Part 1

Life Support

by PopMatters Staff

15 February 2009


Ingrid Thulin and more

Ingrid Thulin Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)

Bergman once said: “The human face is the great subject of the cinema. Everything is there.” The Swedish master proved his theory most emphatically with Märta, Ingrid Thulin’s dowdy schoolmarm from Winter Light. After spending much of the film wallowing in a prototypical concept of female abnegation, Thulin becomes the recipient of one of Bergman’s boldest stylistic decisions: in an almost unbroken eight-minute close-up, he directs his camera’s gaze unto her seemingly unremarkable face and leaves it there. But Thulin glares right back, and in shattering the fourth wall she escapes her character’s façade to confront the audience with the repressed soul of her subservient heroine. For those eight minutes, the vulnerabilities and insecurities of a wounded heart flicker palpably across the glint of her eyes and the contours of her face—and although Märta may be a “supporting” character, with Thulin’s tender exposition of her stifled femininity she simultaneously becomes the very “winter light” of the film’s title. SB

Marisa Tomei The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)

Tomei won the Oscar in 1993 for My Cousin Vinny, a charming, comedic performance if there ever was one. Then everybody had their knives sharpened for her afterwards. Many cried ‘foul!’, but she has since gone on to do some of the most solid, interesting supporting work of any actress of her generation: Unhook the Stars, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and her Academy Award-nominated dramatic turn in In the Bedroom all highlight her versatility. All of these roles considered, it is her part as single mom/stripper Cassidy in this season’s The Wrestler (directed by Darren Aronofsky) that (finally!) fully utilizes all of her acting talents properly and has brought her a third nomination, and, potentially, a second win—there are moments of sly comedy, yes, but her working class Jersey girl with a big dream of having a condo and providing stability for her son is rife with pathos. She proves here, body and soul (heavy on the “body”—Tomei has also been, lately, at the deliriously sexy age of 44, doffing her clothes onscreen), that she is not a fluke Oscar winner, nor an actress who can be pigeonholed into different types, though her strength when playing scrappy working class dames is becoming a signature. Cassidy is a risqué part that could have been a throw-a-way in the hands of a lesser talented performer, but Tomei lends her charm, her gravitas, and her naked ambition (as well as her body) to the cause, making for one of this year’s finest, most exciting female performances, and cementing her as a consummate supporting actress, once and for all. MM

Lily Tomlin Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)

When I think of Tomlin, I tend to think of the comedic genius she has come to be known for, as most cinema enthusiasts likely do. It was the straight-woman role of Linnea, in maverick director Altman’s Nashville, that brought the versatile performer her lone Oscar nomination. Alternately mysterious, warm, and filled with vim and vigor, Linnea is a gospel singer who is busy taking care of business (and her family) at the flashpoint of the titular city’s impending nervous breakdown, making her own money, fielding a whole heap of lies from her philandering hubby, and being a perfect mother to her two hearing-impaired children (complete with scenes of sign language -– which the actress learned for the part). It is the kind of singular, quirky supporting character that can only happen, without mockery, in an Altman film. The real shading comes when a visiting folk singer becomes sexually obsessed with her and Linnea’s adventures in Nashville really begin. MM

Sigourney Weaver The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997)

Janey Carver is a would-be normal housewife frozen in a fantasy of herself as the neighborhood femme fatale. While we see her pose in revealing outfits fit for the actresses of a great noir, one can’t help but notice her grave disappointment in knowing its just dress up. How sad it must be to not only be bored by your marriage but also irritated by your equally lackluster affair. What she actually feels, Weaver keeps it to herself. Not because she has to, but because she wants to. And it’s this level of empowerment over her situation that keeps the men coming back for more. A scene that may be ordinarily catty reads in such a different way at the level Weaver plays it. She grabs a set of keys in a fishbowl. Her not-so-secret lover wants her to grab his. She intentionally selects another pair but the flick in her wrist and the way she curls the keys up to her hand speaks a thousand words. She is completely aware that she is perpetually trapped in a limbo of cheap, unnecessary thrills and she’s as equally aware that they will never notice. TD

Shelley Winters The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)

“It’s love that won,” coos the starry-eyed Willa Harper in reference to her new beau Harry Powell (the menacing Robert Mitchum), and from there and then, she was doomed. After losing her criminal husband, and left with two children to raise during the Depression, Harper felt societal pressured to marry again right away, but also desperately wanted to—marriage wasn’t just a necessity in the ‘30s, but a desire for women of the time. Enter Harry—a psychopathic preacher who is only interested in money and will got to whatever lengths to get it: such as marrying the desperate mother of two whose husband hid a small fortune that Harry believes her young son is privy to. Oh, and he hates women, to boot. One unforgettable scene is Willa’s wedding night with Harry. He is lying in bed, motionless and distant. She looks out the window, looks over to her new husband and desires connection and love but there will be none of that. She is made to stand in front of the mirror and learn what her place is in the world—she is powerless. Winters in that one scene, gives us the lot—she is lost, naive and desires to be protected and loved again, but is made to tragically understand what a woman’s place is, as far as Harry’s concerned—at the bottom of a river. KL

We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.

//Mixed media

NYFF 2017: 'Mudbound'

// Notes from the Road

"Dee Rees’ churning and melodramatic epic follows two families in 1940s Mississippi, one black and one white, and the wars they fight abroad and at home.

READ the article