Daddy Roberto and the Dark Ingmar

Fascinating double-bill at Film Forum right now, a pairing of Guy Maddin's delicious tribute to Roberto Rossellini, courtesy of Isabella, "My Dad Is 100 Years Old," and Marie Nyrerod's Bergman Island, a surprisingly candid 85-minute profile of Ingmar Bergman, who is nearing the century mark himself. (Okay, he's only 88.)

The Maddin is a little gem, a chamber piece for solo instrument, with Isabella providing all the voices -- Hitchcock, Selznick, Chaplin (well, he doesn't speak), Fellini and, luminously, her mother Ingrid Bergman. Given that it is, as the title of the Maddin short says, Roberto's centenary, one is amazed that so little has been said and done about his work. MoMA is working its way through his filmography -- and if you haven't seen these films, get your ass to 53rd Street while they are still there -- but that's been about all, except for this love letter from his adoring daughter. Of course, everything in the contemporary cinema world militates against Rossellini; it's a replay of his actual career, with the morons paying lip service to the neo-realist films while ignoring the even greater achievements of the remainder of his career. Isabella and Maddin replay all the stupidity of his detractors -- "he never moves the camera, his films are so slow, yada yada yada" -- but the joke is on the oafs whose idea of great cinema is Mel Gibson disembowelling people. (And, no, I have no interest in seeing the little Nazi bastard's latest 'epic.')

Of course, the people who never got Rossellini were the ones who always sang Ingmar Bergman's praises. Bergman, whatever you may think of him, was a director whose on-camera concerns were impossible to miss, even for the most cretinous reviewers. I won't start on Bergman here -- the man who made Persona and Smiles of a Summer Night has nothing to apologize for, not even to an agnostic like me -- but the person who emerges from Nyrerod's documentary is infinitely more complex and interesting than his art. He's a canny old party, is Ingmar, with his reclusiveness tempered by his possession of a private movie theater with a projectionist and a housemaid who comes in daily. He can even be quite funny when the mood takes him, as in his explanation of how he and an architect came to design the odd fireplace in his living room. As one might expect, the Bergman house on Faro Island is impressive but austere. Rather like the man himself, you might say.

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