Formal yet timeless, an innocent, spoiled teenage girl sets out with her pregnant servant to deliver candles to church. But only one returns to the remote homestead.
In 14th-century Sweden, the indulged Karin (Birgitta Pettersson – Pojken i trädet, Salka Valka) insists on wearing her best finery to travel the 5 kms to the village. Accompanied by the jealous Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom – The Seventh Seal, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), they meet three goatherds who rape and kill Karin. The three men continue on their way where, by chance, they find themselves at the girl’s home and the guests of her father, Töre (Max von Sydow – Pelle the Conqueror, The Seventh Seal). On discovering what happened, he plans a terrible revenge.
Influenced by Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Ingmar Bergman’s (Wild Strawberries, Face To Face) classic interweaves morality and faith, humanity and atonement in this compelling if dour drama moodily shot in black and white.
Nominated for 2 Oscars in 1961 including best costume, won 1 for best foreign language film.
Richly and poignantly observed, Wild Strawberries is a coming-of-age slow burn as the widowed professor reflects upon an emotionally austere life.
A cold demeanour has seen Dr. Eberhard Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström – To Joy, Order) isolated from the world around him with only his housekeeper Agda (Jullan Kindahl – Smiles of a Summer Night, Bröllopsdagen) for company. But on being offered a honorary degree in his home town of Lund, a decision to drive rather than fly results in nostalgic reflection, helped by his travelling companion, daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin – Cries and Whispers, The Cassandra Crossing) and three hitchhikers they pick up on the way.
Writer/director Ingmar Bergman’s (Fanny & Alexander, Face to Face) nostalgic road trip with memory of missed love and a recurring dream with deeply disturbing surrealist imagery is earnest in its explorations yet engrossingly compelling.
Nominated for best original screenplay Oscar in 1960.
Set within the macho world of traditional Georgian dance with its feats of endurance and masculinity, And Then We Danced (directed by Levan Akin – Certain People, The Circle) subverts as Merab (an extraordinary Levan Gelbakhani) finds himself challenged by the arrival of potential rival, Irakli (Bachi Valishvili).
Passionate in its telling with glorious scenes in the rehearsal room, And Then We Danced is a powerful coming-of-age drama. Linked with Mary both personally and as a dance partner for many years and on the brink of joining the National State Dance company, a dormant sexuality is awoken within the extremely likeable Merab, putting his world entirely at risk.
A conventional narrative it may be, set within conservative Georgian society, but the heartwarming tale of And Then We Danced is one of personal rebellion and self identity with Merab finding unexpected support by a member of his family.
In the late 1990s, two South Africans set out to discover information about the legendary Rodriguez, an American folk singer who sold records in the hundreds of thousands during the apartheid era. Unlike most musicians of the 70s/80s where information was readily available, Rodriguez was barely known even by the local record label.
With extraordinary rumours circulating of Rodriguez having killed himself live on stage years earlier, Cape Town record shop owner Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and music journalist Craig Bartholomew Strydom set out to find the truth. Their search reveals so much for Detroit-born Sixto Rodriguez, his family and record producers of the early albums that proved to be huge hits in South Africa.
In Searching for Sugar Man, director Malik Bendjelloul follows the standard documentary template of incorporating archival footage, interviews current and past along with its straightforward telling. And what a story as a man consigned to inexplicable obscurity following the release of two albums finds himself centre stage for the first time in his life.
Winner of the Oscar for best documentary in 2013.
Early feature from Ingmar Bergman (Face to Face, Fanny & Alexander) is eloquent yet unexpectedly funny (at times) considering its a medieval tale about religion and the existence of God.
A knight returning to Sweden from the Crusades (a young Max von Sydow – Pelle the Conqueror, Extremely Close & Incredibly Loud) finds himself playing chess with the Grim Reaper as he questions his own personal beliefs and the world around him. Accompanied by jocular squire, Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand – Autumn Sonata, Wild Strawberries), Antonius Block travels a bleak, grim road in returning home.
Haunting (black & white) imagery with a meditative view of the knight’s quest results in a film of message and thought. It may lack immediacy but its visuals will stay in the mind.
An oddball modern gothic, Border is dark and deeply unsettling, an allegorical Nordic noir as customs officer Tina (an extraordinary Eva Melander – Inland, Flocken) is confronted with home truths beyond the realms of her comprehension.
With an innate ability to ‘smell’ human emotions – particularly guilt and fear – Tina is admired at work. But when Vore (Eero Milonoff – Games People Play, Ganes), a mysterious male traveller whose odour confounds her, passes through customs, disturbing insights about who she is and what she wants follow.
Merging Scandanavian folklore with contemporary social issues, assured writer/director Ali Abbasi (Shelly, Holy Spider) creates a haunting yet macabre tale, an everyday yet thought-provoking domestic drama of ‘the other’. A riveting and unexpected psycho-sexual drama like no other.
Nominated for best make up and hairstyling Oscar in 2019.
An extraordinary performance by Liv Ullman (Cries & Whispers,The Emigrants) is the complete and utter focus of director Ingmar Bergman’s challenging, dour vision of Jenny Isaksson, a woman undergoing a nervous breakdown.
A trained psychiatrist, Jenny temporarily moves into her grandmother’s Stockholm apartment. With her husband, also a psychiatrist, on an extended tour of the US, and the couple having sold their house, Jenny has taken on the role of senior physician at a psychiatric hospital filling in for a vacationing colleague. She befriends Tomas (Erland Josephson – Cries & Whispers, Fanny & Alexander) but Ullman’s fragile state of mind, disconnected from the world around her, slowly breaks down. Drifting through consciousness, semi-lucid when dreaming, it’s a tour de force emotional devastation with Ullman rarely off screen.
Nominated for 2 Oscars in 1977 (best actress & director).
A predictable relationship melodrama, it’s the performance of multiple Oscar-nominated Glenn Close (Dangerous Liaisons, Albert Nobbs) that’s the stand-out in director Bjorn Runge’s (Daybreak, Mouth to Mouth) latest.
As Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean, Tomorrow Never Dies) collects the Nobel Prize for Literature, the long-capped truth, at least behind closed doors, bubbles to the volatile surface.
Caustic rather than vicious, the unleashed storm is obviously brewing from very early on – with Close formidable as the too-oft ignored titular wife.
Nominated for 1 Oscar in 2019 (Glenn Close)
Ultimately uncomfortable watching as director Ruben Ostland (Force Majeure, Involuntary) presents a heady mix of odd social commentary along with moments of crazed subversion.
Arrogant gallery curator Claes Bang (The Bridge, Rule #1) finds himself in deep schtick both professionally and personally as a result of a distraction during the negotiations of a controversial new exhibition.
But what on paper appears to be a linear narrative is anything but as commentary on lack of social awareness or care is troweled on thick and fast in scene after scene. Subversive, anarchic, occasionally brilliant, overstuffed with ideas but a film that could have benefitted from being 105 minutes long instead of 152. Inexplicably, The Square was presented with the 2017 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Nominated for best foreign language film Oscar in 2018.
The rivalry between the ice-cool Bjorn Borg and volatile John McEnroe dominated tennis headlines in the late 70s/early 80s. Not interested in anything but being the best, Borg retired from tennis at the age of just 26 when the American replaced him as world number one in 1981.
But not before, in 1980, Borg won his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, beating McEnroe in five sets in what is regarded as the greatest final ever seen at the All-England club. Borg vs McEnroe is centred round the 1980 tournament as pressure mounts on Borg to make history.
Sverrir Gudnason (Blowfly Park, Original) is appropriately cool and emotionless as Borg – and his likeness to the Swede is uncanny. Wedding plans (to Romanian tennis player Mariana Simionescu) and Wimbledon preparations do not go hand-in-hand, adding to the pressure. An emerging McEnroe (a wonderful supporting role from Shia LeBeouf – Transformers, Lawless) has his own points to prove – to both his family and the tennis world in general.
Mixing flashbacks to both men’s childhoods (interestingly Borg was a wilful and volatile teenage tennis player) with current relationship issues both on and off the court, director Janus Metz (Armadillo, Fra Thailand til Thy) brings his documentary aesthetic to ultimately let the tennis and the final itself speak for the film. Overheads, close-ups, cropping add to the excitement, making up for a somewhat oversimplified and stodgy off-court narrative.
(It makes for an interesting accompaniment with the 1960s-set The Battle of the Sexes).