Saturday 6 June 2015

Sydney Film Festival (10) - Barrie Pattison on Ingmar Bergman and Ousmane Sembene

So it’s Ingmar Bergman time again. He was the trail blazer for the art cinema peak years of the sixties, with Michelangelo Antonioni, John Cassavetes and Jean-Luc Godard all falling in behind his standard. No party was complete without an exchange of views on SMILES OF A SUMMER’S NIGHT, WILD STRAWBERRIES, THE FACE or THE SEVENTH SEAL. When I got to London, the Hampstead Everyman was in the second week of a thirteen week season. It took me about three to realise just how bad the early Bergmans were. Ever determined,  I persisted till we got to WINTER LIGHT - Pastor Gunnar won’t get it on with Ingrid Thulin because of her eczema and Max Von Sydow offs himself because the Chinese have got The Bomb. The rest was darkness...

An Ingmar Bergman retro raises some old questions. It will be interesting to see if there is a public for serving this so familiar material up again with David Stratton as the Cherry on the Smorgasbord. The generation they were aimed at may have saturated their interest and the young audience are likely to wonder what the fuss is all about. Multiplex trained, they are unlikely to relish the texture of original 35mm film.

On the other hand, a couple of years back Melbourne Festival filled up two houses for the unfamiliar, Bergman scripted Molander KVINNA UTAN ANSIKTE / WOMAN WITHOUT A FACE. The Sydney event could have used a couple of the Great Man’s writing jobs, particularly if they introduced direction by the really more talented Alf Sjöberg into the mix.

SEMBENE! (Samba Gadigo & Jason Silverman, USA/Senegal 2014)
Watching, spaced by decades, Ousmane Sembene’s impressive films, always emphasized the need for a thorough movie about the director. After seeing Sembene! I can’t help feeling we still need one. 

After seven years of  the makers’ effort, Sembene! is clearly a work of love and they put up a good case for their subject as someone who rejected his destiny, a Marseilles dock worker, coming back from Moscow training with  a used 16mm. camera in his  bag. He was not the first African to make a feature, which would ignore the decades of Egyptian production, but, as they say here, the first Sub-Saharan. This new documentary does contain slices of his films, usually in copies that don’t do justice to the excellence of the original photography - now there’s a retrospective we should have.

Hearing about the son he neglected, the apprentice whose funded  Camp du Thiaroye project he made off with and fact that his great Moolaade was made with him near blind and on a drip overnight to get the strength to go on next day, are all arresting glimpses of an extraordinary life that needs to appear in  a more cohesive framework.

We exit this one genuinely haunted by seeing Sembene’s beautiful ocean front, self -built home in ruins and workers smashing open his rusted cans.

BOROM SARRET / The Waggoner (Ousmane Sembene, Senegal, 1963)

This appealing black and white 1969 two reeler, impeccably restored, is pretty much what you would expect Ousmane Sembene’s first film to be. Cart driver Abdoulay is already having trouble feeding his family, with sponger passengers leaving him short on the needs not only of his dependents but of his horse and the squeaking wheel cart. A father who has him take the body of his dead baby to the cemetery, at which he’s refused entry, brings Abdoulay into contact with the city man wanting to be taken down town, where it is forbidden to drive. It doesn’t end well.

Nice camerawork, (steady titles), well chosen faces, unfamiliar settings and its picture of the hardships of developing Africa, the things we see in Sembene’s imposing later work, are already on show. The dodgy revoicing and occasional self conscious acting are there to indicate a beginner work. 

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