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Topics in Film: Five Directors (Part I)

This series presents works by five influential directors from the second half of the twentieth century. February brings four films by Ingmar Bergman, plus Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali. March, April, and May will bring more Ray followed by films by Jean-Luc Godard, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Robert Altman. All these directors broke new ground in making serious and compelling art of the fiction film. In their respective ways they invented new forms, explored new territory in human psychology, offered new political and cultural critiques, and made a strong case for reawakened spirituality as the desperate need of late twentieth-century humankind. To view the films in this series is to open ourselves to some of the deepest and most interesting crosscurrents of world cinema in the last forty years.


January 31 (Monday) 7 pm
February 1 (Tuesday) 9 pm

The Silence (Tystnaden)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Sweden 1963, 35mm, b/w, 96 min.
With Igrid Thulin, Gunnel Lindblom, Jörgen Lindström
Swedish with English subtitles

Two women and a little boy—archetypical twentieth-century figures in transit or in exile—journey by train to the mysterious city of Timoka, where a heretofore unheard language is spoken and where signs of war or preparation for war keep cropping up. The women and boy stay in a large, spooky grand hotel and play out episodes of sexual experimentation, radical self-searching, and a struggle with disease and madness. Bergman creates a wonderfully claustrophobic atmosphere and invents perverse and liberating surprises for both the characters and viewer as the film unwinds. Ingrid Thulin gives a shattering performance as the older of the two women, a professional linguist.

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February 7 (Monday) 7 pm

Shame (Skammen)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Sweden 1968, 35mm, b/w, 103 min.
With Liv Ullmann, Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand
Swedish with English subtitles

Shame is Bergman’s reaction to the Vietnam War and, more deeply, to all the trauma of war that has defined twentieth-century experience. The film tells of a married couple (von Sydow and Ullmann), two orchestra musicians who are living on a farm to escape war but are ultimately overtaken by it. As they are subjected to its degradations, they are tragically changed for the worse. We see their relationship crumble, as does the community life of the nearby village the couple provisionally calls home. Much of the film is shot outdoors, and a hand-held camera and jarring editing mirror the stress and sense of anarchy felt by the characters. The final episode, with war survivors adrift at sea in a small boat, is one of Bergman’s most powerful sequences, an indelible image of the human plight.

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February 14 (Monday) 7 pm

Cries and Whispers (Viskningar Och Rop)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Sweden 1972, 35mm, color, 91 min.
With Harriet Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Liv Ullmann
Swedish with English subtitles

This beautiful color film presents a Victorian upper-class family coping with the final illness and death of a sister (Harriet Andersson in a great performance). Members of a decadent social class fall, as in Chekhov. Characters face the nightmare within themselves, as in Dostoyevsky. Characters savage each other, as in Strindberg. Bergman’s favorite among all his films, Cries and Whispers, he said, "touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover." The film becomes an almost abstract contemplation of the border between life and death, being and non-being. But for all its pain and intensity, there is a sense in the film that life is going somewhere new and wonderful.


February 21 (Monday) 7 pm

Fanny and Alexander (Fanny Och Alexander)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Sweden 1982, 35mm, color, 199 min.
With Ewa Frohling, Erland Josephson, Pernilla Allwin
Swedish with English subtitles

Planned and released as the final film Bergman would direct, Fanny and Alexander comes close to the territory of his marvelous autobiography, The Magic Lantern. The film creates a world of family and community that includes parties, weddings, funerals, much comedy, and considerable grief. A little boy and his younger sister enjoy life among an extended family that includes prosperous artists. When their mother remarries, the children suffer the strictures of domestic tyranny and religious puritanism. Fortunately, they gradually discover the saving powers of theater, music, friendship, and unfettered imagination.

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February 28 (Monday) 7 pm

Pather Panchali (The Song of the Road)

Directed by Satyajit Ray
India 1955, 35mm, b/w, 115 min.
With Kanu Bannerjee, Karuna Bannerjee, Uma Das Gupta
Musical score by Ravi Shankar
Bengali with English subtitles

Ray believed that the scenario for his first film, adapted from the popular novel by Bhibuti Bashan Bannerjee, could serve to establish a new artistic cinema for India. Inspired by Italian Neorealism, the films of Jean Renoir, and the work of writer/philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, Pather Panchali places India and its traditions into the form of a forceful modern art: realistic cinema. Telling the story of a poor Bengali scholar and writer and his wife and two children, the film makes wonderful use of exteriors and of professional and non-professional actors, who seem inseparable from the characters they play. We are taken deep into family life and especially the world of the children, who venture out to discover the wonders and difficulties of life, the pettiness of humanity, and the violence of nature.

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