The Compleat Ingmar #37: Brink of Life (1958)

One of the things Ingmar Bergman is famous for is the great parts for women in his films, and consequently his work with great actresses. So many of the films feature complex roles for women, and while Bergman must often have been a terror to the women in his life, both in private and in his professional capacity, many of his leading ladies have said again and again that it was a gift to be in a Bergman film and to portray those characters. As much as Bergman can be criticised, and rightly so, for his behaviour towards women, we have several actresses who nonetheless were eager to work with him repeatedly – sometimes even after they had been in a relationship with him that had ended badly.

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The Compleat Ingmar #32: Persona (1966)

And here we are: perhaps the film by Ingmar Bergman that is most famous, apart from The Seventh Seal, and probably the one most written about in film studies. Persona may not be as immediately iconic as the film that brought us a medieval knight playing chess with Death, but it is undoubtedly one of the films most responsible for the director’s reputation – as a master of his craft, but also as a storyteller who did tremendous work especially with his female protagonists (sorry, Max von Sydow, but it’s true) and whose films explore harrowing psychological and metaphysical territory.

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The Compleat Ingmar #30: The Touch (1971)

Is it strange that I associate adultery with the 1960s and 1970s? Obviously I don’t think that adultery was invented in 1963, just after sexual intercourse (because, after all, Don Draper got there much earlier, right?), but when I think of the stories of or about the time, what comes to mind are the novels of John Updike or novels like The Ice Storm, which is set in the early ’70s. When I think adultery, I first and foremost think of men with sideburns wearing corduroy suits, sleeping with the wives of their colleagues or friends, much more so than I think of crazed blondes that boil bunnies before breakfast.

The Touch (1971)

In that respect, Ingmar Bergman’s The Touch, the first English language film by the director, is a good fit for the era. Adultery, check. ’70s hairdos, check. (There are probably few actors whose hair denotes the ’70s as much as Elliott Gould.)

And somehow, none of the people in these adulterous relationships seem to be happier due to their affairs. You can see why Bergman would be drawn to this material.

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The Compleat Ingmar #24: All These Women (1964)

It had to happen sometime. Twenty-four films into Criterion’s big Bergman box set, we’ve arrived at the first film by the director that I would call bad. And I’m not alone in this: Roger Ebert called the 1964 comedy All These Women the worst film Bergman ever made (in his 1978 review of Bergman’s ‘American’ film, The Serpent’s Egg). Now, it might be tempting to say that good old Ingmar, he should’ve stuck to what he knows to do best: brooding psychological drama. But, frankly, that’s rubbish. Bergman was perfectly capable of delivering delightful comedy, and while it is often of the sardonic kind, humour is not infrequent in the director’s work, from the way he pokes fun at male insecurities to the deadpan cheekiness of The Seventh Seal‘s Death. Bergman used humour throughout his films, and the cliché of Bergman as a dour dramatist becomes all the less valid the more you look at his work.

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The Compleat Ingmar #23: The Devil’s Eye (1960)

Things are not well in hell: the devil has a pain in his eye, and as everyone knows, this can only mean one thing: there’s a young woman on earth who is about to enter marriage as a virgin. What’s a devil to do? Clearly, there’s only one thing: that famous sinner Don Juan must be dispatched post-haste to seduce the young Nordic maid!

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The Compleat Ingmar #16: The Passion of Anna (1969)

Okay, he’s pulled it off: I’ve finally got to a film on my Bergman odyssey that has left me entirely non-plussed: The Passion of Anna. Obviously there are elements here that I recognise and that I have an idea what to do with: we have the old Bergman staples, shame, despair, marital unhappiness, infidelity, as well as the stock characters, male cynics who only see senselessness and react with an aloofness that makes you want to slap them, women who in turn cling on to a belief in something real and pure in the face of shallow existentialism under the guise of worldly intellectualism. The faces, too, are very familiar – Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson – as is even the landscape, Bergman’s beloved island of Fårö.

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