A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Torment (Alf Sjöberg, 1944)

For all the menace emitted by "Caligula" (Stig Järrel), the sadistic teacher in Alf Sjöberg's Torment, for me the most chilling moment in the film comes when young Jan-Erik Widgren (Alf Kjellin) returns home in the early hours of the morning after having slept with Bertha (Mai Zetterling), instead of staying home and studying for his upcoming exams. He slips into his darkened room and turns on the light only to find his father (Olav Riégo) sitting there. The father rises and leaves the room without a word, creating a miasma of guilt so thick you could hack chunks out of it. Torment is a deeply unsettling movie that foreshadows some of the ways its novice screenwriter, Ingmar Bergman, could cloud over even the sunniest disposition with the films he would later direct. It also anticipates Bergman's occasional resort to overkill in his own films, piling misery upon misery. He wrote the screenplay to get even with his own education, to show how the very system of schooling thwarts creativity in the name of discipline. Jan-Erik is a dutiful student who really wants to spend time practicing the violin, but he's forced into the mold provided by the system, which includes a mind-numbing drill in Latin grammar that brings out the will to power in the teacher students call Caligula. It has been suggested that Caligula, who reads a Nazi newspaper in one scene, is also a veiled portrait of the Nazi presence in officially neutral Sweden, but that's only one element in the character's sinister villainy. He's mostly a despoiler of youth, including not only handsome Jan-Erik but also the tobacco shop clerk Bertha, whom he secretly terrorizes, and when Jan-Erik falls for Bertha, Caligula makes the most of it. Torment is a disjointed film, with Sjöberg and cinematographer Martin Bodin laying on the expressionist shadows and camera angles perhaps too heavily, and it never really comes across as an indictment of the education system -- there's a cheerily forgiving teacher and the headmaster really seems to be a well-meaning man -- so much as a somewhat truncated coming-of-age melodrama.

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