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The Greatest films of all time: 8. Ivan’s Childhood (1962) (Russia)

Introduction:

When it was thought that all had already been done in cinema with the innovative and great works of Eisenstein, Vertov, Rossellini, De Sica, Kurosawa, Kalatazov, Bergman and Antonioni, and nothing more to create, it comes another great filmmaker from Russia, Andrei Tarkovsky with his masterpiece “Ivan’s Childhood”. Surprisingly at age 28 his debut film stirred up not just emotions and awakenings around the globe, but vast discussions in the realm of philosophy, sociology and history that did not spare the great French philosopher and writer, Jean Paul Sartre to write a detailed letter to the editor of the Italian newspaper “L’Unita” in response to some critics of the film, that was an article. The film impressed the great Ingmar Bergman, the most prolific filmmakers of all time (even more than Chaplin) that he wrote: “My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had, until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease.”

 

This great anti-war film, depicting heroism at the depth of loss and casualties of war with hatred and self-sacrifice was adapted from the short story of “Ivan” by Vladimir Bogomolov of 1957. Tarkovsky, the mastermind of the film who collaborated in the screenplay (but uncredited) with the author and Mikhail Papava. The great cinematographic work of Vadim Yusov who later on collaborated with Tarkovsky in his other films, perfected with the music score of the talented composer Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov who began composing from ager 9, depicted the horror and hatred of the war from an orphan child’s perspective who had lost all that he had by German Nazis. 

 

“Ivan’s Childhood” is such a visual or cinematic masterpiece that has to be detailed more than usual, though it could be discussed and taught frame by frame, but here a concise of what is minimum necessity will be discussed. At the end and before the conclusion, Jean Paul Sartre’s letter or article about the film will be first presented here in its almost totality with a brief review and discussion over it. The article from the great French and existentialist philosopher and writer of our modern time is important as he critiqued Orson Wells’ “Citizen Kane” negatively, despite being considered by many including AFI as the best American film of all time or one the top films internationally in many lists. 

A Cinematic Craft to perfection

The film right away without any titles, opens with magic surprise, the face and the look of a young boy, Ivan in a woods, with zoom focus on his face and eyes, then on the detail of the pine tree, moving up all the way, leaving the boy down in the background. The camera with a great fitting background score, examines and introduces the natural beauty of the surroundings, such as the look of a deer (like in the recent move of “Hannah”), then follows a butterfly flying around in the field, that the young Ivan follows with his eyes in joy and laughter. We see all these as we are present in the moment.

 

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The Greatest films of all time: 58. Sundays and Cybele (1962) (France)

Introduction:

Hailed as a “Miracle Film” by Bosley Crowther, the New York Times film critic for 27 years, “Sundays and Cybele” (“Sundays in the town of Avray” per its French book and the film title) is a film adaptation of the same name novel by Bernard Eschasseriaux published in 1952. The film was directed by Serge Bourguignon who also collaborated with the author in writing the script, and introduced himself to the world of cinema with his first major feature and masterpiece. Although Bourguignon did not last more than 5 years with a few more feature films, mostly commercials, lastly “Two weeks in September” in 1967 with Brigitte Bardot, his “Sundays and Cybele” was enough to make him world known, winning best foreign film award at Oscar, Blue Ribbon Awards and the National Board of Review award.

 

Most importantly the film beat “Lolita” around a similar subject that was adapted from the novel of Vladimir Nabokov of 1955, by Stanley Kubrick in the same year of 1962. While Lolita was principally about a sexual obsessive perversion of a middle-aged literature professor with the 12 years old Lolita, “Sundays and Cybele” is about an innocent friendship between Cybele, a teenager of Lolita’s age and Pierre an amnestic, post-traumatic war stressed pilot in his 30’s. Cybele being dumped by his loveless father in an orphanage, as soon as meets Pierre, pretends him to be her father so to get out of the orphanage on Sundays. So the relationship while odd and unusual, it’s innocent and not sexual or perverted. It is an uncustomary fiction of two lonely and childish souls seeking support and friendship once a week. Pierre has his own sexual relationship with his nurse, Madeleine who finally out of jealousy notifies the police of Cybele being in danger, ending in shooting Pierre to death and the anguish of Cybele.

A Film beyond the French New Wave Cinema:

The new wave of cinema in Europe in late 50’s and 60’s was an experimental opportunity for the avant garde filmmakers such as Michelangelo Antonioni to bring more depth onto the silver screen. So that was a ripe time for Serge Bourguignon to make his first major feature after the success of his short film, “Le Sourire” in 1960 about the introspection and wonders of the nature of a Buddhist monk, that won him Palm d’or at the Cannes Film Festival. 

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The Greatest films of all time: 57. West Side Story (1961) (USA)

Introduction:

It has been said here before that a great film impresses right from the start, for the first few minutes, as it does “West Side Story” from the first minute. Only second to “Singin’ in the Rain” that still needed build up more than a few minutes, “West Side Story” with its fast and engaging tempo from the start to finish still remains one of the greatest films of all time.

 

Adapted from the book of Arthur Laurents and the Broadway musical of the same name directed by Jerome Robbins, the film was directed by Robert Wise who called in Robbins also for collaboration as he did not have any experience in directing musicals. With some inspiration also from the Shakespeare’s Romeo Juliet, a better modern version addressing some American social issues beyond its musical genre, and drama nature of love and hatred. The film stars Natalie Wood in her second major feature role after “Rebel without a cause”, though she played in “Splendor on the grass” at the same year of 1961 as well. Other than her, there are no major stars in the film, but many members of the two gangs of “Sharks” and “Jets” all play well in a concerted fashion that the film needed.

 

George Chakiris (centre), US actor, in a publicity image issued for the film adaptation of ‘West Side Story’, USA, 1961. The musical, directed by Jerome Robbins (1918-1998) and Robert Wise (1914-2005), starred, Chakiris as ‘Bernardo Nunez’. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

A Great Musical Drama on the Screen:

Filmed mostly indoor and in the studio, the film opens with an amazing and novel aerial presentation of the New York City West Side neighborhood where the story happens. Then with no hesitation or build up, the musical starts with the finger snapping, an overture and prologue music score by an orchestra composed of 90 musicians (triple of its stage production) with a mix of classic and jazz instruments, conducted by Leonard Bernstein and Irwin Kostal, who changed some of the Broadway’s scores. Robert Wise with the editing of Citizen Kane in 1941 to his credit, before starting directing and already have made great works such as “The Body Snatcher” in 1945, “Born to Kill” in 1947, and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951, makes this masterpiece in 1961 and repeats another great musical, “The Sound of Music” in 1965 again in collaboration with Ernest Lehman who wrote both films’ screenplay. Jerome Robbins, a Broadway veteran with great stage works such as “Peter Pan”, “the King and I”, “Bells are Ringing”, and “Fiddler on the Roof” assisted Wise in creating this greatest musical.

The two gangs of “Jets” all white kids, and the “Sharks” all Latino immigrants from Puerto Rico, are an example of racial conflict in the New York City. Here in the film, the fights for the most part before the final conclusion, are in the form of singing and dancing challenge or preparation for the final real fight or “Rumble” happening at the end. The film being all musical action in a dramatic milieu, carries on the least unless necessary dialogues, sticking to the visual nature of cinema. Multi-colors in the costume and the surroundings adds to the visual power and impression of the film, while the score, the songs and the perfect choreographic dances complement this masterpiece.

 

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The Greatest films of all time: 56. Peeping Tom (1960)(UK)

 


Introduction:

While Hitchcock’s “Psycho” released in September of 1960 in US, and was hailed by many as a prototype of all horror films, in April of the same year another British filmmaker, Michael Powel released his masterpiece “Peeping Tom” in England. “Psycho” threw off a few critics such as Bosley Crowther of The New York Times for Hitchcock’s sleazy work (though his Psycho was more matured than “Rear Window” and “Vertigo”, wonder how they were over-rated”). “Psycho” also offended the British critic C.A. Lejeune who permanently left The Observer as a film critic. But the negative impact of “Peeping Tom” specially by the critics at the time for its horror, violence and sexual content was so huge that ended Powel’s career in England.     

Michael Powel who wrote and directed films from 1930’s mostly on the subjects of wars, opera and Ballet, and hailed and awarded by many agencies around the world, perhaps shocked almost all for “Peeping Tom” that was out of his work league and insulting to many moralistic critics. “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” of his that is ranking 34 of the greatest films of all time in our list, are followed by several other great films of his in collaboration with Emeric Pressburger, such as “49thParallel” and “One or Our Aircraft is Missing” all the three films surprisingly in the same year of 1943, “A Matter of Life and Death” and “The Red Shoes” both in 1948, “The Tales of Hoffmann” in 1951, “The Battle of the River Plate” in 1957, “Luna de Miel” in 1959 all the recognized and awarded films across the globe. 

It took more than two decades until 1981 that BAFTA (The British Academy of Films and Television Awards) forgave him for “Peeping Tom” and awarded him a fellow of the academy. This recognition now that the world of cinema had softened their moral judgments and many similar horror and anti-moral films all over the world had been made and released, followed by other agencies such as a career award of Gold Lion by the Venice Film Festival in 1982, a fellowship award by the British Film Institute (BFI) in 1983, a Honorary Doctorate Award by the Royal College of Art in 1987, Akira Kurosawa Award from San Francisco International Film Festival in 1987, and finally in recent years an English Heritage Blue Plaque in 2014. 

 

A few great filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola from the beginning recognized the genius of Michael Powell and his films, admitted his influence on their works, and “Peeping Tom” did not throw them off. Indeed Martin Scorsese has considered the film along with 81/2 of Federico Fellini as the only two films one could say about filmmaking and it painstaking process: “I have always felt that Peeping Tom and  say everything that can be said about film-making, about the process of dealing with film, the objectivity and subjectivity of it and the confusion between the two.  captures the glamour and enjoyment of film-making, while Peeping Tom shows the aggression of it, how the camera violates… From studying them you can discover everything about people who make films, or at least people who express themselves through films.”

An Unconventional Shocking Masterpiece:

The problem still to this day in appraisal, critic, awarding or disregarding a film is heavily based on the content of the film, that if pleases and of the trend of the time, would be approval and hail otherwise disapproval and disgust. That’s what exactly happened in 1960 to “Peeping Tom” and Michael Powel who could have created more great films if not judged moralistically. In fact the film portrays an example story of a serial killer and voyeuorist who can exist anywhere and at any time. But the film goes beyond telling and showing such story graphically just to frighten people for box office purposes like “Psycho”. The film analyses the character of Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) beyond his present killing obsession, probing to his past and discovering his own subject of a victim of abuse by his psychologist father from early childhood. 

His father studying “Fear” in him by frightening him in different ways such as throwing a lizard in his bed and filming his reactions, exactly like what he is doing in his adult life, filming his female victims before and after killing them. Powell with his genius of filmmaking that had been established all over the world with his previous great works, and with the assistance of his cinematographer, Otto Heller and the score of Brian Easdale creates such a celluloid milieu that’s a shocking, analyzing and understanding experience rarely seen in cinema.     

The film is seen through the camera of Mark most of the time that was an invention and originality at the time. Mark who works as a camera assistant in a film studio and as part-time photographs soft-porn female photos above a newsstand shop for sales in the shop and other similar places, re-experiencing his own childhood filming by videoing his female victims while letting them to watch their own torture and death. His subject like his scientist father whose books on Fear, Mark still has kept in his home studio is also “Fear”. The fear is also evident on his own face parallel to the frightened looks of the victim. He films throughout the process of killing and aftermath even the police investigation and carrying the victims by ambulance to the morgues.     

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The Greatest films of all time: 55. L’ Avventura (1960)(Italy)

Introduction:

While in the same year of 1960, Jean Luc Godard in France with his “Breathless” and Federico Fellini in Italy with his “La Dolce Vita” were experimenting a new wave cinema, Michelangelo Antonioni from Italy as well with his “L’Avventura” became the leader of such new cinema. Godard’s Breathless was innovative and reactionary but was an empty experience, Fellini’s La Dolce Vita was a free floating wild exploration into the petti-bourgeoisies extravagant lives with not much message and interpretation, both not leaving an impression on the mind at the time of viewing and later. Antonioni starting cinema with the master of neo-realism, Roberto Rossellini in 1942, started his innovation in 1955 with “Le Amiche” (The Girlfriends) using long shots and still frames camerawork and cinematography, opposite to the jump cuts of Godard, adding another neo-realism to the cinema. This new neo-realism looked farther deep into the inner world of humans condition, completed the outer façade of the first neo-realism movement of Rossellini and De Sica. 

Antonioni with his “L’Avventura” reached the ultimate in his new style and delved into the void, emptiness and alienation of humans, specially the middle class and rich. This is clearly shown from the opening scene in Anna (Lea Massari) who looks totally lost and alienated not just from his diplomatic father (Renzo Ricci), but from his fiancé Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), and even her girlfriend Claudia (Monica Vitti) to whom she seems to be the closest, and also to the rest of friends and crews of the yacht. She feels and is lonely and nothing makes her happy even her impulsive sexual act with her fiancé while Claudia waiting for them downstairs, so all departing for a Mediterranean cruise . She seems to be lost even to herself and obviously not understood by others, even Claudia and more so Sandro who is pushing her to get married, while she wants to be left alone, despite not desiring to lose him. Right after the rejection of her request by Sandro, she physically disappears and all the rest in fright looking for her on a small desolated rocky island where the group have just docked.

This void, emptiness inside and alienation from others are seen in other passengers as well such as Corrado (James Addams) and Giulia (Dominique Blanchar) in an opposite manner, that the man is ignorant of the woman, the only one who observes and feels her surrounding. The inner feelings of human is shown by Antonioni not through dialogue that often the film does not have much, but with its long shots and still frames cinematography that may look like a silent film. This style of filming annoyed Orson Welles who disliked Antonioni’s long shots by exclaiming “I don’t like to dwell on things. It’s one of the reasons I’m so bored with Antonioni – the belief that, because a shot is good, it’s going to get better if you keep looking at it. He gives you a full shot of somebody walking down a road. And you think, ‘Well, he’s not going to carry that woman all the way up that road.’ But he does. And then she leaves and you go on looking at the road after she’s gone.”



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The Greatest films of all time: 54.Some like it Hot (1959)(USA)

 

Introduction:

“Some like it Hot” that supposed to be filmed in color per Marilyn Monroe’s contract, was filmed and released in black and white, as it looked overdone even to the taste of Monroe, when she viewed a clip in color. Wrote and directed by Billy Wilder with the collaboration of I.A.L. Diamond on the screenplay, the film was unconventional and original in several aspects and a surprise on the screen at the end of 1950’s when released. Wilder who started his film career in screen writing from late 20’s grew as a filmmaker by early 1940’s with great films such as “Double Indemnity” in 1944, “The Lost Weekend” a year later, “Sunset Boulevard” in 1950, “Ace in the Hole” a year later, “Stalag 17” in 1953, “Sabrina” and “The Sven Year Itch” in two years in a row, “Some like it Hot” in 1959, “The Apartment” a year later, and “The Fortune Cookie” in 1966. Although his last feature was “Buddy Buddy” in 1981, he was not productive much from the mid 60’s. He wrote almost all of his films’ screenplays as well to the end, but studios did not hire him much since the age of 60’s that soured him, but he lived long to the age of 95.

Critical of too much camera work and cinematography of Hitchcock and Orson Welles, Wilder remained a story teller and script director. But he was one of the best whose style of story telling on the screen delighted even the toughest film critics and he was forgiven for not producing much of camera work and cinematography. Therefore Wilder was another live example of great filmmakers who proved there is no rigid and pre-defined format for any art including cinema, as long as the piece flows smoothly, attracts, entertains and accolades. Wilder was also an actor director who in “Some like it Hot” was able to get the best performance from the three popular actors of the time. While the film won many accolades all over the world including Golden Globe Awards, British Academy Film Awards, National Board of Review Awards, Writers Guild of America Awards, and Laurel Awards, it lost for the best film, director and actor at Academy Awards to the religious epic “Ben Hur”.

Beyond a Comedy

“Some like it Hot” has been hailed by many and awarded mainly in comedy category, but the film is beyond just a comedy. Its opening scene is happening in the prohibition era of 1929, with a mob car carrying a coffin full of booze chased and attacked by a police car in a relentless shooting. So at the start, the film appears as a gangster movie with thrilling car chasing and drifting. Then its comedy flavor shows soon when the bullets  makes holes in the coffin and the whiskies start dripping out, when the two funny and exaggerated looking mobs stare at each other in surprise.

When the police captain first in disguise breaks into the funeral parlor where liquor-full coffin was carried in, we are back in the real Chicago in the prohibition era, where in the back room of the funeral home, there is an extravagant and illegal booze, music, dance and gambling party. Here for the first time we see Jack Lemon (Jerry) and Tony Curtis (Joe) as two musicians on cello and sax playing in a band. They are the first who see the police captain’s badge and just before the raid, they pack to flee. 

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The Greatest films of all time: 53.12 Angry Men (1957)(USA)

 

Introduction:

“12 Angry Men” is a film that set the foundation for the courtroom trial films, challenging the legal justice beyond “the reasonable doubt”, and the forefather of the single set films. “12 Angry Men” is in fact a play of 96 minutes that happen in a jury room other than a few minutes of the opening and ending scene. It proved that a single set and all dialogue film could be displayed on the cinema screen and still be powerful, gripping, heart pounding and cinematic. With the power of examination and logical arguments, the film could be a teaching example for the students of law as it was influential on the Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor in pursuing her career in law.

Adapted from a play by Reginald Rose who also wrote the screenplay, the film was directed by Sidney Lumet as his first major feature debut. As another example of power of acting, the film starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G.Marshal, , Ed Begley and Jack Warden is a tout de force of performance. A box office disappointment at the time, the film was hailed by the critics from the start to this day, winning the Golden Bear Award at the 7thBerlin International Film Festival, lost to the patriotic war film of The Bridge over the River Kwai for the best director, best picture and best screenplay.   

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt:

A trial film outside the courtroom, in a jury room, with nameless characters, the jurors by numbers, the others by descriptions, e.g. the boy, the father, the old man, etc., “12 Angry Men” is a prototype film on several fronts. An obvious crime to all the witnesses and the 12 jurors, except one, the film implicitly is critical of the judicial system. A system that its verdict could be swayed one way or the other, costing the life of a person. The juror 8, played convincingly by Henry Fonda, with his always quiet and calm acting at the outset of casting verdict, goes against the others, just to have a reasonable discussion before sending a boy who killed his father to the execution. 



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The Greatest films of all time: 52.Wild Strawberries (1957)(Sweden)

Introduction:

“Wild Strawberries” of Ingmar Bergman is another metaphorical and philosophical film masterpiece, like “The Seventh Seal” surprisingly both created in the same year of 1957. This was only possible at the hands of Bergman whose prolific and excessively productive life career could achieve such, unheard before in the history of cinema. “The Seventh Seal” dealt with a nation or continent at the medieval period of European history, lost faith through the deception of the papacy, casting the doom of death on their people by war added to epidemic death befell on them by  plague. At a parallel philosophical and metaphorical with a hue of surrealism, “Wild Strawberries” addresses the life of an achieved human, who despite all his knowledge, fame and accomplishments, at the end looking back at his life in the search of true meaning of his existence. While “The Seventh Seal” is more metaphysical and philosophical depicting the search of human lost in faith for the ultimate truth of God, life and death, “Wild Strawberries” is more psychological and philosophical in the search of the meaning of an individual in a lifetime, while it could be generalized to all.

In search of the meaning of one’s life and seeking Redemption:

Isak Borg (Victor Sjostrom), a retired medical scientist after telling his life story briefly as a narrator in the opening scene, dreams in his sleep, getting lost in the streets when out for his daily walk. He notices the street clock has lost its hands, so was his pocket watch, as time has lost its momentum. Wandering around, he runs into a faceless man, who by his light touch falls down and breaks to bleed. Then a carriage carrying a coffin passes by him, but its wheel breaks off and the coffin rolls off to the street. He approaches to the coffin, where a hand of a dead man is out and suddenly grabs him, when he notices it is him, dead. This Freudian dream that its interpretation is inherent in the opening image of the film, is a prologue to the rest of the film about the search for the true meaning of one’s life, or what has been really important in an individual’s life, with an introspection and looking back at the end.    

Waking up from his alarming dream, professor Isak suddenly decided to drive his car to the ceremony of an honorary award to him at the university instead of the pre-arranged flight to the destination, that disturbs his housekeeper, the old Ms. Agda (Jullan Kindahl) who has been in his service over 40 years. His daughter-in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Tulin) who has been staying with him for a brief period, wakes up while him having breakfast and asks to accompany him in the car as she had decided to go back home. We find out later, when the professor stops by his parents’ old summer cottage to refresh his past memories why he suddenly decided to drive to the ceremony than to fly.

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The Greatest films of all time: 51.The Seventh Seal (1957)(Sweden)

 

Introduction:

“The Seventh Seal” of Ingmar Bergman that won the Jury special prize at Cannes Film Festival in 1957 is a start of the Swedish filmmaker’s metaphorical, allegorical and poetic film style for the first time into the world of cinema. Although Surrealism in cinema starting in the silent era with “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” of Robert Wiene, then “Un Chien Andalou” of Luis Bunuel had brought an intellectual format and content to the art of film, it was not until Bergman when cinema started to become a medium of intellectual experiments and expressions. This started with “The Seventh Seal” and followed in the same year of 1957 with “Wild Strawberries” by Bergman himself again, until other filmmakers worldwide, such as Michealngelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, and Jean Luc Goddard among others followed the suit in their own fashions.

 

But Ingmar Bergman’s prolific career, spanning from 1938 with a theatrical production at age 20 until 2003 with his last feature, Saraband and his last radio theatre show in 2004 at age 86, just three years before his death at age 89 is unmatched. With 45 feature films directing, with 50 screenplays, 24 documentaries, 11 television films, and more than 150 theatrical and radio shows, Bergman is the most active directors of all time. Not just for his extreme activities, producing more than one work every single year in different media, he is perhaps the only filmmakers who has had hands on any genres, from drama, to comedy, thriller, fantasy, action, and on different subject matters of philosophy, psychology, metaphorical, poetic, and more. He has created his own original styles and work such as in “The Seventh Seal”, but also has directed many adaptations of great classics on stage and radio from Shakespeare to Albert Camus, Verdi, Tennessee Williams, Cervantes, Edward Albee, Eugene O’Neil, and many more.

 

Bergman is also one of the very few filmmakers with more than a few masterpieces such as “The Seventh Seal”, “Wild Strawberries”, “The Virgin Spring”, “The Pleasure Garden”, “Persona”, “The Passion of Anna”, “Cries and Whispers”, “Scenes from a Marriage”, “The Magic Flute”, “Autumn Sonata”, “Fanny and Alexander”, and his last feature “Saraband” at age 84. He is also one of the few who deservedly won three times the best foreign films at the Academy Awards, one Golden Bear from Berlin Film Festival, one Cesar award, seven awards from Cannes Film Festival, six best foreign film awards from Golden Globe, and seven Guldbagge awards from the Swedish Film Festival. Bergman has also made several of great Swedish actors known to the world, such as Bibi Anderson, Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Tulin, Harriett Anderson, Jorgen Lindstrom, Victor Sjostrom, and more.         

Fear of Death or longing for the Truth:

It has been suggested by some critics that “The Seventh Seal” is an existential nihilistic perspective on life. But Bergman’s films such as this and “Wild Strawberries” that somewhat related, are not nihilistic in the philosophical sense of this school of thought to believe life void of any objective meaning, so to be skeptical and pessimistic like Kierkegaard. In fact as we read further into the story of the film, there have been feelings of deception and betrayal through the crusades by the papal rules, sending the knights to fight in the name or for the glory of God, while hiding the truth and the real intention of the religious wars in the medieval time. 

 

The knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) and his squire (Gunnar Bjornstrand) return home after long years of crusades in the 14thcentury to witness their homeland Sweden like many other parts of Europe has been ravaged by the Black Plague. With this opening text introduction, the film opens with a big black bird, symbol of doom, flying over in a cloudy sky in the black and white color, with another following text prologue:

“And when the lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in the heaven, about the space of half an hour. Then the seven angels prepared their seven trumpets to sound”. This passage from the book of “Revelation”, the last chapter of the New Testament, anticipating the end of the world or “Apocalypse”. 

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The Greatest films of all time: 7. The Cranes Are Flying (1957) (Russia)

Introduction:

It took almost 30 years until someone applied some of the multitude of the camera and cinematographic techniques of Dziga Vertov in “Man with a movie camera” into a film with storyline. That one surprisingly came once again from Russia and was Mikhail Kalatozov who masterfully from the start to end used camera, cinematography, hence the powerful visual effects of cinema into a gripping melodrama. “The Cranes Are Flying”, a sweet love story in blooming, withers by the start of invasion of the Nazis to Russia, along with the loss of many other dreams, hopes and lives. The only Soviet film to win the Palme d’Or, the grand prize of the Cannes Film Festival, was written by Victor Rozov, cinematography by Sergey Urusevsky and Mikhail Kalatozov and the music score of Moisey Vaynberg. Unfortunately film itself not as much as the film’s main protagonist, Tatyana Samojlova who played the role of Veronika, the young beautiful broken hearted lover attracted the attention of the western critics and millions of Europeans at the time.

 

An Ultimate Cinematic Experience:

The Georgian Mikhail Kalatozov changed many professions before starting his film career as an actor and later on a cinematographer, before directing films. He first experimented his talent in several documentaries before creating his first major feature, “The Cranes Are Flying”. Then he made a few others, “The unsent letter” (1959), “I Am Cuba” (1964), and “The Red Tent” (1969). Surprisingly and despite its great win at the Cannes’, the film was mostly an accolade even by the critics for its sensitive and heart breaking story, the captivating beauty, gentleness and superb acting of Tatyana Samojlova, and not much for its great filmmaking. The simple free hand-held camera and cinematographic work of Sergey Urusevsky is an exemplary piece of filmmaking.

 

The film opens with un-feared well-fed extreme camera shots from different angles, long and close up like “Man with a movie camera”, but not for a cinematic experiment, but conveying emotions and the love relationship of a young couple, Veronika (Tatyana Samojlova) and Boris (Aleksey Batalov). Right from the start we see how the camera and cinematography used to portray feelings, first joy and happiness, then loss, failure, guilt, disappointment, disgust, confusion, hatred, humanity, belonging, dedication and more. The camera work and cinematography like the tempo and the emotions in the film is uninterrupted all the way from the start to finish, with the acting and music score all complement each other.

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