schickel, Time Magazine, February 2 1987

Allen is not concerned with creating a story with a beginning and an end, and his movie is more like a revue in which drama is followed by comedy and everything is tied together by music, by dozens of lush arrangements of the hit songs of the 1940s. He has always used popular music in his movies, but never more than this time, where the muscular, romantic confidence of the big-band sound reinforces every memory with the romance of the era.

In form and even in mood, it is closest to Federico Fellini's "Amarcord," which also was a memory of growing up - of family, religion, sex, local folk legends, scandalous developments and intense romantic yearn ings, underlined with wall-to-wall band music. In a way, both films have nostalgia itself as one of their subjects. What they evoke isn't the long-ago time itself, but the memory of it. There is something about it being past and gone and irretrievable that makes it more precious than it ever was at the time.

"Radio Days" is so ambitious and so audacious that it almost defies description. It's a kaleidoscope of dozens of characters, settings and scenes - the most elaborate production Allen has ever made - and it's inexhaustible, spinning out one delight after another.

Although there is no narrative thread from beginning to end, there is a buried emotional thread. Like music, the movie builds toward a climax we can't even guess is coming, and then Allen finds the perfect images for the last few minutes for a bittersweet evocation of goodbye to all that.

- Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times

Excerpt: A Lesson in Marxism

Didn't Neil Simon already do this? But there wasn't much radio consciousness to speak of in Brighton Beach Memoirs, and anyway Woody Allen's semiautobiographical Jewish family lives in Rockaway, Queens, rather than Brooklyn, so I guess not. The good news is that Allen has returned here to the broad anecdotal sources of his humor (after a dutiful Chekhov vacation with Hannah and Her Sisters); the bad news is that the obligations of being a serious film stylist have taken a heavy toll. Nothing's very fresh and nothing's very incisive, but everything bobs along blandly like a well-meaning exercise in therapeutic remembering (what Allen remembers mostly is a suffocating radio blanket of big band music: even Jesus stations have more programming variety than this). The bed-hopping fate of Mia Farrow's aspiring airwave starlet sums up the film's inconsequentiality: despite her career exertions, she still winds up on the same cabaret rooftop where she started. Plus ca change, Woody, and ho-hum.

- Pat Graham, The Chicago Reader

While the music gives the film a certain authenticity, it also serves to make one wonder how much of the rest of Allen's material is authentic. Either the radio shows Allen heard on the East Coast were entirely different from those heard during the '40s on the West Coast, or he simply made up a lot of them.

One is forced to think about authenticity after the laughs stop - about two-thirds of the way through the film. That's when Allen seems to run out of comic material, having exhausted the humor inherent in Joe's quirky family: his perennially battling parents, Aunt Bea's unsuccessful search for the perfect husband, Uncle Abe's fondness for fish.

When Allen tries to turn serious, it doesn't really work.

- Don Carter, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 30 1987

Excerpt: Carmen Miranda

Radio Days followed one of Allen's most ambitious films, Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and seemed to be done for comic relief after the emotional complexity of the previous film. Allen himself told interviewer Stig Bjorkman, "I think of Radio Days basically as a cartoon. If you look at my mother, my Uncle Abe, my schoolteacher, my grandparents, they were supposed to be cartoon exaggerations of what my real-life people were like." Allen himself narrates the film, in the first person.

Allen's use of music in his films has always been masterful, and Radio Days is one of the finest examples of his mastery. In fact, he told Bjorkman, music was the original starting point for the film. "It originated from an idea that I wanted to pick out a group of songs that were meaningful to me, and each one of those songs suggested a memory. Then this idea started to evolve: how important radio was to me when I was growing up, and how important and glamorous it seemed to everyone." There are 43 songs used in the film, and some standout musical moments. In one scene, a teenage girl lip-synchs to a Carmen Miranda song, her head wrapped in a towel turban, watching herself in the mirror. Her father and uncle, charmed by her charade, join in. Near the end of the film, it's New Year's Eve 1943. Diane Keaton, in a cameo as a band vocalist, sings (in her own voice) the Cole Porter standard that expresses the longing of a war-weary nation: You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To. Allen says, "I wanted to make sure, since Diane was making one little appearance in the picture, that the song was potent." It was.

Radio Days marks the only time that Allen's two longtime companions and muses - former flame Diane Keaton and his then-current partner Mia Farrow - appeared in the same film. Keaton has remained friends with Allen over the years; Farrow has not. After a bitter, litigious, and highly publicized breakup, Farrow remains estranged from Allen and her daughter, Allen's wife Soon-Yi Previn.

Reviews for Radio Days were mostly raves, although there were a few dissenters, such as the always-acerbic John Simon of the National Review, who called it "really a congeries of blackout sketches barely bothering to make like a connected narrative, scoring now and then and falling flat the rest of the time." But Variety called it "One of Allen's most purely entertaining pictures. It's a visual monolog of bits and pieces from the glory days of radio and people who tuned in.... Radio Days is not simply about nostalgia, but the quality of memory and how what one remembers informs one's present life."  Allen's warm, funny screenplay and Santo Loquasto's nostalgic and detailed art direction both received Oscar® nominations.

- Margarita Landazuri, Turner Classic Movies

RECENT REVIEWS

A trip down memory lane for Allen (The Purple Rose of Cairo, Broadway Danny Rose), who lovingly reconstructs the life and times of growing up during in Rockaway Beach, New York in the Golden Age of radio.  Radio Days is teeming with nostalgia value, and even if you didn't grow up in that era, Allen does a masterful job recreating the look and feel of the era, such that you'll also be nostalgic even if you've never lived it.

It's not all sunshine and roses, as Radio Days is more of a bittersweet experience.  The radio can bring both happiness, such as remembering a time when life was good, but also sadness, where a song will remind you of a long-gone loved one or inform you of the tragedies of the day.  Like many nostalgia films, it is very sentimentalized in its delivery, and as is typical of Allen's storytelling style, real-life events are altered and shaped for purposes of creating a funny scene or poignant dramatics.

You'll love it for the characters, the sweetness and Allen's wonderful blend of humor and heartfelt drama, making Radio Days one of the best films of his career.  It's not as substantial as some of his other works, and will probably quickly fade from memory once it's over, but that's ok...like any fond memory, this is the kind of film you'll probably revisit time and again.

- Vince Leo, Qwipster's Movie Reviews

Excerpt: Diane Keaton singing "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To"

John Baxter, who has written the definitive biography of Woody Allen, calls Radio Days “Allen’s most logistically ambitious film since Love & Death.” To include 150 performers in an Allen film is almost unheard of, and a daunting task for a filmmaker accustomed to casts numbering fewer than 20. Yet somehow, Allen handles his ensemble with ease and manages to pack the film with a wallop, particularly for a film that runs less than ninety minutes.

The film can loosely be divided into two parts, pre-Second World War innocence and then post-1941 optimism as characters like the Masked Avenger suddenly take on more political and patriotic roles. While I don’t want to give away all the vignettes, I should point out that the “Hitting Rabbi” scene should leave you in stitches and, as with all of Allen’s films, there are priceless one-liners that make repeated viewing a requirement.

- Jamie Gillies, Apollo Film Guide

To a generation raised in Top 40 and all-news formats, radio is often little more than background noise. But to an older generation, it connotes a magic theatre of sound and incident. Radio Days affectionately eavesdrops on the past and gives everyone a wonderful opportunity to re-imagine what it was like when this communications medium was king.

- Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice

The film is a series of vignettes, clearly drawn from Allen's days as a youngster, and only tangentially interrelated. It's almost overly upbeat -- to the point where you wish Woody would get a little more miserable from time to time.

- Christopher Null, FilmCritic.com

Woody Allen has never disguised his love of the thirties and forties nor his love of old-time radio. I´ve never disguised my love of "Radio Days" as one of my favorite Woody Allen pictures. It´s a sweet, lighthearted, nostalgic look back at an era before the tube, when voices were king, when comedy was innocent, and when music was still listenable. "Radio Days" may not have the depth or insight of films like his "Annie Hall," "Manhattan," or "Crimes and Misdemeanors," but blessed with a plethora of fine tunes, fine characters, and fine jokes, it´s one of the most enjoyable things Allen´s ever done.

- John Puccio, DVD Town

Radio Days is a warm, sunny piece of American nostalgia told with the visual flair of Fellini, but with all the humor and intelligence of Woody Allen. It’s a film so rich in memory that every time I see it, I wax nostalgic for the times depicted in it, even though they were decades before my birth.

The whole nostalgia theme is beautifully and comically handled. The film is like walking through memories, even to the point of realizing that memories are sometimes even better than the real thing. When the radio stars ponder their futures on New Years’ Eve of 1944, they wonder if they will be remembered. And Allen himself dutifully points out that memories do in fact get fainter and fainter as the years pass.

The radio days are indeed gone forever. But they couldn’t have asked for a better tribute than this warm, funny film from Woody Allen.

- Michael Jacobson, DVD Movie Central

Radio Days is not about real history. This is the simplified world of a child's memories -- although Joe is no naïve waif -- and it is largely remembered with fondness. Woody Allen does not seem interested in exposing the "hypocrisy of simulation" or some such cliché about our immersion in popular culture. Frankfurt School theorists may find themselves at a loss at Woody's warm embrace of middle-class capitalist media. The film begins with an amusing story of burglars sidetracked on night by a phone call from "Guess That Tune." The next day, the family awakens to find their house robbed, but a driveway full of prizes won for them by the hapless burglars. In the end, the magic of popular media rewards its loyal followers, and everyone lives comfortably ever after.

Woody Allen has a difficult job in structuring this film around a series of anecdotes only loosely chronological in their order (the film's timeline runs roughly from the late 1930s until New Year's 1944, with the war still raging and the future uncertain), and in the hands of a less-able screenwriter, this film might have been a structural mess. But the rambling nature of the film ties in nicely with the sense that the narrator is merely another storyteller, conjuring whatever ghosts come most quickly to mind. Stories within stories within stories. How many of these things are true? Did Sally White really go from local girl to cultured star? Or does it even matter, if the stories are good enough on their own?

- Mike Pinsky, DVD Verdict

The script is really nothing but a dramatised collection of reminiscences, and as you'd expect from such a setup some are better than others. The biggest challenge of all is to make it hold together as a single entity. It works best as a box of treats to dip into whenever we feel like it, so unlike most films, catching five minutes here and there while channel surfing roughly equates to watching it in an 85 minute stretch. You could probably even watch it backwards, scene by scene, and it would still make about as much sense.

- Hal Astell, Apocalypse Later: a Cinematic Travelogue

ABOUT THE MGM DVD

We have come to expect a certain level of performance from MGM on these Woody Allen discs. In this case, the mono soundtrack is perfectly suited to the film, given the predominance of old music and voice-over dialogue. Any radio static or hissy old records that play in the background enhance the nostalgic feel of the film. Unfortunately, the anamorphic transfer seems to have made the film a bit dark and created some muddy and slightly overenhanced coloring (particularly the reds). This may add to the cartoony look of the film, but it does get somewhat annoying. And, as always, no extra content is offered other than some production notes and a faded trailer.

- Mike Pinsky, DVD Verdict

ABOUT WOODY ALLEN

IMDb Wiki

Official Website

The following quotes found on the TSPDT profile page for Allen:

"While most other recent screen comics have aimed their lamebrain, slapdash spoofery at teenage audiences, Allen Stewart Konigsberg, as he was born, has alone been consistent in catering to more adult tastes. His is a comedy increasingly defined by character: notably, his own." - Geoff Andrew (The Film Handbook, 1989)

"Allen's genuinely original voice in the cinema recalls writer-directors like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Preston Sturges, who dissect their portions of the American landscape primarily through comedy. In his creative virtuosity, Allen also resembles Orson Welles, whose visual and verbal wit, though contained in seemingly non-comic genres, in fact exposes the American character to satirical scrutiny." - Mark W. Estrin (International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 1991)

"Great comedians almost always portray little men attempting to cope with the trappings of a civilization that is a bit too much for them, and Woody Allen is no exception. His insecurities - physical, sexual and emotional - are truly of monumental proportions." - (The Movie Makers, 1974)

"Blends nightclub jokes, visual humor, and literary references into a wild sense of comedy. Has a good pictorial sense." - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff's Catalog, 1978)

"If my films don't show a profit, I know I'm doing something right." - Woody Allen

"If my films make one more person miserable, I'll feel I have done my job." - Woody Allen

Additional choice quotes by Allen on The Quotations Page

Self-deprecating humor, classicly Jewish, boosts its audience as much as happy endings. Storytellers made self-doubting fools of themselves so their listeners -- other Jews who had no reason to feel better than anybody -- could have someone to feel one-up on, if only for the span of the joke. Similarly, Allen's viewers most likely feel as insecure and inept as his characters, but as he exaggerates his gaffs and lets us laugh at his expense we're assured we couldn't be as awful as that. If you've ever wondered why so much grief and tsuris flood Jewish humor (or why the Holocaust peppers so many of Allen's scripts), it's because, next to all that trouble, how bad could your life be? The Jewish talent for exaggerating life's bumps is the other side of fabricating impossibly smooth endings. Either way, audiences sigh a little in relief. (You'll recognize the sigh, too, as the archetypical Jewish response. Should some dour neighbor or relative sigh too deeply, as if to say life is indeed that bad, the story and the joke fall flat.)...

Allen's twenty-year body of work is a kitsch-en sink of Jewish storytelling, with the self-mockery and the paranoid, hypochondriacal exaggeration of difficulties thrown in, along with a taste for endings where evil is trounced and the good guys win -- even spectacled shlemiels like Allen. These tropes bend the course of the secular "Hannah" and "Another Woman" as surely as they do "Danny Rose" or "Radio Days", but in the former, the tradition and motive behind Allen's impulses aren't explicit. No one turns to the camera in "Hannah" and says, this adulterous mess may end hellishly in life but I need a happy ending onscreen so I'm going to conjure one up.

- Marcia Pally, Film Comment

In her review of Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) the late film critic Pauline Kael suggests that the reason New York critics love Woody Allen is that “they're applauding their fantasy of themselves”. In some of his films, including Stardust Memories (1980) and Deconstructing Harry (1997) Allen has explored being a prisoner of his own persona (whilst denying the likeness). Although the persona secured Allen a loyal audience, he has fallen in and out of favour with the film community partly, as Kael suggests, because of his appeal to the urbane quasi-intellectuals who critique cinema; a familiarity that has over time moved from intimate to contemptuous. Too often in recent years 'criticism' of Woody Allen's films has virtually forsaken content wherever it does not fit into a discussion of what seems to have become more important: his scandalous personal life.

Mighty Aphrodite
Mighty Aphrodite

With his strong background in writing, Allen's films, particularly the broadly comic ones, are dialogue-heavy (which Allen feels is more challenging than a film without dialogue). He works frequently with master shots and actor choreography, a technique more successfully realised in say Husbands and Wives (1992) than in Mighty Aphrodite (1996). Despite a widely perceived decline in the ambition and accomplishment of his films in the last decade he remains a key figure in the American film landscape. Both academic and popular film criticism on Allen most often employs psychoanalytic theory, as his subject matter corresponds easily to the Freudian concepts of desire, repression, and anxiety and sexuality. The thesis of The Denial of Death (a psychoanalytic text which Alvy buys Annie and reflects on after they separate in Annie Hall) cites as two strategies of evading mortality – sexuality, which Allen has embraced wholeheartedly in both his work and life, and the belief in and service to God, which he has not. Other critics have noted the parallels with philosophers such as Socrates and Jean-Paul Sartre, the latter with regard to the impossibility of authentic romantic commitment. *** What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.

– Selections from the Allen Notebooks'

You have no values. Your whole life, it's nihilism, it's cynicism, it's sarcasm, and orgasm.Y'know, in France I could run on that slogan and win.

Deconstructing Harry

Natasha, to love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But, then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer, to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love, to be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy, therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness, I hope you're getting this down.

Love and Death

These quotes encapsulate Allen's philosophy – he undercuts his own existential angst with absurd humour that provides distraction or comic relief and is in its own way an answer to these unanswerable questions. It is almost as if he is sending up the more austere philosophers who formulated these enquiries. His films are largely comedies – but, as one of his characters maintains, what is comedy but tragedy, plus time? (5) The spectre of death haunts many of Allen's films, as thanatos, the essential flipside to the forces of life and love that are irresistible.

Doc: Why are you depressed, Alvy? Mother: Tell doctor [?] It's something he read. Doc: Something you read, heh? Alvy: The universe is expanding. Doc: The universe is expanding? Alvy: Well, the universe is everything, and if it's expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything! Mother(shouting): What is that your business? (to doctor) He stopped doing his homework. Alvy: What's the point? Mother: What has the universe got to do with it? You're here in Brooklyn! Brooklyn is not expanding!

– Annie Hall
Annie Hall
Annie Hall

Allen appears fascinated by the fact that whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, death's constant presence is manifested in the idea of God and the possibility of moral order in the universe, the afterlife, fate. Throughout his career he has invested a scholar's commitment to the predicament of man in a doomed universe. For Allen these are all inescapable aspects of humanity and it is thus our lot to struggle with the paradoxes of desire and morality, freedom and faith, consummation and reflection. His films explore the perhaps pointless struggle to achieve resolution. Sometimes it appears, as in Annie Hall (1977), as the ironic dissatisfaction that comes when a much-yearned for ideal is attained and the reality is (necessarily) lacking. Play It Again, Sam (Herbert Ross, 1972) Annie Hall and Manhattan (1979) celebrate, nostalgically, the end of love. As a psychoanalytic notion nostalgia is a painful return, an uncanny pathology. In other films like Interiors (1978) Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) death is more patent – a mother commits suicide, a mistress is murdered in cold blood. The fatal aspect of romance for Allen is foregrounded. In Love and Death (1975), an earnest but comic take on the themes of sex, death and the possibility of an afterlife (set against a nineteenth century Russian literary landscape), Allen's character Boris cavorts through the woods with the Grim Reaper, both recalling and parodying the Death figure of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957).

- Victoria Loy, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography