Cardinal Finch never really wavers
By cinema history, Liv Ullmann picks up Queen Christina of Sweden, in The Abdication ("AA" Warner West End 2) soon after Garbo's ship must have reached the German harbour where the awkward Royal convert disembarked on the way to France and her pilgrimage to Rome. • More exactly, a few preliminary shots show Miss Ullmann letting down her hair as she throws away the Crown and gambols among the Swedish corn.
Before long we are in Rome, where the liberated Queen tries to throw her weight about the Vatican, clamouring for 70 rooms to accommodate herself and her suite — which consists visibly of one dwarf (Michael Dunn).
Instead of being welcomed as a prodigal daughter, this Christina finds herself greeted with stern scepticism. She insists on waiting to receive her first Communion from the hands of the Pope. The Pope's instructions are that she shall first undergo a long examination by Cardinal Azzolino (Peter Finch) to test the sincerity of her conversion and the purity of her intention.
It is not unpredictable that their argument should turn to love before the end of this kind of film, but Cardinal Finch never really wavers, and the ailing Pope lives long enough to send Christina his blessing and dies in time to recall the Cardinal soundly to his vocation and leave Christina free for a life of exile.
It is a very handsome film. St Peter's and the Vatican apartments are superbly photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth, whether crowded with red-clad cardinals or as noble, empty spaces. But the film has neither the poetry nor the romanticism of "Queen Christina" and certainly none of the spirituality which could have replaced them.
Peter Finch makes valiant attempts to prove the Cardinal sincere. Liv Ullmann is an exceedingly able Bergman actress but she has none of Garbo's glamour. I do not know whether Ruth Wolff found a hint or substance in history for the fiction of her screenplay and play on which it is based.
Admittedly Christina was an eccentric and controversial figure. Only I always remember that in the early days of my own conversion, one of the holiest priests I have ever met recommended Queen Christina to me as a very wise and holy woman.
The 18th London Film Festival ended with A Bigger Splash, Jack Hazan's tribute to the artist David Hackney and his work and play. Like the festival's opening film Peter "Akenfield", the closing film was British.
Both, too, were shown "for information only" and not for reviewing, as they would very soon be on show generally and it is part of the mystique of film publicity that the whole cam
paign should be timed to the gun.
In its 18 years, the festival has become a firmly established opportunity to see a fair selection of the year's festivals. There may have been no single overwhelming masterpiece this year. But the level was consistently interesting except for the usual tiny minority of oddities so over-precious as to be incomprehensible. Most baffling of these was the Swiss La Paloma. Its young director, Daniel Schmid, born in West Germany in the last year of the war would appear to be subconsciously influenced by the more extravagant German movies of a much earlier era.
Schmid writes of his work in solemn terms, but I found it impossible to be sure whether he intended the mixture of night club sophistication, glutinous sentimentality, operetta of the Macdonald-Eddy style, confusion of identity and death-wish to be comic-grotesque or macabre-horrific.
I did not see all the 30-odd films that were press shown, let alone all 50 presented at the Festival. But my own favourites among those I did see were definite.
They included Akenfield (I assume praise of the Suffolk film may be permitted, if not criticism), the Hungarian 25 Firemen's Street which I have already reviewed, and the Georgian director Shengelaya's Melodies of the Veriyski Neighbourhood.
The last-named, set in preRevolutionary Georgia, was perhaps the most charming film of the festival, reminiscent, though not as deeply fascinating as the same director's "Pirosmani", which we saw last year.
Were I one of the judges, I should find it difficult to choose between this primitive, slightly musical piece of folk-lore and the Spanish Cousin Angelica by Carlos Saura. The Spanish film combines a wonderfully natural simplicity and realism in its presentation of Spanish countryside and a family into which one middle-aged man returns after 25 years, with great imaginative subtlety.
Saura succeeds flexibly in exploring the past and present relations of I.uis (Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez) with his cousin, his cousin's wife, Angelica, and their 12-year-old daughter — and aunts and grandparents galore. The acting is so good that you sense the feelings between the charaCters and between them and their country's past.
Another film I hope will get a wider showing is Franju's fantastic thriller, The Man Without a Face. This is a very superior piece of film-making in terms of the pure thriller by a director with a stock of surprises really comparable with Hitchcock's. They include a rooftop villainess with a blow-gun in her boot, a hooded murderer, a hint of the Ku Klux Klan as successors to the Templars. and a developing race of robot killers