Not just Salman Khan’s Race 3: Films of Renoir, Bergman, Fellini have also been thoroughly trashed

Baradwaj Rangan

June 18, 2018 15:40:17 IST

The release of Race 3 has unleashed a series of savage reviews – and deservedly so. There’s always the criticism that filmmaking is such a complex effort, involving so much Hard Work, and it’s unfair to dismiss all this in a snarky summation. But when so many crores are spent without a basic script, it’s unforgivable. That being said, is it easier to dismiss a film like Race 3, which is so obviously bad, than a more “serious” film?

I spent some time with my good friend, Google, this weekend, wondering whether Race 3-review levels of snark had been heaped on the films by acclaimed international filmmakers. Here’s someone being delightfully snippy about Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game. “When you start noticing things such as the fact that not only the women, but also the men have trimmed eyebrows, you know there’s something that doesn’t work for you.”

This pronouncement comes from Jessica Elgenstierna, who writes at The Velvet Cafe. It’s not an establishment voice, you say. Then how about this dismissal of Ingmar Bergman in The New York Times, titled Scenes From an Overrated Career! The great American critic Jonathan Rosenbaum writes, “[It was strange] the way he always resonated with New York audiences. The antiseptic, upscale look of Mr. Bergman’s interiors and his mainly blond, blue-eyed cast members became a brand to be adopted and emulated. (His artfully presented traumas became so respectable they could help to sell espresso in the lobby of the Fifth Avenue Cinema.)” Let’s not get into whether or not this appraisal is right. This is more about the tone of the criticism.

What about the Swedes themselves? How did they regard the filmmaker who became what ABBA was to pop music, what Volvo was to cars? The web site, ingmarbergman.se, celebrates the 100th year of Bergman (he was born in 1918), and there’s a page that talks about how he was received in Sweden. In 1960, the filmmaker Bo Widerberg accused Bergman of stagnation and compared him to a Dala horse, an example of traditional Swedish folk art you’d pick up as a souvenir [see clip below]: “What one expects with growing impatience from this brilliant technician and director of actors is for him to move on, to grow tired of his role as our Dala horse to the world. All we expect of a Dala horse is that it should look like a Dala horse, and satisfying that demand would probably mean death for any artist in the long run.”

Was there a bit of jealousy about Bergman’s popularity around the world? Perhaps. Besides, somebody from within a culture is always going to have a different take from someone from without – though, in the case of Richard Brody, at The New Yorker, one can always expect an opinion at divergence from that of his countrymen. He called Akira Kurosawa a “bombastic filmmaker whose authentic but swaggering talent finds its distinction in his actors’ hectic performances.” This is still a considered opinion, which is why it’s sometimes fun to read those who aren’t professional critics. A blog titled The Current has this to say about Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. “The final shootout itself was painful for me to watch not because I couldn’t stand the slowness and had to get to the action (the intended effect), but because I was bored and simply wanted the film to be over.”

You will not find a critic using such frank language in a review – but you do find pieces where critics, sometimes, resort to casual blogger-lingo. Here’s Tim Robey, in The Telegraph, bringing the hatchet down on Federico Fellini in spectacular style: “Boobs. We all know Fellini was a fan. And there’s nothing wrong with boobs. They’re easy things to appreciate. Still, watching Amarcord... it’s easy to get distracted by all the whopping great mammaries, and indeed becomes oddly difficult to focus on anything else.” Elsewhere, whatculture.com yawns widely at one of Andrei Tarkovsky’s classics: “Solaris is the name of a planet whose body of water is presumed to be a thinking entity. And this body of water is a heck of a lot smarter than you, so good luck trying to understand the movie about it.”

Here’s the same web site on Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless: “The problem is that while Godard’s handheld work is immersive, the seemingly random use of jump-cutting pulls us out of the picture rather than pull us in... Still, critics at the time – particularly French ones – were so taken with the film’s rejection of contemporary Hollywood that they jumped on it like a tiger on a T-bone steak...” As for Godard’s Nouvelle Vague colleague François Truffaut, Tim Lott wrote in The Guardian, “Jeanne Moreau is beautiful. That alone does not make [Jules et Jim] one of the greatest films of all time – or even of 1962. Had Jules, Jim and Catherine been born a few generations later, they could have sustained 10 minutes of interest on the Jerry Springer show. Or at least five.”

Lott has a grand time taking the piss out of canonical works, and his tone suggests this critic has had it with films he was meant to like but left him “cold, bored and searching desperately for the eject button.” A little below the Jules et Jim diss, he makes the Race 3 reviews sound profoundly empathetic. Other films he considers overpraised include “Kieslowski’s Three Colours Red (nothing happens), Tarkovsky’s Solaris (nothing happens in space) and Von Stroheim’s Greed (nothing happens in the desert for 10 hours).” I laughed. Why is it always more fun to see someone venting about a film than praising it? I think it’s because these films have been pedestal-ised (and justly) for so long that they could use some contrarian opinion. Even if you don’t buy it.

Baradwaj Rangan is Editor, Film Companion (South).

Updated Date: Jun 18, 2018 18:29 PM