Like his previous films Winter Light and The Silence, Ingmar Bergman’s haunting—if sometimes pretentiously abstruse—film Persona superficially appears to reject the idea that God has a hand in human affairs. At this point in his career, the great Swedish director seems to be inclining instead toward an atheistic worldview in which his characters attempt to make sense of the harshness of reality, including death, mental illness, and the presence of evil. But Persona, a story of identity crisis from the perspectives of two women whose paths in life are temporarily intertwined, is much more than an exercise in such nihilistic futility.
The subject of the sumptuously photographed and artfully directed French film Renoir is not immediately apparent from the title. One might expect a biopic about Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), a key figure in the French impressionist movement. But the film has almost as much to tell us about Pierre’s son Jean (Vincent Rottiers), a skilled artist in his own right who would go on to become one of the world’s most influential movie directors by creating such critically acclaimed classics as Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game. No matter. Renoir is less about artists than about the muses who inspire them.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari may not be the first horror film of all time, but it undoubtedly is one of the first to have a major influence on later movies in the genre. Directed by Robert Wiene (whose other films include Fear and Raskolnikow), Caligari exemplifies the expressionist style of silent movie-making that gained a foothold in Germany in the early 1920s and that would inspire the better-remembered Nosferatu (1922) based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Though not adapted from a work of literature, Caligari set the bar in capturing the macabre on camera, managing to be both cerebral and mesmerizingly creepy.