The Compleat Ingmar #25: Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)

Sawdust and Tinsel tells a story of love, humiliation, abandonment, broken dreams and the pathos and piteousness of art, artists – and men. It is, you could say, a typical story for Ingmar Bergman – but while there are elements (and faces) here that by now are familiar when it comes to the director’s work, what the film made me think of is Fellini. The world of Bergman is more commonly that of the bourgeoisie – but the characters at the heart of Sawdust and Tinsel are outsiders who travel around with the world apart that they have made for themselves.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #18: Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

The door opened, but the god was a spider. He came up to me and I saw his face. It was a terrible stony face. He scrambled up and tried to penetrate me, but I defended myself. All along I saw his eyes: they were cold and calm. When he couldn’t penetrate me he continued up my chest, up into my face and onto the wall. I have seen God.

The individual elements of Through a Glass Darkly are familiar. We’ve previously seen Bergman play with techniques familiar from the horror genre, especially in Hour of the Wolf. We’ve also seen his characters grapple with mental illness, as well as with religion and crises of faith. However, Through a Glass Darkly feels quite different from these other films – perhaps because of its intense focus on its central female character, another striking addition to the cast of women created by Bergman and his leading actresses throughout their collaborations. Bergman’s male protagonists are often weaker than his female characters, but this time, they are basically a supporting cast to the female lead. Without a doubt, the star of this film is Harriet Anderson.

Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #9: A Lesson in Love (1954)

A Lesson in Love doesn’t exactly start very well, at least from a contemporary perspective: after an arch voiceover telling us to prepare ourselves for a comedy for grownups, we first meet a comely but angry young woman, Susanne (played by Yvonne Lombard), listing the failings of her older lover, the gynaecologist David Erneman (Bergman regular Gunnar Björnstrand). The lines are sharp, even witty, but it still seems that we’re watching what is essentially a male fantasy: obviously the young, attractive patients of a middle-aged, jaded gynaecologist would fall over themselves to undress for him in private as well as in his practice. It’s not that Bergman spares his protagonist, but whatever criticism is leveled at David, in the end it doesn’t matter. Young women seem magically attracted to him, and even as Susanne berates him for his cynicism, she still can’t help begging him to continue being her lover.

Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #8: Dreams (1955)

Before getting Criterion’s Ingmar Bergman set, I don’t think I had heard of Dreams, a 1955 drama directed and written by Bergman. Certainly, it doesn’t have the striking, dreamlike imagery of Wild Strawberries or the sexual frankness of Summer with Monika, but I was still surprised to read on Wikipedia that “Dreams is one of the few Ingmar Bergman films to have received lukewarm reviews”. It should come as no surprise that the performances are consistently strong, and especially the female leads make it well worth watching.

Continue reading