Ferronians touched (Dedicated to John Flynn)

  • Datum 27-01-2011
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Of course the illustrious and illusionary Ferroni Brigade gets out of the comfort zone constantly (that is in fact their comfort zone), even by some old Ingmar Bergman film, whenever the mood takes them.

We might never have gone to the screening of Ingmar Berman’s berörigen/the touch (1971) in its recently restored bi-lingual version had something less known by someone more obscure screened at the same time; but no, here we were in Bologna at Il cinema ritrovato, home of the here-or-maybe-never-again-big-screen-experience, with nothing else to watch but a Bergman commonly considered of only secondary relevance.

TO1 (The Other First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Ferroni Brigade)…, comrade Huber, hadn’t seen the film before, while TO1…, comrade Möller, saw it once way back when he was young and remembered it as being very okay but little more; TO1…, comrade Wurm, had already left the front-row for home and was therefore not around when her Ferronian brethren had their hearts ripped to shreds and their souls crushed. — Mark this: Ferronians are neither obscurantists nor truffleists, only keenly aware of the fact that some films are screened more often than others in a cinema — which, again, is where films breath and move for real; everything else is but a second life. Therefore, the Ferronians usually watch the works less screened: to keep the discussion open.
Anyway, we didn’t expect too much from berörigen/the touch. That said: comrade Möller who’s probably the brigade’s biggest Bergmanian learned over the years that there’s no minor work in the master’s œuvre, only different strokes of genius, even in what superficially looks like failures; that’s at least what more recent re-visions of some chanced-upon works by Sweden’s mightiest suggest. Also, Bergman is definitely a director one needs to grow into; no use watching his stuff when one’s young and hasn’t had certain experiences in life all having to do with insecurity, failure, angst and assholishness: all those social misdemeanors major or minor that end in all-around hurt, all those insults to one’s closest, all those… exactly, and you can’t say it and you won’t say it because you… or. Bergman’s lone genius was his ability to narrate these lines, to grant shapes to the unspeakable. People in his films know all the words and sentences that could replace those lines, and they say them all, and they mean them right there and then, and in the end but one thing is clear: that all these reason(ing)s make the unspeakable only more real — if feeds off our attempts at fighting it. We don’t stand a chance against the worse in us, our need for hurt.
berörigen/the touch felt as if it was made only of awkwardness’. There’s little ‘exterior’ form to the film: everything radically follows the character’s developments or lack thereof ie. whims; or put another way: each image, scene an idea, free-flowing, meandering — Bergman, it seems, is inventing his film on the spot, trying this and playing around with that, searching, just like his characters who’re trying to re-invent themselves, their lives, or at least play at doing so, all the while biding time looking for words — nowhere more so than here were language differences are so important. The terror and pain lies in the film’s overall coherence that finally defies its amorphous (non-)shape: Even when they’re trying for something new they only function in a pattern well established. That spur-of-the-moment-feeling is but an illusion.

A little anecdote here with which an auteur close to the Ferroni Brigade’s heart regaled them one afternoon over coffee. Once he had been on a jury together with Liv Ullman who told him the story of her break-up with Bergman. She remembered that she’d brought him one last time to the airport by way of saying good-bye in more ways than one; the day before a new film of his had opened; they bought copies of all major dailies, then hauled a cab; in there, he asked her to read him the reviews — all of which were venomous, she noticed; so, looking into the papers, she invented good reviews and ‘read’ those to him; at the airport they bid each other farewell.
Of course the Ferronians were in high spirits early on during the slide show featuring lots of weirdly tilted pictures of donkeys plus a few shots of Ullman in the nude which Elliot Gould finds confusing while Max von Sydow remains unperturbed (we guess that Bergman had rather medieval notions of donkeys, think William of Occam…). Comedy of errors, quite befitting these awesome, slightly modish over-the-top-colours. Then, things get serious and out of hand and confusing and confused and full of hurt. Comrade Möller cracked when Ullman and Gould go to bed for the first time and she describes her body and therewith herself — that willful objectivity with which she takes account of her blemished being. Comrade Huber simply shriveled away into his seat, and shriveled, and shriveled. And it went on, relentlessly. And what hurt maybe the most was the fact that this was a film whose whole existence depended on its audience, meaning: Bergman could pull one like this only because he knew he could — he knew that there were adults who could and would face the music here with him, and that there was an industry that would permit him to do so; everything that makes berörigen/the touch so extraordinary in its utter I’m-just-another-one-he-tossed-off’ness is Bergman’s cultural position: he knew that nothing depended on this one film — another one would come in which he could try something else, or hark back to something once done and successful, or… But you can’t do this anymore. Nothing new under the sun, sure, we had that one already a few days earlier while watching Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly’s it’s always fair weather (1955), but here, there was something so raw and fragile and naked… Or maybe we were especially vulnerable then: The venue was more on the empty side while the general atmosphere was one of move-me-not — but we Ferronians want to be moved and we want to come out of a film different.

When berörigen/the touch was over the Ferronians just looked at each other, mumbled a unison Wahnsinn., and went out of the theatre, silently. And silent they remained for something like an hour at least. Comrade Huber smoked away blank-faced, looking completely lost in memories while also full of suspicions about future’s rest. Comrade Möller, all the while, stepped away from the post-screening, Where-shall-we-have-dinner?-crowd and starred at the sky looking for a space wide enough for these 30ft.’ers of feelings to peter out quietly; things were so serious that he even shook his head No when a charming acquaintance came along and said that she could introduce him now to that foxy red-head friend of hers he’d fancied for some time from afar — not possible then and there; another chance forfeited for some of that hurt Bergman knows how to give voice and shape and rhythm.

All you will ever need to know about the Ferroni Brigade can be found at MUBI under The Golden Donkey.