The Compleat Ingmar #35: Cries and Whispers (1972)

While the supposed heaviness of Bergman’s filmography is frequently exaggerated (or am I the only one who finds The Seventh Seal with its snarky Death entertaining, even if the film undoubtedly isn’t a laugh riot beginning to end?), it is certainly true that many of his films deal with heavy themes. Mortality in the abstract is a frequent motif, but so is death in the very concrete. And death in Bergman’s films may never have been as harrowing as in his 1972 film Cries and Whispers, the first half of which depicts the suffering and agony of Agnes, one of its four main characters.

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The Compleat Ingmar #29: After the Rehearsal (1984)

I’ve said before that I greatly enjoy the film historian’s approach that Criterion’s Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema allows me to take to the director’s work. While the films are largely organised thematically rather than chronologically, just having the vast majority of Bergman’s works in one handy package means that I’m not just seeing these films in isolation but in relation to one another. That comparison adds another dimension to my appreciation of the films that is often fascinating and illuminating.

Mind you: the flipside of this is that sometimes it can get quite tiresome to watch yet another Bergman film obsessing about the same concerns and voicing the same attitudes. We’ve now had a series of films of his focused on art and artists and especially the theatre, either literally or metaphorically, starting with Sawdust and Tinsel. By the time we get to After the Rehearsal, a 1984 TV movie starring Bergman regulars Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin, and Lena Olin (who looks much younger in this than her actual age of 29), it’s difficult not to give an exasperated sigh: All right, enough with all the theatre!

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The Compleat Ingmar #27: The Magician (1958)

What is the perfect Bergman movie for Halloween, if that’s how you roll? Is it Hour of the Wolf, with its surreal phantasmagoria? Wild Strawberries, with its uncanny dreamscapes? Through a Glass Darkly, perhaps – think of the spider-god monologue. Or what about Bergman O.G., The Seventh Seal, with its sardonic personification of Death stalking a band of Bergman regulars, if that gets your ghoulies going… or even Scenes from a Marriage, which I expect will play like horror to anyone whose biggest fear is a failing marriage?

The film we ended up watching on Halloween was The Magician, made one year after The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries and two years before The Virgin Spring (which, come to think of it, also has a moment or two of ghoulish atmosphere). And, reader, I’d say that it was a pretty good match.

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The Compleat Ingmar #20: The Silence (1963)

I was not prepared for the extent to which Ingmar Bergman’s oeuvre would embrace the uncanny. He may not be a David Lynch, but where Lynch’s nightmares are often emphatically surreal, Bergman’s use of the dreamlike is more subtle, more psychological, and probably more Freudian – though not in the overly literal way that pop-Freudians tends to go for. Unless we’re talking about Hour of the Wolf, which indeed feels like proto-Lynch in its final third, Bergman’s onereic sequences – when they are not explicitly dreams, as for instance in Wild Strawberries – always leave it up to the viewer whether what they are seeing is really happening or not, and to what extent it is filtered through, or even distorted by, a character whose perception is less than reliable.

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The Compleat Ingmar #19: Winter Light (1963)

It has been said many, many times, but it bears saying again: for someone who described himself as an agnostic, Bergman had something of a fixation on religion. Not in social or cultural terms, mind you: Bergman’s concern seems to be almost entirely with very personal matters of faith. Winter Light is probably the most literal in this respect: its protagonist, Tomas (Gunnar Björnstrand), is the pastor of a small Swedish church out in the sticks who finds that as his congregation dwindles (the first scene sees him preaching to a handful of people, several of whom politely try but fail to hide their disinterest), so does his belief.

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