Without the Detroit Film Theatre and the Michigan Theater, I couldn’t have fully experienced the movies of many famous foreign language film directors, including Akira Kurosawa, François Truffaut, Satyajit Ray, and two directors who died on July 30, 2007—Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni.
The passing of the Swedish Bergman and the Italian Antonioni on the same day has intensified the feelings about these two men’s influential films of the last 50 years. A glance at the IMDb.com discussion areas for these two directors shows much comparison of their work.
Their prominence peaked in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when their work was part of an extraordinary period in international cinema that also included the first movies of the New Wave of French directors and Satyajit Ray’s famous Apu trilogy. Both directors challenged the conventions of films with daring, experimental ideas that opened up new avenues of expression in both the content and structure of movies.
At the DFT and Michigan
Interestingly, the most recent appearance of these directors’ works at the Detroit Film Theatre came on consecutive weekends in late 2005. On Nov. 25-27, Antonioni’s 1975 film The Passenger featured Jack Nicholson as a television reporter experimenting with a completely new identify. A week later (December 2-4), the DFT hosted Bergman’s last film, Saraband (2004), a reunion of Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson in the roles they first created in Bergman’s famous 1973 movie, Scenes from a Marriage. The Passenger and Saraband both later screened at the Michigan Theater.
I was privileged enough to see two of these directors’ most famous films at the DFT and Michigan—Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957) and Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960).
I saw Wild Strawberries at both theaters. The poignant ending of this film about a man’s reflections on his life left me with a profoundly rich feeling as I left the theater. Without the DFT and Michigan, I would have seen this movie just on television, with only a fraction of the effect.
A few years ago, the Michigan ran a series of Antonioni films, including L’Avventura. I saw that movie from the balcony of the Michigan, which was the perfect way to experience this widescreen film about loss and drifting and random connections. The many black and white images of the landscape seemed to hang in the air of the Michigan auditorium, pulling you into the unique atmosphere of this film.
What would these two directors have thought about dying on the same day? They’d probably say that it was just the random convergence of two significant events. We should just accept this special opportunity for reflection and insight, the same way that adventurous filmgoers experienced their movies, which re-combined familiar elements of cinema to look at life from new perspectives.
Sadly, the old superstition about famous deaths coming in threes came true last week for fans of foreign language films. On July 29, film buffs said goodbye to the famous French actor Michel Serrault, whose films have been shown at both the DFT (Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud) and the Michigan (Artemisia and Joyeux Noël).
Copyright © 2007 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.