Monday, February 1, 2010

The Darjeeling Limited


The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson's fifth film, is built around a metaphor so blunt and on-the-nose, so obvious, that it's either ridiculous or brilliant. A trio of brothers — Francis (Owen Wilson), Jack (Jason Schwartzman) and Peter (Adrien Brody) — have been feeling lost and aimless following the death of their father. They meet up a year later in India, taking a trip around the country while lugging around the huge collection of luggage left behind by their father after his death and divided amongst the three brothers. Yes, they're carrying around the baggage of the past, the baggage that represents their relationship with their father, with their distant, flighty mother (Anjelica Huston), and with each other. It's fairly naked symbolism, handled with Anderson's characteristic wit and attention to detail. The luggage — all matching pieces in orangish brown with fanciful designs and their father's initials embossed on the cover — stands for everything that's preventing these brothers from functioning properly, as people or as brothers.

Jack is plagued by a troubled relationship with his ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman), whose continuing hold on his mind and emotions is demonstrated in the short film, Hotel Chevalier, that serves as "part one" of The Darjeeling Limited. Peter is running away from his pregnant wife, afraid to face the responsibility of fatherhood even though he says he loves his wife; it's obvious that he's been scarred by his experience of family life and doesn't think he can handle a new family of his own. Francis, for his part, got in a car accident and spends the entire film in bandages; he lets slip only late in the film, in that typically offhand Anderson way, that he crashed on purpose, meaning to kill himself. Before that, he takes his bandages off and observes his still scarred face, dryly noting, "I guess I still have some healing to do." It's the kind of dual-meaning line that is perhaps a little too pat, a little too direct in its resonances. Like the use of the dead father's baggage as a metaphor for, well, baggage, lines like this make the film's themes — recovering from the past, the wounds caused by family, the struggle to come to terms with one's self — seem like Hallmark sentiments, too cute and clever to really cut deeply the way Anderson no doubt intends.

That's an accusation lobbed at Anderson's cinema in general, of course, but The Darjeeling Limited seems to take this particular aspect of his work to an extreme that's a bit hard to take. When the three brothers try and fail to save an Indian boy from drowning in a river, it's a turning point in their relationship and in their vision of themselves, a moment when they finally experience something beyond themselves, beyond their egocentric fascination with their own small problems. It should feel monumental and sad; instead, at the funeral for the boy, Anderson shoots the three brothers walking in slo-mo through a scenic panorama, while a jaunty Kinks tune plays on the soundtrack. It's a favored device for Anderson, whose use of music is generally impeccable, but here the tone is all off. He doesn't seem to have the gravitas to handle a moment like this, which is odd from the director who treated the attempted suicide of Luke Wilson's character in The Royal Tenenbaums — set to Elliott Smith, a perfect choice — with a raw energy and intensity that is much missed here. None of this film's characters or situations have that same weight or impact, perhaps because they too easily descend into the kitschy, finicky excesses that mark Anderson's worst moments as a director.


None of this is to say that The Darjeeling Limited is a complete failure, because it's far from it. It's simply the first Wes Anderson movie where the long-held complaints of his detractors seem appropriate. The movie is never less than enjoyable, but it's also a bit hollow, a bit superficial, especially in its treatment of the entire country of India and all its people as a symbolic background onto which these troubled white men can write their own problems and insecurities. To some extent, the film mocks this kind of outlook, particularly in the way the obsessive, detail-oriented Francis plans out an entire step-by-step itinerary for their supposedly spiritual journey. It's like they see the route to enlightenment and self-fulfillment as a process that comes with written instructions, that they can simply follow the steps and they'll be reborn. India is thus just a background for them, a symbol of purity and spirituality, a whole country that they can use to help them become better people. It would be a potent critique if Anderson wasn't often guilty of the same thing, using the scenery and the people as props, especially in the funeral scene, in which the death of this boy merely serves as a way of forcing these brothers, finally, to deal with the death of their father, whose funeral is intercut as a flashback into the funeral of the Indian boy.

Still, The Darjeeling Limited does have many of the charms and pleasures of Anderson's better work, as his usual eye for detail results in many subtle interconnections. He uses objects to probe character and set up events better than anyone, as in the scene where the three brothers begin buying things at an outdoor market, and these objects (Peter's shoes and snake, Jack's mace) resonate throughout the rest of the film, triggering various incidents and adding to the richness of the film's texture. The film is centered around objects, and some of the best scenes involve the brothers bickering over the things their father left behind. Peter, in his grief, has been gathering up various small reminders of their father and using them for himself: sunglasses, a razor, a lighter. This doesn't sit well with Francis, who keeps making a gift of and then demanding back a ridiculously expensive belt which Peter finally throws at his brother's already-wounded face. The scene culminates in a hilarious, out-of-control, nearly slapstick chase/fight when Jack gets some use out of the pepper spray gun he'd bought in the market.

Anderson also gets a lot of comic mileage out of Jack's writing, which Jack insists is fictional even though his brothers read it and recognize direct autobiographical accounts of their own lives. This pays off at the end when Jack reads aloud from a story that, in fact, is a direct translation of some dialogue from Hotel Chevalier, and he finally admits that his stories are factual. Like most of Anderson's best moments, it's both funny and poignant, a reflection of this character's continuing obsession with the past. It's also one of several callbacks that more or less validates the function of the slick Hotel Chevalier, which doesn't stand alone from its companion film very well at all. There's definitely an undeniable kick, though, when Jack in Darjeeling Limited turns on his iPod to a certain Peter Sarstedt tune that is, apparently, his seduction music of choice.

This film suggests how thin the line is in Anderson's cinema between deeply felt emotionalism and a mere accumulation of mannered tics. The Darjeeling Limited crosses back and forth across that line several times, occasionally mining the same moody, complicated depths as Anderson's other features, but more often coming across as a shallow imitation of his best work.

30 comments:

Kevin J. Olson said...

Great review, Ed. Obviously we have completely different feelings on the funeral scene as I recently wrote about it -- and other Anderson music choices -- on the blog. I was struck by how much the film I liked the second time around. I remember feeling the same way you do when I saw it in the theater, the sense that "okay, now Anderson's detractors have some valid ammunition"; however, my recent viewing seemed to show me all the things I missed initially, and I was rather caught up in the journey (except for the scenes with Anjelica Houston...the film feels long despite only being about 90 minutes, and that sequence is a big reason why) of three brothers.

I especially had forgotten that funeral scene, which is for my money one of the best musical segments Anderson has filmed (I agree with you about the use of Elliot Smith in Tenenbaums and I also loved his use of Sigur Ros in the final moments of The Life Aquatic).

That being said I understand where you're coming from here with your review. I think it's one of Anderson's lesser works, but it has some great moments that I had forgotten about, and I think the use of music and the symbolism of the baggage -- for as heavy handed as it is -- makes for an interesting, 90 minute comedy about three brothers trying to forget the past and mend the brokenness of their lives .

DavidEhrenstein said...

I agree that The Darjeeling Limited is a disappoinment. Largely because Wes is running in place rather than striking out into new territory. That he does in Hotel Chevalier, and it's a shame it was separated from the rest of Darjeeling Limited This was largely a result of Natalie Portman freaking out over all the attention she got when it was put up on YouTube. Wes tells me she had no compunction about taking her clothes off, but was unexpectedly startled by the result.


The Kinks song, "This Time Tomorrow" is utilized to considerably beteer effect in Garrel's Les Amants Reguliers.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's the Garrel scene.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's part 1 of Hotel Chevalier.

DavidEhrenstein said...

And here's part 2

Andrew Gilbert said...

Your thoughts hit the mark for me, one of the most prevalent and least discussed issues in Anderson's films is his un-critical use of White privilege. He seems to have no qualms with employing the tenants of Orientalism much the same way as Truffaut's rampant imperialism. His work is similar to Woody Allen's sanitized worldview of intellectuals, where nothing else exists or matters.

However, I thought the diamond in the rough was the Barbet Schroeder cameo. The entire car sequence was great.

Ed Howard said...

Kevin, I saw your great post about Anderson's use of music, so I know you loved that scene. But to me it just seemed so completely off, so representative of the worst flippant moments in Anderson's career: instead of the deep emotion that sequence so badly needed, it felt way too cute and upbeat. You called these scenes in Anderson's oeuvre "music videos," but to me it felt more like a commercial, just as Hotel Chevalier, despite David's praise for it, felt like an iPod commercial with nudity.

Like David, I thought this film was basically Anderson running in place, not advancing or trying anything new. Fantastic Mr. Fox, on the other hand, was great fun, even though I'm not sure that was actually so fresh either — but at least Anderson was experimenting with stop-motion in that one.

Agreed, Andrew. One of my biggest problems with the Orientalism issue was that Anderson seemed acutely aware of it and kept trying to take a satirical perspective on the whole thing, but still kept falling into those traps anyway.

Carson said...

It's nice to read a review that articulates my own thoughts about this film, which I agree is Anderson's weakest work. However, I do think it is visually stunning, with as succinct and focused a color palette as any of his films. Yet his visual style does seem to feel cheap and Orientalist when placed into the environment of India in this way.

Ed Howard said...

Thanks, Carson. I definitely agree it's a good-looking film and not without its charms, especially visually. The performances are fairly strong, as well. It's just not enough to compensate for its limitations in other areas.

DavidEhrenstein said...

What's fresh about Fantastic Mr. Fox (besides the animation) is the addition of George Clooney to the mix.

Doniphon said...

I gotta dissent here, Ed. I think Darjeeling is as good as anything Anderson has done, and I really disagree with your characterization of Anderson's orientalism. He is, in some sense, using India as a prop, but he's not only self-aware but self-critical. The movie is Jack's "fiction," and if he were to step back and sermonize and say, "You know...we're really applying our own abstract conception of Eastern spirituality upon these people," that would be pretty disingenuous, and certainly detrimental to the narrative of the picture.

Andrew Gilbert, you compared Anderson to Truffaut and Allen, which I guess is fair, but I admire his willingness to make movies about what he knows, about his own sometimes rather unattractive experiences and those of his peers, warts and all. By telling specifically from a white privileged perspective, and doing so pretty unflinchingly, he reveals the stark biases and prejudices of that viewpoint. He could easily obfuscate them, or put in some liberal PC bait to wow the critics, but he intentionally does not. That's ballsy, and I admire him for it.

Andrew Gilbert said...

Doniphon, I have to disagree. Anderson's films are one more link in a chain of cinema that is fascinated by the experience of the American white male. This does not mean that white men should be denied expression, but I feel that Anderson, as a derivative filmmaker, not only recapitulates the aesthetics of classical filmmaking, but their attitudes toward patriarchy as well.

I compare Anderson to Allen and Truffaut primarily because all three are guilty of a lack of self-criticism. While I'm interested to hear more on your argument of Darjeeling, I fail to see it as anything more than another pseudo-intellectual pandering to the audience who primarily goes to see these films because they are "smart". While Anderson is capable of moments of great emotional depth, in my opinion he has yet to truly challenge or interact with his audience in regards to class, race, or gender. I also agree with you on if he spelled it out it would indeed be disingenuous, but I also feel sweeping it under the rug is too.

Ed Howard said...

Doniphon, that's an interesting argument, and one I've seen other critics making regarding this film as well. I wasn't looking for it to be preachy or anything like that, I wasn't looking for the characters to step back and acknowledge their own biases; that'd be annoying and completely out of character. The point is that they don't think about this stuff. And, as I noted, I did think Anderson was at least aware of the Orientalist issues in this material: it's just that at the same time he was just doing the same things all over again. It's a pretty thin line between revealing prejudices and simply indulging in them, and I don't think he did a very good job of maintaining the right balance.

That said, I do disagree with the implicit thrust of Andrew's argument, that all white male directors should be obliged to challenge race, gender and class, just because they're white males. For example, I've always thought that Woody Allen has been unfairly criticized for telling stories almost exclusively about white upper-class privileged people. I don't think Woody needs to start telling stories about black people or anything like that, as if he'd have anything to say if he did. But if, like Anderson, you're going to set your film in India and make it all about white people interacting with Indian culture, then you do have that obligation to address these issues in more than the superficial way he does here.

Jason Bellamy said...

Solid analysis, my friend.

I haven't seen this film since its release and I can't remember if I agree with you or Kevin about the funeral scene. I remember being blown away by the drowning, but I can't remember if that carried over afterward or if I felt the song cheapened it. I know I felt something, so one of you is right on. The rest of the film, however, was mostly emotionless for me (despite a few notable exceptions). The Anjelica Huston scenes were especially awkward, in my opinion. I think Anderson is in love with her the way he is with Bill Murray and thinks that anytime the camera finds her that the scene is gold.

Where I differ with you, though, is in relation to Hotel Chevalier which I found and, upon rewatching, still find, to be absolutely devastating. It's filled with more emotion than I found in all of Darjeeling, which I figured was part of the problem. The short film set me up to expect more.

I still don't know where I stand with Anderson. My affection for Royal Tenenbaums hasn't faded despite the number of films he's made since exploring similar themes with similar aesthetics, so I know I can connect with him. But too often I appreciate the detail of his films but just don't feel much of anything.

Doniphon said...

Andrew, our approaches to this film, and probably cinema in general, appear radically different, so if I misinterpret something you have said please set me straight (your comment here is fairly loaded).

First of all, you state Anderson is a derivative director. Fair enough, but all filmmakers are derivative. Perhaps because the Godard influence is so apparent, you want him to embrace his thematic and political concerns as well, but just because Anderson doesn't does not make his cinema irrelevant. You say that he is just one more link in a chain of white male filmmakers promoting a specific political attitude; it could just as easily argued that any filmmaker that uses, say, the close-up is merely another link in a chain promoting a specific aesthetic attitude. It's true, but again, it in no way invalidates his oeuvre.

The fact is that Anderson is a white male. I agree with what Ed said about Allen, and I think it applies to Anderson. Anderson does not make movies about black people, he wouldn't know how to make movies about black people, and he probably doesn't understand black people (or brown people or Asian people or white people of another class, such as the bald assistant or the mechanic in Darjeeling...that's why they're peripheral). He'd be like Royal trying to talk jive to Danny Glover--he'd come across like an ass (well, a different kind of ass, anyway, and a far less interesting one).

And I completely disagree with you that there is a lack of self-criticism. These guys self-medicate, they're absurdly materialistic, they're stupid, they're disrespectful, they try to screw the stewardess for no other reason than that they're bored, and, as we've pointed out, they can't relate to anyone who isn't white and rich. But they're not caricatures. At one point, Brody says that he doesn't want to have the kid because he always assumed he'd get divorced. Honestly, if anyone ever told me that, my first thought would be, wow, you're a terrible person. But Anderson denies us that kind of cheap, knee-jerk reaction by humanizing these characters and forcing us to recognize that they are real people too.

Ed, you're right. They don't think about this stuff, but Anderson does. It's staring them in the face, and just because he doesn't moralize doesn't mean he isn't aware of how deficient these characters are in serious respects. We discussed Haneke on Jake's blog once, and how I thought he was a minor filmmaker compared to Hitchcock and De Palma because there was no self-implication in his work, that it was all cheap finger-pointing. I don't think Anderson is cinematically comparable to Hitch and De Palma, but his is a self-implicative cinema as well.

Adam Zanzie said...

Ed,

An amazingly well-worded critique that, for my money, is completely valid. Speaking as an admirer of the film, I confess that it's because I appreciate Wes Anderson's quirkier, exploratory side more than his down-to-Earth, serious stories about domestic American lives. Specifically, I prefer The Darjeeling Limited and Fantastic Mr. Fox to both Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums because I love how Anderson has let his imagination run wild in these last two films (haven't seen Bottle Rocket or all of Life Aquatic). That being said, like Jason, I don't entirely know what I think of Anderson. A great director, to be sure, but I'm not yet a superfan.

Some great quotes in the film, too. Wilson: "Did you just f--- that Indian girl!??" Or Brody: "Where's the goddamn battery charger?" At the same time, though the film is most effective as a comedy, I think Kevin is right about the Anjelica Huston scenes. It bothered me that when the sons ask her why she didn't go to the dad's funeral, all Anderson can have her say is, "I wasn't interested", or something like that. I wanted more.

I do agree with the part in your review when you dismiss Hotel Chevalier as a companion piece to the feature film, because it really does not go along well with it. The short film feels like one of Anderson's more serious films, and Darjeeling really is not.

I think Doniphon is right when he insists that Anderson was wise to simply take the white man's point of view. I can't imagine this film with Indian characters in the roles; actually, I can't imagine Anderson at all making a film with Indian protagonists. The humor would hardly translate well.

Hollywood still hasn't found its footing on India: I still think Lean's A Passage to India is the greatest example of a Western analysis of Indian culture. Attenborough's Gandhi and, yes, Anderson's Darjeeling are worthy as well, in my opinion. And as stereotypical as it may be, I eat Spielberg's Temple of Doom all up, tasteless inaccuracies and everything.

Back to Darjeeling, though. Can we at least all agree that it's a better movie than, say, Slumdog Millionaire?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Doniphon, Quentin Tarantino is one who's like Royal talking jive to Danny Glover. He is the Whitest of the White, yet everyone claims he's the hippest of the hip.

AS IF!!!!

Ed Howard said...

Jason, I think I agree about Huston. I really wanted more out of those scenes and I got the impression that, after building up to a meeting with the elusive mother throughout the whole film, Anderson wasn't sure what to do once the brothers actually got there. It was surprisingly lackluster. But then again, I thought the same thing about much of Hotel Chevalier, which everyone seems to love.

Adam, I agree with you that the film works best as a comedy, for sure. No doubt about it: it's got some really funny lines and scenes, whatever else you may think about it. At times, I could just forget my reservations and enjoy the patter or the near-slapstick interactions of the three brothers. It may be Anderson's weakest film thus far, but it's still not without its charms.

Andrew Gilbert said...

My apologies for sounding so abrasive, but I should clarify I few statements I've made.

1. In regards to "derivative" cinema, I in no way mean this as a pejorative. Agreed, all cinema is derivative, but my loose definition here concerns the work of filmmakers who unapologetically rely on pastiche as their style: Anderson, Tarantino, P.T. Anderson, Carlos Reygadas, et al.

2. Doniphon, we do have different approaches to film, but all the more reason to have this great conversation. I am disappointed when politics overrun all aesthetic understanding of film, but I strongly believe both should be discussed hand-in-hand. Anderson has been a gateway filmmaker for me, but I find most critical discussion of his work is black and white, which is why I'm totally digging this conversation.

3. My criticisms of 'white male privilege' are not meant to disqualify any filmmaker who takes that issue as their subject, I feel that Anderson's best work (Rushmore, Life Aquatic) are more aware of the complexities of their peripheral characters. In relation to Woody Allen, I think both filmmaker's body of work create a narrow hyper reality, where overall the immediate emotional issues trump any other statements the filmmakers attempt to make, which for me, makes them seem weak.

I'm not advocating for a PC cinema with token characters, but the worldviews purported by Anderson and Allen are almost entirely white intellectuals, everything else serves as comic relief such as the throwaway Indian characters in Anderson's films and the Italian stereotypes of Allen's.

Many of my favorite filmmakers harbor dubious political agendas and these should not disqualify them as great artists, but Allen and Anderson have made a career making "intelligent" films, I think this has more to do with literacy of their characters than any sub-textual or aesthetic merits, a problem handed down from Bergman. Does talking about smart things make these filmmakers smart? Sometimes I feel this attitude overshadows critically looking at how they portray their supporting characters and what can be taken from such a reading.

Ed Howard said...

I'm loving this conversation, too. I think both Andrew and Doniphon have some good points, though I'd probably place myself somewhere in the middle on this particular debate. However, I do want to respond to part of Andrew's latest post, because I don't think that either Wes Anderson or Woody Allen can be reduced to "talking about smart things" without aesthetic or thematic merit to their films. There's no doubt that both directors work within narrow ranges, and that their films are more about the emotions and experiences of their characters than about any big ideas or, certainly, any political content. They both tell stories, mostly but not always about guys, in which relationships, the past, the search for maturity, and philosophical uncertainty are the themes. It's a narrow range, maybe, but it's one that I'd argue they've both mined in interesting ways, and gotten a lot of mileage out of: Woody for far longer than Wes, obviously.

One interesting comparison I'm surprised no one's brought up, since we're talking about Woody and Wes, is Vicky Cristina Barcelona in relation to Darjeeling Limited. Both films are about virtually the same thing: white Americans visiting an "exotic" foreign land in search of some experience that they hope will help them overcome whatever limitations and dissatisfactions are present in their own lives. Both films are about people writing their inner struggles onto an exterior landscape. Woody's film, though, seems (to me anyway) more subtle and smart about it. It still has the stereotypical foreigners and the scenic backdrops, but the difference is that Woody's film ends with a searing indictment of its flitty title characters: we stare into their blank eyes as they leave Spain, and realize that their whole experience there was just a romantic fantasy, a tourist's postcard, and that's it. Anderson seems to want to have it both ways: to mock and critique the brothers for their tourism and shallowness, but also to suggest that they do in fact have some kind of spiritually enlightening experience in India.

bill r. said...

I'd like to point out -- and pardon me if this has been said, because I haven't read all the comments yet -- but the Kinks song in the funeral scene isn't "This Time Tomorrow", but rather "Strangers". Not only would I not call that song "jaunty" (though it is melodic), but that title sure seems to indicate a lot.

I thought the funeral scene was absolutely beautiful. I thought Wilson, Schwartzman and Brody all looked like -- rather their characters look like -- they felt so awkward, but were honored to be there (they're strangers, after all) that they just wanted to not screw up. It's one of my favorite scenes in any of Anderson's films.

bill r. said...

Ack. Typos. Bad grammar. Phoo.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Bill's correct. The Kink's song is "Strangers", and I like what you say, Bill, that the lyrics (and the title) suggest something deeper...which I think is the case with most of Anderson's music moments. (I just wrote about this a week ago on my blog and listed some of the lyrics to the Kink's song that accompanies the funeral scene. It's a powerful moment, IMHO).

DavidEhrenstein said...

"This Time Tomorrow" is used at the beginning of the film. It's what's playing as Bill Murray fails to catch the train.

bill r. said...

I know, David, but I thought -- mistakenly, apparently -- that, since the funeral scene was under discussion, that you were referring to that Kinks song.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The Kinks were THE 60's group. Far more than The Beatles or the Stones.

In Warhol's Vinyl (1965) Edie dances to The Kinks.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Terry met Julie. . .

Doniphon said...

This is kind of long. Sorry.

David, I always thought Tarantino being characterized as hip was odd simply because his position is so detached and comical. His repetitive and preposterous use of nigger in Pulp Fiction was intentionally calling attention to the amusingly ridiculous position he was in as both a consumer of pop culture and a pop entertainer in his own right. Yes, he is whiter than white, but he knows it, and exploits it gleefully.

Andrew, I write just as abrasively. We are discussing something I am sure we both love and care deeply about, and even if we do it passionately, I think we can assume we are arguing from positions of mutual respect for each other's. I love debate and disagreement as much as anyone. The filmmakers you list certainly rely on pastiche, but that is not a recent phenomenon, as I'm sure you now, and can be traced back to Bogdanovich and De Palma, if not Godard and Truffaut, and Hollywood has a long history of genre pastiche (Sherlock Jr!). I hear what you're saying about politics and aesthetics, and although I pride myself for approaching cinema aesthetically, I recognize that telling someone to just enjoy the craftsmanship is a pretty futile plea, and that to imply that politics and aesthetics can be separated in a linear way is very misleading. The most recent example of that, for me, was Avatar, a movie whose truly odious moral implications prevented me from appreciating what might have been visually compelling (I also maintain that 3-D was and always will be fundamentally anti-cinematic).

So, I think I pretty much I agree with you up to there. The final part of your comment, however, is pretty contentious. You question the labelling of Anderson and Allen as "intelligent" filmmakers simply because their characters are literate. But, if anything, Anderson and Allen are revealing how stupid intellectuals are (a tradition more in line with Rohmer than Bergman). Anderson's and Allen's characters are people far too clever for their own good, and it's their very literateness that prevents them from existing practically within this world. Anderson and Allen aren't considered intelligent because their characters read Sartre; these directors are considered intelligent because they reveal how reading it doesn't mean shit in the real world, and doesn't help you hold a job or maintain healthy relationships with other human beings.

And then there's Bergman, who I think you are really wrong about. Your argument here kind of reminds me of Rosenbaum's obituary in the Times (I'll admit I never forgave Rosenbaum for the insensitivity he displayed there). Bergman is more concerned with artists (especially theater actors and directors) than intellectuals, and even his less artistic, more upper class characters are hardly as literary as Anderson's and Allen's (again, Rohmer is a better point of comparison). I can't really understand how you would question the aesthetic merits of Bergman's cinema (it's Nykvist!), and his subtextual concerns, as you put it, are fairly massive. Persona alone is concerned with human experience in a way that is more fundamental and accomplished than 99% of all films.

Ed, I liked Vicky Cristina Barcelona as well, and I think you're making really good points, but I still disagree. Allen definitely is more pessimistic than Anderson, and likes people less, so it makes sense that his searing indictment would be contrasted with Anderson's more ambivalent attitude. However, that in no way marginalizes his attitude. That is, life is more complex than just "they had a profound spiritual experience" or "they're just ignorant Americans." If Anderson wants it both ways, that's because life isn't binary at all, and almost always, the truth is a little bit of both, which is what Anderson is illustrating here. They learn some things, but they also don't learn a lot of things. That's just true to life.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Jonathan's Bergman antipathy stems from that period in the late 60's and early 70's when he dominated serious film discussion in the U.S. Godard was considered beyond the pale (even when Bergman was imitating him in The Passion of Anna) and no one wanted to talk about Rivette at all, not knowing or caring who he was.

For all his obvious talent there's an incredibly cramped dispeptic and hughly misogynistic dimension to Bergman. Haneke gets dismissed as a "cynic" (which he isn't) in ways that Bergman never was. it's quite galling.

As for Anderson he's a coic fiummaker with a very light touch. He's not out to make points the way Allen does because he's not that kind of an intellectual. He's supremely playful.

Doniphon said...

David, I understand Rosenbaum's reservations about Bergman, and I am not at all saying that he isn't entitled to his opinions. That would be ridiculous. Like John Ford, I suspect Bergman's rep will be much diminished in twenty years, and although I love both filmmakers, that just kind of seems to be the way things are going to go, and that's fine. My complaints only relate to the obituary the Times ran, and how obnoxiously self-centered the piece was. It wasn't so much about Bergman's legacy as about how Rosenbaum was right about how his legacy was overrated. If, in some imaginary parallel universe, I was a paid film critic like you or Rosenbaum, and a newspaper as important as the NY Times asked me to write an obituary for a filmmaker I was not particularly fond of (you bring up Haneke, which is a perfect example for me), I think it would be possible to chronicle his importance and significance while expressing my reservations in a more discrete way. But Rosenbaum doesn't even try, turning an obituary into a polemic against a man who had just died.