borg vs. mcenroe (janus metz, 2017)

The IMDB tells us, "In Nordic countries, film was titled 'Borg'." This is apparently because the director is Danish and the star is Swedish. But it's an appropriate title, no matter the country, because while the actual title suggests an even matchup between two tennis greats, in fact, Borg vs. McEnroe is much more about Borg than about his American counterpart, enough so that if this movie was Oscar-worthy, Shia LaBeouf as John McEnroe would properly fall into the Supporting Actor category.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but at the time these two titans played, Björn Borg was known at times as a "machine", while McEnroe's emotions were famously explosive on the court. The film spends more time with the man who internalized than with the one who wore his heart on his proverbial sleeve, which means the feel of the movie is also quieter on the surface. To balance this a bit, there are segments of the two players when they were younger, and from this, we learn that Borg too was known as temperamental growing up. This allows us to better see the effort Borg endured to maintain his famous composure as an adult. Ultimately, though, the movie might be more entertaining if McEnroe was the primary focus.

To an extent, this mirrors the times ... tennis fans often favored Borg or McEnroe, and a case can be made for both ... these are two of the greatest tennis players of all time. The film is pretty accurate about all of this, I just feel it needed a bit more of McEnroe's fire.

One uncanny note: Sverrir Gudnason and LaBeouf look enough like their real-life characters, thanks partly to the wigs they wear. But Gusnason looks so much like Viggo Mortensen, it drove me crazy until I figured out the resemblance.

film fatales #204: the blue caftan (maryam touzani, 2022)

Quietly smoldering triangle that takes some different approaches, although the end result isn't too far off from the norm. The main difference is that the triangle consists of a husband and wife and a young man who attracts the closeted husband. The catch is that the wife is dying of cancer. The wife is played by the wonderful Lubna Azabal, who starred in Denis Villeneuve's best film, Incendies.

Director/co-writer Maryam Touzani and cinematographer Virginie Surdej create an intimate environment that invites us into the budding threesome. There is the expected awkwardness ... the husband suppressing his feelings, the wife dying but wanting her husband to feel free when she is gone, the young man who gradually enters the lives of the others (he is an apprentice at the couple's caftan store). Nothing feels false, and we want the best possible outcome for all of the characters ... to the extent it is possible, Touzani rewards our desires.

The film feels long at 122 minutes. It's not that there is anything obvious that could be cut, but the low-key tension walks a fine line between intensity and torpor. But that's a minor complaint for a film that takes just enough liberties with romantic triangle tropes to make The Blue Caftan feel unique.

film fatales #200: bergman island (marie nyreröd, 2006)

A bit of an oddity, and a real pleasure for Bergman fans, Bergman Island is an edit of three television interviews Marie Nyreröd conducted with Ingmar Bergman at his home on the isolated island of Fårö. Bergman was in his 80s, and Nyreröd is a congenial and astute interviewers. The film is good for what it is, as we watch and listen to one of cinema's greats. Nonetheless, it's not overwhelming as a film ... Nyreröd has cut the original three interviews down by approximately half, and while the two walk around the island and inside Bergman's house, essentially this is two talking heads. Interesting because of the subject matter, worth a look, but otherwise nothing special.

songs from the second floor (roy andersson, 2000)

Long ago, I invented a genre of movies I call "Not for Steven," aka the works of Terrence Malick. These are movies where the director clearly accomplishes what they've set out to do, but I don't care for the results. Songs from the Second Floor is Not for Steven, but I admit, I haven't got the slightest idea what Roy Andersson was up to, so I can't say whether or not he accomplished his goals. His film connects with a lot of people, and critics love it ... it's #40 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century (#456 all-time).

There's no real plot. The film is a series of vignettes, and for the most part, I think the audience is supposed to make connections between the scenes. Andersson isn't laying it out on a platter for us. Each vignette takes place in front of a stationary camera (there is one scene where the camera moves a bit). People turn up multiple times ... there may be no plot, but there is a continuity among the characters. I just didn't care. For what it's worth, Andersson is inspired by the Peruvian poet César Vallejo, whose poems pop up as dialogue. Some have said Songs from the Second Floor should be seen as a poem, itself.

the celebration (thomas vinterberg, 1998)

It would be exaggerating to say that I don't like Dogme movies. It's true that I don't seek them out, but ultimately, that comes from my disliking most of the Lars von Trier movies I've seen (Melancholia excepted). Thomas Vinterberg, who along with von Trier created Dogme, has made a couple of movies I've liked (The Hunt and Another Round). The Celebration was the very first Dogme movie, and it's a good one.

The tone of the film is tricky. At first, you're not sure if it's a comedy, and there are some funny moments in the story of a well-to-do family coming together to celebrate the father's 60th birthday. As is usual in families, everyone has their problems, and it's clear that this family's celebration is likely to be turned on its side. What I wasn't expecting was how that turn would be so serious.

Over the course of the film, we learn of the darker side of the family, but even then, Vinterberg allows himself to indulge in some humor. Some call The Celebration a dark comedy, and I suppose that's accurate, but it downplays just how that darker side plays out. There is nothing funny about it.

The large cast is good throughout, with Ulrich Thomsen having the juiciest role, and he definitely delivers. This is not a family I'd want to be a part of, but in Vinterberg's hands, it's a family worth spending time with. As for the Dogme 95 elements, much of what we expect from movies today is stripped away, leaving handheld cameras and detailed character development with a complete lack of special effects. Honestly, it just looks like an indie film, and you don't need any knowledge of the Dogme Manifesto to appreciate it. #421 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

triangle of sadness (ruben östlund, 2022)

With Triangle of Sadness, I have now seen 9 of the 10 movies nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this year (sorry, Avatar). I think Everything Everywhere All at Once and Women Talking are the cream of the crop (I'd include RRR, but it didn't get a nomination). I'd put Triangle of Sadness in the middle of the pack.

My guess is by next Monday no one will even remember that Triangle of Sadness got three Oscar nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay) and won none. Which isn't a knock on the movie ... there are more worthy/likely winners in those categories, and if the three nominations are a stretch, they aren't egregious. But Triangle of Sadness will eventually stand on its own, regardless of Oscar nominations, and based on what I've seen, it's a pretty typical Ruben Östlund picture. I've seen Force Majeure and The Square, and like Triangle of Sadness, those are odd movies, decent but not great, with just enough bizarreness to stick in your mind. I wrote about The Square, "You might call The Square smug ... at the least, it is quite proud of itself." I added, "None of the characters come off well, although they are pleasant enough on the surface and not exactly evil underneath." I'd say something similar about Triangle of Sadness. It's supposed to be an attack on class structure, it is an attack on class structure, but the rich people aren't mean enough. Which I can see as a good thing, but Östlund sets things up so we can enjoy the comeuppance of the rich, and then makes it less enjoyable because they aren't that awful despite their wealth. I may be asking for the wrong thing.

Force Majeure had an impressive avalanche, and The Square had some kind of monkey man who was also a work of art or something. The impressive avalanche in Triangle of Sadness is a colossal classy dinner served on a cruise ship during a storm that has some of the most ... what word am I looking for, "entertaining"? ... scenes of vomiting. It's not easily forgotten, for better or worse. It's even part of the publicity for the movie:

Triangle of sadness

Triangle of Sadness is too long ... it has three parts, and for me, the entire first part could have been cut without doing any damage to the film. (The Square was also too long.) It's another Ruben Östlund film that you'll remember with a combination of fondness and something less positive. With Harris Dickinson, Dolly de Leon, and Charlbi Dean (who died unexpectedly at 32 just after the film's release).

a few 2022 movie lists

I'll probably watch a few more movies this year, but unless one is an all-time classic, these will likely remain the best movies I watched in 2022 for the first time. I gave all of them a rating of 9 on a scale of 10. Sorted by release year:

Best movies I re-watched this year (all 10/10):

  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • A Hard Day's Night (1964)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • The Last Waltz (1978)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The ongoing Geezer Cinema list. We watched 48 Geezer movies this year, beginning with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse back on January 4:

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]

And this list of everything I watched this year:

[Letterboxd list of movies I watched in 2022]

the territory (alex pritz, 2022)

The Territory is a documentary about the Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau in Brazil, who live in a rainforest constantly threatened by encroachment from people who believe in "progress", which for the average person means "everyone dreams of having a home" and for the rich and powerful means "use the land to make lots of money". The Uru-eu-wau-wau aren't just fighting to protect their homeland, they are fighting to save the planet ... they know the importance of the rainforest.

Alex Pritz takes an interesting approach. He takes his cameras into the rainforest, and builds trust with the Uru-eu-wau-wau, with whom he clearly champions. But he also films some settlers, the ones who want a home of their own. He manages to gain their trust, as well, and it's a tenuous construction. He doesn't defame the settlers, he lets them present their case, and they do seem to trust him. But the viewer never forgets which "side" Pritz is on.

COVID had an impact on the making of the film. Pritz describes this in an interview:

Having spent months prior to the pandemic working with the Uru-eu-wau-wau to develop an Indigenous media team, the pandemic forced us to put this training into action. Through contactless drops, we delivered a new set of higher quality cameras to the Uru-eu-wau-wau villages and set up a new series of online workshops in cinematography, sound, and documentary storytelling. We hired a team of Indigenous cinematographers to film themselves as they isolated themselves deep within the forest, and the results were spectacular: by removing myself from the equation, we gained a firsthand perspective into the Uru-eu-wau-wau experience that never would’ve been possible if it were filmed by outsiders. The footage coming from the Uru-eu-wau-wau was unlike anything we had shot before: intimate family moments, intense scenes of action, and an honesty in the footage that helped us connect with the characters in newfound ways.

"Intimate" perfectly describes how much of the footage of the Uru-eu-wau-wau affects us. And the willingness of Pritz and his team to turn over some of the film making to the natives demonstrates how committed he is to their point of view. It's this, perhaps, that tilts the overall impact of The Territory in favor of the Indigenous people, even as he refuses to make the settlers evil ... they are misguided, uninformed, but we understand their point of view, as well.

day of wrath (carl theodor dreyer, 1943)

This is the twelfth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 12 is called "Spirituality Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film revolving around spirituality.

Carl Theodor Dreyer occupies a special place in my film heart. I have called his The Passion of Joan of Arc the greatest silent movie of all time, and have included it on such lists as "My 50 Favorite Movies" and, more recently, "My Sight and Sound 2022 List". Day of Wrath marks the fifth Dreyer movie I have seen, and I must admit, none of them come close to Joan of Arc. I once wrote, "We can't ignore what we bring to the table. My admiration for the films of Carl Theodor Dreyer grows from his masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc. I've looked forward to seeing his other movies, but I've mostly been disappointed. Neither Vampyr, his first movie after Joan of Arc and his first talkie, nor Ordet, his penultimate feature, did much for me."

Day of Wrath is better than those others, the equal of his last movie, Gertrud. I'm glad to be able to say this. Day of Wrath bears some similarities to Joan of Arc ... it's set in the 1600s, and the setting feels authentic. Dreyer makes us believe we are in those times. The characters seem very distant from us, with our 21st-century perspective. He doesn't make the mistake of trying to force his characters into a modern conception of how people live. But where Joan of Arc, in Cocteau's words, seems like "an historical document from an era in which the cinema didn’t exist", Day of Wrath feels like a movie about the era rather than an uncanny reproduction.

While all of the characters are very much of their time and place, each reacts differently to their situation. There's a grandmother who is so pious she spends most of her time trying to find sinners, there's her son, a pastor who believes, who has faith, but fears he is sinning nonetheless, and there is a young woman, Anne, the pastor's wife, who feels trapped in the life until she meets a man (the pastor's son) with whom she falls in love. In the context of the times, a woman of sin is a witch, and eventually, the Anne is accused. We feel for her so much it hurts, and yes, our distance from that period means we feel the injustice towards a woman who just wants to live and love. But by the film's end, Anne is oddly triumphant ... odd, because she seems to claim the label of witch as her own, even as she rejects the notion of sin. Yes, she says, I am a witch, if to love is a sign of my witchery. She confesses, not to set herself straight with God, but to set herself straight with herself. Lisbeth Movin as Anne is brilliant. #266 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

the worst person in the world (joachim trier, 2021)

The story goes that Renate Reinsve had decided to give up on acting to become a carpenter. She met with Joachim Trier, and he wrote her the lead part for his new movie, The Worst Person in the World. Reinsve had done some stage work and had appeared in several Norwegian television series, but she wasn't yet a name. Trier saw something, and Reinsve has now won a couple of Best Actress awards (including one at Cannes). The film is nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Oscars, and if Reinsve is absent from the nominations list, she can take pride in being at the center of a film that is highly regarded.

Trier has said that The Worst Person in the World is a rom-com for people who hate rom-coms. Honestly, I could barely tell it was a rom-com. It is an honest look at love and relationships, how difficult they can be, and how a person can struggle in relationships when they are still finding out who they are. Needless to saw, Reinsve's character (Julie) is not the person referred to in the title, but that title does reflect how we don't always see the good things about ourselves that others recognize in us.

There is more to the film than Reinsve ... in particular, Anders Danielsen Lie is excellent. But the reason to see The Worst Person in the World is Reinsve, and the character Trier has created for her.