Like Richard Linklater, whose film Before Sunrise made her famous, Julie Delpy does the handheld, semi-improvisational romantic-drama thing in her directorial debut, 2 Days in Paris. But the underlying sensibility isn’t Linklater’s. Who knew she wanted to be Diane Keaton in Annie Hall? She plays a high-strung, neurotic Frenchwoman (although her English is almost unaccented) in big glasses with a whining Jewish American boyfriend (Adam Goldberg) who has trouble being in the moment. As they stroll around the city in which she grew up, they meet one ex-lover after another. He becomes increasingly jealous (and does a Ben Stiller–like slow burn): Is she a total slut? She lies or makes defiant excuses. After all, her parents (played by Delpy’s actual parents) were counterculture free spirits who slept around, too. I kept waiting for a female point of view to emerge on this familiar, male-dominated genre. But, oddly, she pretty much concludes she was a slut before deciding she doesn’t have the strength for another breakup.
I wish Goldberg kept more in reserve; he’s so easy to read that you get everything you’re going to in the first five minutes. But Delpy has surprises in her. 2 Days in Paris comes to life in a couple of scenes where she loses it—one in which she drunkenly insists she has food poisoning, another in which she tries to rip the head off a smarmy ex-boyfriend. The movie should be seen with a large, responsive audience—the better to live with it in the moment instead of worrying about where it’s going.
There’s a disarming in-joke at the start of The Simpsons Movie when Homer ridicules the audience at Itchy and Scratchy’s cinematic debut for paying to see something they could get on TV for free. It’s a mystery why the writers who grappled with that issue didn’t go for broke the way Trey Parker and Matt Stone did in the peerless South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut—a true cartoon epic, and the best movie musical comedy of the last decade. The Simpsons Movie is longer, more plot-driven, and has more showy animation than an average episode. It’s intermittently very funny. But it doesn’t make the existential leap to the big screen, and it doesn’t have the density of gags or the lunatic free-association of the best episodes. Like The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, it’s less than the sum of its laughs.
My ideal Simpsons movie would center on the less predictable characters, Bart and Lisa, but for some reason Homer gets the spotlight here. Why build a movie around him? The voracious Cartman on South Park is like a character out of Volpone; he has sleazeball stature. Hank Hill of King of the Hill is a befuddled Everyman who’s somehow both smaller and larger than life. SpongeBob’s childishness is transcendent. But Homer remains a boob, a thickie, a foil for his kids and chiding but devoted wife. His character “arc”—he has to learn to be less selfish and save Springfield from being nuked—doesn’t yield any fresh insight into the human condition. One gag does, though: When what looks like a huge spaceship hovers over Springfield, the people in a church run screaming into the bar next door while the people in the bar run screaming into the church. I thought about that five-second image for a long time—over shots of Wild Turkey 101.
Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni died within hours of each other last week. Both were really old. But then, I’m old. I remember when a new film by one of them spurred philosophical debates among average moviegoers. They were two of the most challenging cinematic voices of the post-Holocaust world, and both dealt directly with the absence of God and the breakdown of social connections. Antonioni was more in sync with Camus and the poets of anomie—which made his Godardian flirtation with the counterculture very peculiar (but stimulating). Bergman had a more linear trajectory. The Swedish director and writer was not only our last great link to the late-nineteenth-century drama that helped to reshape modern consciousness, he was also its successor, designing dream plays in a medium that Ibsen and Strindberg died too early to explore.
The major Bergman films bring down the walls of our imaginations. They are lacerating, mind opening, often wearying, and always (alas) solipsistic. (He sometimes turned narcissistic injuries into metaphysical proofs.) How many directors gave us so many masterpieces and near-masterpieces? Smiles of a Summer Night is the finest example of the tragicomic house-party genre after The Rules of the Game. Winter Light has its laughable moments, yet it remains his starkest and, in some ways, most indelible depiction of a man’s loss of faith. Can anyone forget the way he framed his actresses in Persona? Even as he meditated on the mutability of identity, he gave us X-rays of their souls. His Magic Flute is the best of all filmed operas—and also a dialogue between two media, theater and cinema. Shame is the movie ripest for rediscovery: an unyielding portrait of humans in wartime in extremis.
He died on the Swedish island where he’d shot many of his films (the shots low angle for reasons of economy as well as art), his last works memory plays in which the aged artist confronts the disappointed ghosts of his past. Thay have their partisans; I found them narcissistic even in their self-criticism. The important thing is that this faithless master never stopped living by the words of Ibsen: “To live is to battle with trolls in mind and heart / To write is to sit in judgment on oneself.”