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.Continue reading
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.Continue reading
The Compleat Ingmar #14: Hour of the Wolf (1968)
This film should have been the thirteenth in Criterion’s sublime collection Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema – and if we count Scenes from a Marriage as one work in two different formats, the numbers actually tally. Hour of the Wolf is an ominous, nightmarish work; in fact, I would go so far as to say that it is about the last thing I would have expected in the director’s oeuvre, an out-and-out horror film – though, this being Bergman, the horrors are not those of ghouls and ghosts, they are of the decidedly psychological kind.
Nonetheless: there are scenes of faces being pulled off and eyes floating in wine glasses. You’ve been warned.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
The Compleat Ingmar #6: Summer Interlude (1951)
Summer Interlude (1951) came out only one year after To Joy, and in some ways it’s a remarkably similar setup. Again, we have an older character looking back at a youthful romance and its consequences. Again, the protagonist is an ensemble artist: where Stig (Stig Olin), To Joy‘s protagonist, was an orchestra violinist, Summer Interlude‘s Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson, who also starred with Olin in the earlier film) is a ballerina. In both films, love and death become intertwined. However, while To Joy is an often bitter film that suffers from a grating manchild protagonist, Summer Interlude is a much more joyous film and perhaps the first of Bergman’s early works in the collection that is not just engaging in parts but a pleasure to watch as a whole.Continue reading
The Compleat Ingmar #4: Wild Strawberries (1957)
Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan of the second and third film in Criterion’s Bergman collection, Crisis and A Ship to India, but they were interesting as stepping stones towards the director’s more accomplished later films – and Wild Strawberries is definitely an illustration of those works and, after Smiles of a Summer Night, the second highlight of the collection.
The Compleat Ingmar #3: A Ship to India (1947)
Apparently Bergman wasn’t a huge fan of the first film he directed, Crisis (1946), which he called “lousy, through and through”. He wasn’t much kinder to his third, A Ship to India (1947), referring to it as “a major disaster” – except when his producer Lorens Marmstedt called to urge him to cut the worst parts, at which point Bergman rose to his film’s defense: “I informed him that I had no intention of cutting even one foot from this masterpiece.” Bergman may have been young and relatively inexperienced, but obviously he already had an ego to match a much more accomplished director.
Newsflash: Death cheats at chess!
From Lowell Bergman to Ingmar Bergman. (Classy, huh?) Yesterday we watched Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Call me odd, but I find his movies entertaining. They get a bad rap for being a film nerd’s wet dream (but actually somewhat boring), but I think that many of the parodies of his style are unfair.
At least in the two Bergman movies I’ve seen so far – Wild Strawberries in addition to The Seventh Seal – there’s always been a gentle sense of humour that puts the more lofty philosophical and metaphysical passages into perspective. For every scene with the knight Antonius Block contemplating life, death and the existence (or lack thereof) of God, there’s a scene with his more cynical, down-to-earth squire Jöns, puncturing the musings of his more pompous master. And beyond all this, there’s nothing boring, overly intellectual or pretentiously existential in the very real dread of the scenes with the flagellants or the distrurbed girl about to be burnt at the stake.
And there’s something refreshingly sly about both Block and Death cheating at the chess game they’re playing, even if they cheat for different reasons.
But, fair or not, without Bergman we wouldn’t have scenes like this (wait for a bit to get to the Seventh Seal bit):
P.S.: By the way, I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to give away that they both win in the end.