Whenever I see a good movie, I become happy. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. My mood changes … for the better.
I experienced that transformation last night after watching director John Michael McDonagh’s powerful, upsetting film Calvary, which concerns the self-reflection of a priest in Ireland who has been told during confession that he will be killed. There’s a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock mystery in this story, but much more Ingmar Bergman-esque philosophical rumination, and that suited me just fine. I like a picture that can think on Big Ideas without becoming pretentious. Calvary accomplished that. It pondered questions surrounding faith, good deeds and revenge. And it didn’t pull any punches. All while maintaining a good pace and strong dialogue.
Then there were the performances. Led by Brendan Gleeson as the priest, the cast was quite good, presenting a host of unpleasant characters with problems of their own. I think there were some credibility issues that were a bit difficult to believe (that Gleeson’s Father James wouldn’t immediately reveal his situation to the authorities didn’t make a lot of sense to me), but on the whole, Calvary presented an unusual situation realistically … and sympathetically. Perhaps it’s not a movie that I’d want to see again; parts were difficult to watch, and it wasn’t what I’d call cheerful. Still, it had a lot to offer, and I’m glad I got a chance to see it.
After all, it made me happy last night. And that’s not easy from a cinematic perspective.
Few films escape the pitiless skewer of parody, and The Seventh Seal is no exception. Yet as I was thinking about this black-and-white Ingmar Bergman movie today, I wondered if all the jokes are warranted. The fact is, they diminish public opinion of this great philosophical masterpiece, putting it in the attic of Works of Art That Are Too Frequently Lampooned to Be Taken Seriously Anymore.
That’s a shame, because this flick is as relevant and powerful today as it was 56 years ago.
One of the only films I’ve ever seen that evokes the fear and horror pervading the Middle Ages credibly—and done on a limited budget to boot—TSS features a stupendous central performance by Max von Sydow as an introspective knight who has returned from the Crusades to find his country ravaged by the plague. The surrounding cast, which includes Bibi Andersson and Nils Poppe as traveling actors, is brilliant, too, as is the wonderful, humor-filled (yes, humor!) script, brooding score and iconic cinematography. Of course, the black-clad, bald-headed Death also plays a part, in a memorable turn by Bengt Ekerot.
Is all of this worth making fun of? Perhaps. But I think the silliness has run its course. Now it’s time to revisit this glorious film and absorb its myriad pleasures—a bird hovering with menace in the sky, a squirrel jumping on a tree stump after Death has cut down a man trying to escape him, and the famous final “dance” in silhouette are but some of the movie’s glories. I believe it’s one of those must-watch motion pictures, and although I understand where all the jokes are coming from, I feel they hide its true worth.
So I’m going to open up this Seal again and ignore the parodies made of it. I hope it’s a start—I know it’s worth taking seriously.