Close Up

23 - 31 December 2019: Essential Cinema


The White Reindeer
Erik Blomberg, 1952, 74 min
Finnish with English subtitles

Shot in the Arctic Circle’s snowy expanses, Erik Blomberg’s The White Reindeer is a marvel of film fantasy from Finland made in 1952. Pirita, played by the director’s wife, Mirjami Kuosmanen, is a bewitched young woman wed to an often-absent reindeer herder. Longing for affection, she carries out a sacrifice to empower a local shaman’s love potion and becomes cursed, transforming into a white reindeer by night and drinking the blood of local hunters. The White Reindeer blends documentary travelogue with avant-garde experimentation and produces an art house horror film without compare.

"A prizewinner at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival, shot for next to nothing on location in Finnish Lapland and filled with local non-actors, this first feature by cinematographer and battlefield cameraman Erik Blomberg is a quasi-ethnographic exercise in magic neorealism. White Reindeer's singing introduction, reindeer race meet-cute, pervasive post-dubbing, and folkloric digressions (a whole village simultaneously forging its sacred spears), not to mention its hearty Nordic atmosphere, create an uncannily exotic experience." – Village Voice


Ugetsu Monogatari
Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953, 96 min
Japanese with English subtitles

"By the time he made Ugetsu, Kenji Mizoguchi was already an elder statesman of Japanese cinema, fiercely revered by Akira Kurosawa and other directors of a younger generation. And with this exquisite ghost story, a fatalistic wartime tragedy derived from stories by Akinari Ueda and Guy de Maupassant, he created a touchstone of his art, his long takes and sweeping camera guiding the viewer through a delirious narrative about two villagers whose pursuit of fame and fortune leads them far astray from their loyal wives. Moving between the terrestrial and the otherworldly, Ugetsu reveals essential truths about the ravages of war, the plight of women, and the pride of men." – Criterion


The Colour of Pomegranates
Sergei Parajanov, 1969, 78 min
Armenian & Georgian with English subtitles

A breath-taking fusion of poetry, ethnography, and cinema, Sergei Parajanov’s masterwork overflows with unforgettable images and sounds. In a series of tableaux that blend the tactile with the abstract, The Colour of Pomegranates revives the splendours of Armenian culture through the story of the eighteenth-century troubadour Sayat-Nova, charting his intellectual, artistic, and spiritual growth through iconographic compositions rather than traditional narrative. The film’s tapestry of folklore and metaphor departed from the realism that dominated the Soviet cinema of its era, leading authorities to block its distribution, with rare underground screenings presenting it in a restructured form.

The Colour of Pomegranates was restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project and the Cineteca di Bologna, in association with the National Cinema Centre of Armenia and Gosfilmofond of Russia, and funded by the Material World Charitable Foundation.


Take Two: Alice / Jabberwocky

"[E]verything begins with a horrible combat. It’s the combat of depths: things explode or make us explode, boxes are too small for their contents… monsters grab at us…. Bodies intermingle with one another, everything intermingles in a sort of cannibalism that reunites nutrient and excrement. Even words are eaten. It’s the domain of the action and passion of bodies: things and words are scattered in every direction and sense, or on the contrary are welded together into nondecomposable blocks. At this depth, everything is horrible, everything is nonsense. – Gilles Deleuze, Lewis Carroll

"Carroll’s apparently whimsical oeuvre – often taken as “mere” superficial nonsense, or “literature for children” – has been a profound influence on Švankmajer’s Surrealist art. Both are concerned with exploring the dark, irrational depths behind appearances, excavating those nonsensical and paradoxical relations of sense and meaning that underlie our everyday perceptions and apparently ordered thought, and bringing them up to a shimmering, contradictory, animated surface. Švankmajer’s film reels constitute a kind of mirror, held up to a nature that suddenly appears both unreal, and more-than-real." – Ben Hjorth, Senses of Cinema

Jan Švankmajer, 1971, 14 min
Czech with English subtitles

Lewis Carroll’s poem is read and followed by a free-form animated depiction of images and toys from childhood, repeatedly overturned by a live cat.

Jan Švankmajer, 1988, 86 min
Czech with English subtitles

Jan Švankmajer's Alice is a unique adaptation of Lewis Carroll's original vision. Combining a live-action Alice with a stop-motion Wonderland filled with threatening, bizarre characters, the film brilliantly marries a sly visual wit with piercing psychological insight.


Jan Švankmajer Shorts

A selection of thirteen short films – spread across two programmes – by the legendary Czech Surrealist filmmaker-animator Jan Švankmajer. Technically and conceptually astonishing in their own right, these films are also as remarkable for their philosophical consistency as for their frequently mind-boggling imagery.

Programme 1

The Flat, 1968, 13 min
A Quiet Week in the House, 1969, 20 min
The Fall of the House of Usher, 1981, 15 min
Down to the Cellar, 1983, 15 min
The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope, 1983, 16 min

Total Runtime: ca 79 min

Programme 2

The Last Trick, 1964, 12 min
A Game with Stones, 1965, 9 min
Punch and Judy, 1966, 10 min
Historia Naturae Suita, 1967, 9 min
Meat Love, 1989, 1 min
Darkness-Light-Darkness, 1989, 8 min
Dimensions of Dialogue, 1982, 12 min
Flora, 1989, 0'20 min

Total Runtime: ca 61 min


Wings of Desire
Wim Wenders, 1987, 127 min
German, English & French with English subtitles

“My own guardian angel on this film was Claire. She was both the assistant in the American sense… that she would lead the shoot like a military operation, and in a more European tradition she shared all creative issues, fears, and dreams with me.” – Wim Wenders

"Angels perched atop the buildings of Berlin listen in on the innermost thoughts of mere mortals in Wim Wenders’s lovely, lyrical Wings of Desire, a soaring high-point of the director’s cinema and a moving, melancholic elegy to a Berlin still divided. Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) are brooding, compassionate angels who eavesdrop on the secret pains and fears of ordinary people. When Damiel falls for a beautiful trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin), he renounces his immortality to return to earth as a human, hoping for a love that transcends life in the heavens. The stunning cinematography – crisp black-and-white, lurid Technicolor – is by French great Henri Alekan, whose many credits include Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast." – The Cinematheque