Top 10 Ingmar Bergman Films (1953-1969): An Analytic Approach
This list was quite hard to create and some of you may argue that it is biassed towards the more popular side of Bergman’s cannon, yet, I feel that those who aren’t so familiar with the artist will be quite enchanted with the selection… given the chance that they take the opportunity to take my word and give these films a look… Please watch them in the specific order to get the full effect; the selections range from the most artful, to the most high concept, to among the most low budget and/or rare examples of the auteur’s ‘ouvre’…
*Update: After some long and thoughtful deliberation, I’ve changed the order of this list. Hope you all agree with my new selection.
01. Through a Glass Darkly
Many critics have interpreted Ingmar Bergman’s film, Through a Glass Darkly, differently; however, Bergman has said it himself in his autobiography, Images: My Life In Film, that essentially his goal “was to depict a case of religious hysteria”. (p.252) Furthermore, Bergman labeled this film as the first installment in a trilogy of films dealing with what he calls “reduction”. (p.245) This reduction might be understood as the author coming to terms with his religious background, questioning his relationship with god and spirituality in general. Bergman also notated in his labeling of these films as a trilogy that this film in particular would be the one that “conquered certainty”. (p.245) While, it is hard to ascertain exactly what Bergman meant by “conquered certainty” even after reading the chapter in his autobiography solely focusing on this film, I feel that it has to do with conquering the blind, irrational acceptance that religious individuals have in the presence of god.
In his autobiography, Bergman states the following: “Through a Glass Darkly was a desperate attempt to present a simple philosophy: God is love and love is God.” (p.248) This claim is not only anti-institutional but also quite agnostic in its nature, it basically asserts that the closest thing to a divine experience can be found in human connection and familial relationships. This theme is represented in the form of the character of David, realizing after a botched suicide attempt, that “God is love”. (p. 248) The title itself is interesting not only in the sense that it is a biblical allusion but also, because the reference is to a passage in the bible which deals the inability of humans to perceive god in the postlapsarian world. Thus, in attempting to convey a narrative of religious hysteria, the character of Karin serves as the perfect candidate to draw the link between the mentally insane and the devoutly religious in terms of thematic representation in the film. Her madness is labeled as a sort of schizophrenia by the other characters; yet, the figure that she speaks to she refers to as a god. Perhaps Bergman means to suggest that those individuals who claim to have the ability to see god are just as mentally ill as those individuals who take order from little voices in their heads or spend their days in straightjackets at the asylum.
Karin does describe the appearance of god as “stony-faced spider” that tried to “penetrate her”, Bergman claims in his autobiography that the reasoning behind that detail in the screenplay was the following: “If we force ourselves to imagine a god, if we try to materialize him, he immediately becomes a rather repulsive figure with many faces.” (p.254) Thus, Bergman seems to be alluding to the notion that the problem comes when individuals try to label their religious devotion and associate themselves with a particular group or institution. One might offer Bergman’s chapter on The Seventh Seal in the same autobiography as evidence for such a claim, due to his musings on the common element among religious individuals being that of a certain natural holiness or general goodness among people. Thus, the closest one can get to having a divine experience is via natural human interaction or moreover, by exhibiting one’s love and compassion for other individuals; therefore, “love is god and god is love.” (p.248)
The film is meant to represent the interplay and juxtaposition of instruments in a chamber orchestra; thus, a small group of characters remain in a single setting and interact off each other for an entire film. The idea came from his wife at the time, whom he dedicated the film to, Käbi Laretei. Being an Estonian concert pianist of quite admirable reputation, she was able to help Bergman develop the form from the musical perspective and furthermore, assist him in picking out the wonderfully assembled selection of Bach that would serve as the film’s soundtrack. Aesthetically, I find the film absolutely beautiful; being that this is Bergman’s second collaboration with his long-time favorite cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, one can truly enjoy the wonderful on location shooting and usage of natural light on Bergman’s famed island of Färö. Max Von Sydow returns again from the previous two films that we have already seen; also, Gunnar Bjönstrand appears in this film, reappearing as the protagonist in Bergman’s next film in his trilogy, Winter Light. Harriet Andersson’s performance is marvelous in its attention to detail, her bouts of madness in and out reality almost seem believable in her convincing performance as Karin. On another note, much of the shooting looks amazingly crisp and natural as a result of the natural lighting, however, Bergman notates in his autobiography that he and Nykvist actually look back at the film and find a lot of the lighting in the shots to be, essentially, quite under par and perhaps even embarrassing.
02. Winter Light
Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light is the second film in a trilogy that arguably reflects the author’s crisis with his own spiritual identity. We are all well aware that Bergman was the son of a Lutheran minister with ties to the Swedish royal family. Regardless, he addresses this notion of identity crisis in his autobiography quite frequently and even speaks about how the films in the trilogy express a period in his life where he progressively came to terms with his spirituality. In the first film of the trilogy, Through a Glass Darkly, Bergman introduces a number of phrases such as “Spider-God” and “God is Love” which are later repeated in Winter Light and respectively hold their own relevance in regard to Bergman’s own perception of spirituality. Essentially, Bergman asserts that the closet thing to god on earth is human connection. Thus, “God is Love”. It is only when we try feign understanding of god in our own terms (perhaps, connecting him an institution) that we find him to become a “Spider-God”, or a monster of sorts.
In the scene in which Pastor Erisson and his mistress, Märta, are in the car a train passes by, it is arguable that when he makes his comment “it was my parents dream that I became a clergyman”, it almost seems representative of Bergman himself; perhaps a bit of the artist seeping through his creation. Bergman has had many characters in his films which critics have argued to be representative of the author. Take the knight from The Seventh Seal and David from Through a Glass Darkly to name a couple. He notates himself in his autobiography that this is one of his favorite scenes in the film in its thematic and artistic depth.
If one looks closely, one may notice how each passing train cart is meant to resemble a coffin, heightening the intensity Pastor’s newfound conception of mortality. As he has just seen his sad and lonely life flash before his eyes leaving the schoolhouse after spurning Märta after her forceful and passionate advances, realizing his sad future, Pastor Ericsson quite, schizophrenically, calls her back to come along the ride.
In an earlier scene where Pastor Ericsson is guarding the body of the dead fisherman, Jonas Persson, and we get this marvelous imagery of this bitterly cold, and frigid winter lake. There seems to be the implication, although this might be a stretch, that there is some kind of a rebirth going on here; one may argue that the character of Jonas serves as the martyr figure for Pastor Ericsson as he saves his life in realizing his salvation lies in human relationships. Thus, “God is Love.” The ironic thing is that it is actually the hunchback sexton, Algot, who reminds Pastor Ericsson of this concept and furthermore, perhaps this is why he finds new hope in his relationship with Märta and holds a service in the end of the film despite the lack of an audience. (Märta and Algot don’t count) Therefore, we can see that Bergman had added the dimension of a person suffering intensely yet, who is still legitimately and quite, fervently devout to the Christian institution in the character of Algot; he is the single and most sincerely pious character in the film.
Bergman states in his autobiography that not one shot in the entire film is done in direct sunlight, he insisted on shooting only on gloomy, overcast days to ensure that the ambiance of the film would be reflective of the harsh conditions of the Swedish winter and moreover, of the jaded, grim psychological compositions of the characters. Be that as it may, it is certainly interesting to see Sven Nykvist branching out in style from his usual polished, glossy style that we’ve come to know as a class; namely, his earlier collaborations with Bergman such as The Virgin Spring and Through a Glass Darkly. One of the most memorable shots is certainly the long close-up of Märta, in which she stares straight into the camera and breaking the fourth wall for six whole minutes; arguably, this technique makes the viewer pay closer attention to what the character is saying due not only to its unconventionality, but its ability to allow the audience to place itself momentarily in the role of the character or perhaps even, in the role of the voyeur.
Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 postmodernist work, Shame, is a film that looks at war in a very unique, innovational manner. Made during the period of America’s involvement in Vietnam and Bergman being a part of Sweden, an internationally famed icon of neutrality, Bergman felt that it was necessary that he offer up some sort of a contribution informing his viewers of his take on the hotly debated issue. Yet, characteristic of Bergman, he did not take the established, perhaps even cliché, route in terms of making an anti-war film; Shame focuses on the internal strife on its characters, it introduces themes such as the fear of modernity, gender politics and even, the inherent problems in communication amongst individuals. Be that as it may, Bergman’s thoughts about the film after it was released were that he had indulged too much in capturing ‘the events’ of war in the first half of the film and spent too little time capturing ‘the effects’ of war, which he felt to have been represented, of course, in the second half of the film. (Images, p. 299) Despite that, it seems, as usual, Bergman has been a bit overcritical of himself in this respect, as the film is quite thematically dense and complex throughout; such moments as Col. Jacobi seducing Eva in front of Jan are wonderfully written, almost unforgettable in their grotesque depiction of complete disintegration of morality amongst individuals in the time of war.
This film was most interesting to me in the role-reversal that Jan and Eva take after their house has been burnt down by the rebel soldiers; it was something uncharacteristic of any Bergman film I had seen before and it was certainly an intriguing narrative device that was astoundingly well-executed by the infinitely talented archetypal Bergmanesque leading man, Max Von Sydow. Throughout the first part of the film, Jan is constantly depicted as being positioned in the fetal position, as if he wants to return to the safety of the womb. He is shown to be overly emotional, weak, passive; it is almost as if he emasculated, he seems to be the feminine figure in the relationship. Contrastingly, Eva is portrayed as active, emotionally strong and most importantly, with a certain virility; she seems to be the masculine one in the relationship. Yet, after they have lost everything and they are walking through the war-ravaged potato fields something has changed; the roles have reversed. Perhaps the moment that marks this reversal most poignantly is when Jan and Eva approach a young boy, apparently allied with the rebel soldiers, who, after three days of being estranged from his companions, has been reduced back to a helpless child-like state.
Jan attempts to ask him for the information regarding the whereabouts of a certain boat but he responds quite brashly with “none of your business.” Jan’s reaction is still uncertain to the viewers as we are so used to him being the passive, emasculated figure that he has been presented as in the first half of the film, yet, we are a bit thrown off by the action he has taken in striking his wife earlier before they leave the ruins of their burnt-down home. The boy, returning to the fetal position and longing for a mother figure, crawls up in Eva’s lap and in this moment it seems, the roles are reversed; Eva becomes the feminine, weak, mother figure and Jan becomes the active, ruthless, figure of masculinity. After killing the boy and finding out the whereabouts of this mysterious boat, the scenes in which Jan and Eva traverse through the war-torn landscapes of the island are really evocative of themes of the fear of modernity. Established first in the opening credits of the film with the background sounds exhibiting the noise of machinery and radio frequencies, then carried on throughout the film with the constant images of automobiles, radios, planes and guns; Jan and Eva are an artistic couple that live in nature without the need for communication with the outside world for the most part. When in need of a phone, they simply use their neighbor’s; Jan sees no urgency in repairing the radio because he is simply interested in his music and his life with Eva on the island. One must wonder about this championed position of hermitage and how much this might be reflective of the auteur’s own life perspective, as he lived until his death in 2007 in virtual seclusion on his famed island of Färo.
04. The Virgin Spring
To begin with, there are a few similarities that one can discover between The Virgin Spring and The Seventh Seal from doing no more than watching the opening credits. Max Von Sydow and Gunnel Lindblom – the knight and the silent female from The Seventh Seal – have returned again to take on leading roles in The Virgin Spring. Another point that is quite important to mention is that this is the last of Bergman’s films to feature an original score, therefore, it is also the last to incorporate Bergman’s famed, yet largely under-credited film composer, Erik Nordgren. Therefore, music plays a special role in contributing to the power and effectiveness of this film to connect with its viewers; the usage of that harrowing flute juxtaposed upon dark scenes of shadows and smoke creates a cinematic effect that seems to be only achieved when executed by the most skillful of directors. More to the point, although the black and white medium is perhaps, to the uninformed, more simple than color film; any true film enthusiast will be able to tell you that those film makers who can artfully utilize the black and white medium, as Bergman can, are the ones who really have the most talent.
This is the second of work in Bergman’s ‘ouvre’, after The Seventh Seal, that deals with questions of disillusionment and identity crisis in relation to one’s religious association. Also, perhaps tied in a bit with the previous motifs are the questions of theodicy that are alluded to, almost constantly, throughout the film. I find that this film is profound in the same way that all good art is; it doesn’t just lead the viewer by the hand but allows him/herself to gain a participant role in the work by forcing him/her to make his/her own interpretation based on the content that is being presented. Certainly, the imagery and allusion is abundant and plentiful, yet, Bergman never just goes right out there and suggests that Karin’s piety is false, that Märeta and Töre are overly devout individuals that have become so disillusioned with the institute of religion that they’ve lost touch with the reality of life and so on and so forth. Lastly, there is the question of old Pagan ritual coming into conflict with the contemporary Christian theology suggested in various symbols and verbal allusions. One might ask, which of these religions are most legitimate and how can god’s figure change from era to era based on subjective interpretation? Accordingly, one may relate this to the motif of theodicy and the character’s seeming desire to ask themselves the age-old question: “If there is a god and he is so great and powerful, how can he allow such injustices to fall upon mankind?”
Although there are many other scenes that deserve attention within this film, due to time constraints I am only apt to speak about one of them, which is, of course — the rape scene. It is truly amazing to me how an artist can manage to portray a scene of such detestable action and consequent tragedy in such a strikingly beautiful and artful manner. The way the camera is set up in between the rape and a thorn bush is deeply symbolic, how it is to be interpreted is left largely up to the viewer, however, the basic implication remains the same, that, fundamentally, Karin has become entrapped and ensnared by something, that has, finally, led to her downfall. From my point of view, I see her flaw as her blind devoutness to Christian theology, which she seems to use only to manipulate people to satisfy her own needs and desires. To provide an example of evidence for this claim, one can point to how Karin convinces her mother to let her wear her hair down in the beginning of the film despite her mother’s extremely pious and god-fearing nature. Thus, one may certainly argue that the thorn bush may symbolize a representation of Karin’s character flaws that end up leading to her tragic downfall.
Be that as it may, perhaps there is a larger implication being alluded to, especially if one considers the end of the film and the clashing of Christian and Pagan iconography. One may suggest that within the film there lies an allusion to the notion that perhaps Christianity is not as important as these individuals thought it was, in fact, maybe it is no more than man-made rhetoric inspired by old Pagan traditions. (Hence, identity crisis) Furthermore, there is also arguably present within the film the suggestion that one’s devoutness to an institution will certainly not be the one to save you in a time of distress or great danger. This sort of an claim can be even further supported if one takes into account the chapter in Bergman’s autobiography Images: My Life in Film on The Seventh Seal in which he stresses the importance of the holiness of people (or general goodness) and the problem of trying to label that holiness as being in association with a particular religion. This attempt to label and reinterpret the “words of god” in his mind (as well as mine), is where we begin to encounter trouble. Thus, given that supporting evidence, one may certainly see this film as a work against institutional religion, yet, as is characteristic of all good art; the meaning of the work is always open to subjective interpretation.
05. The Seventh Seal
Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film, The Seventh Seal, is another work that is reflective of the artist’s crisis with his own spiritual identity. To that point, it has been noted that during the time of the film’s production, Bergman was still wrestling with the sobering rationalism of his adulthood and the lingering piety of his childhood. Despite that, it would be later in 1961 that Bergman would begin to endeavor in production of his ‘spiritual trilogy’ in which, through his art, the artist conquered his misconceptions about spirituality and gained a comforting agnostic rationalism that he would embrace for the rest of his life. In his autobiography, Images: My Life in Film, Bergman speaks about how the characters of Jof and Mia are representative of his ultimate and final conception of spirituality. He explains that the characters were evocative of: “the concept of the holiness of the human being. If you peel off the layers of various theologies, the holy always remains.” (p. 236) He then continues to refer to the first film in his spiritual trilogy to further explain his largely agnostic stance on spirituality through an absolutely marvelous metaphorical analogy that is alluded to/evoked in various films in Bergman’s oeuvre. “In Through a Glass Darkly, my childhood inheritance is put to rest. I maintained every conception of god created by human beings must be a monster, a monster with two faces or, as Karin puts it, the spider-god.” (p.238)
Within the film there are various memorable cinematic techniques and devices that are worth mentioning. For example, there is a shot in the film when the Knight has his second meeting with Death, within that shot one may notice that the shadows being emitted from the bars of the confession window are reflected, quite deliberately, upon the Knight’s face. There are various interpretations that could be drawn regarding the significance of the composition of this particular shot, however, it is my feeling that the shadows of the confession window are representative of not just the Knight’s, but also the author’s, metaphorical imprisonment by the institution of religion; namely, that of Christianity, as this is a narrative that has for its subject none other than The Crusades. Having a plague at the center of the narrative is quite appropriate for a film so centered upon a spiritual crisis; moreover, one may argue that the plague evokes the theme of theodicy and as a corollary, alludes to the sense that institutional religion is not only inadequate but hopelessly diluted, confused and corrupted.
To move away from critical interpretation and speak about some general facts about the film, one might say a good place to start would be the discussion of Eric Nordgren’s original film score. Largely inspired by Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and other medieval chants of a similar nature, Eric Nordgren’s musical contribution to the film should never be overlooked as it is marvelously executed and maintains a high-caliber amongst even the most revered comtemporary comparisons. In regard to the representation of Death, it was largely – as many of you may have known and/or guessed – inspired by medieval frescoes found in Swedish churches in the countryside that Bergman had become acquainted with in his childhood. Yet, one should note that at the time of the production the form and physical nature of the figure was more or less established for the reasons I’ve mentioned before; thus, making the introduction of Bergman’s interpretation, which was differed quite largely from the traditional Nordic artistic envisioning of the figure of death, was a not a risky decision. Bergman thought long and hard on this problem and finally decided to embark on what is largely considered on the most influential filmic techniques to have been executed in cinematic history, the artist switches abruptly from the pounding, seemingly ubiquitous, the sound of waves breaking on the shore to the sudden, sobering, introduction of absolute silence. It is at that same exact moment Bergman makes the cut to Death’s appearance and for whatever reason, it has proved throughout the decades among audiences all around the world that this method was effective not only in communicating accurately the representation of the particular conception of the figure of Death but also, perhaps not so much these days, in even shocking and/or frightening the audience. It was a gamble that Bergman played, he realized he could have been laughed at if he hadn’t executed the scene correctly as his actor, Bengt Ekerot, could have easily been mistaken as representing the figure of a clown had it not been for the proper use of costume, lighting and composition. In my opinion, this case is a perfect representation of the necessary essence and/or character that an artist must posses to truly be considered great. To put the final cherry on top, I’ll add that the great artist must not only create but innovate; he must not be an individual who lives a worriless life devoid of problems but instead be a figure who not only is often confronted with problems; yet, despite that, embraces the problems when they come, solving them through profound artistic means… This, in my mind, is the embodiment of the artistic spirit of a unique, rare, inspirational figure such as Ingmar Bergman; a true auteur that has forever changed the world of cinema…
06. The Silence
Ingmar Bergman’s, The Silence, is the third installment in the artist’s so-called “spiritual trilogy” which investigates the artist’s relationship, or lack thereof, with god or his spirituality. It was interesting to finally see this film so as to close the case on the collective effect of the trilogy, having studied all of its parts respectively. Having read up on the film a bit before watching it, I must say it was certainly liberating to see the camera move after coming from Winter Light and Through a Glass Darkly in which the camera barely moves at all. As Peter Cowie explains in his interview on the greater significance and overall critical interpretation of the film, some shots are even taken from the point of view of the boy; thus, giving the cinematography a subjective dimension apparently quite novel to Bergman films. The idea for this film that Bergman wrote about in his autobiography, Images: My Life in Film, was this notion that the entire screenplay was based on a dream; moreover, it was based on an alternate world, similar to our own, but a world without social rules or guidelines where anything can happen.
I found it most compelling the way the character of Ester had this profound inability to engage in social interaction, thus, leading her into alcoholism and social withdrawal. To that end, I also found it disturbing the way Anna is such a maliciously spiteful character to Ester as she tries to reach out to her. I think the entire film speaks to an inability of humans to interact socially, morally and virtually; and therefore, if the closest thing to spirituality lies in human interaction (in the mind of Bergman), what do we do if we can no longer communicate? Anna’s son, Johan, is representative of the purity of individuals before they are corrupted by society; still fresh and naïve to the world he is able to interact with all of the grotesque individuals he encounters throughout the hotel. It seems that both Anna and Ester are perpetually trying to escape as a result of their inherent inability to socially interact. Ester is constantly using alcohol and her work to escape the reality of her life and her inability to engage in social interaction and it seems Anna’s over-sexualized character seems to escape into sexual interaction as best exemplified in the scene where she makes love and ends up crying with the man she has met in the café. The notion of the dwarves is also quite interesting, Peter Cowie mentions this as well; Johan is able to interact with them, yet, Esther is unable to interact with them not due to their infirmity or grotesqueness but due to her own. Ester is obviously a figure suffering from an internal crisis, as is Anna, as they are both shown to be relatively beautiful women; yet, both seem rather grotesque psychologically.
The cast is quite small; yet, the two leading women are both Bergman favorites, quite competent and believable in their performances. We are familiar with Gunnel Lindblom from The Virgin Spring and The Seveneth Seal and with Ingrid Thulin from Wild Strawberries and Winter Light. Bergman says something in his autobiography about this film possibly being responsible for sabotaging both of these highly talented actresses careers due to some of the risqué more obscene portions of the film. For example, Gunnel Lindblom’s breasts are shown in clear view for a few second as she washes them off in the sink and then afterwards, she barges in on a couple having sex in the movie theatre; this moment too, is quite vividly portrayed. Furthermore, there are scenes of violent sex between Gunnel Lindblom and a waiter she picks up in a café, who doesn’t speak her language; a perfect candidate for Anna, emphasizing the theme of the inability of the characters in the film to communicate and truly engage in human interaction. I found it interesting to see, as Peter Cowie points out, the reflection of the ending of Through a Glass Darkly and Minus’ “Papa spoke to me” moment in Johan’s reading of Ester’s letter. Also, as Anna opens the window and gets covered with rain and water I see it as representative of the other water imagery we have seen in Bergman suggesting a sort of resurrection or rebirth; thus, maybe there is hope after all.
Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 film, Persona, is a work of deconstructivism. This was a postmodernist movement of the mid-60’s that strived to produce, essentially, art for art’s own sake. Moreover, postmodernism is a self-reflective art form. It embraces its own artificiality as a medium that has its sole function in representing human impressions and/or emotions. Thus, embracing the postmodernist vein of self-reflexivity, Bergman includes various metacinematic scenes in the film. For example, in one instance, Liv Ullman, points a still-shot camera directly into the frame, breaking the fourth wall. In this moment, we are not only reminded of the camera but we are most aware, as an audience, that we are in a mode of artificiality. This is an art form that is going out there and embracing its identity as a medium that is, inherently, artificial. It is taking cinema and saying “this is art and we are not concerned with trying to deceive you into thinking its reality.” With these themes in mind, one might understand why, while many of us can point out certain qualities of this film that can be associated with other movements of cinematic expression, one cannot help but eventually come to the conclusion that despite its various influences, the mood of this film is strikingly postmodern and deconstructionist.
From a postmodernist perspective, this film asks many questions about existence and communication which can readily be related to Shakespearian existentialist conceptualizations of “nothingness”; furthermore, it continues themes proposed in some of Bergman’s earlier films such as, The Silence, regarding communication, or lack thereof, between individuals. Bergman writes in his autobiography that, having conquered this hindrance in the form of his belief in the existence of god, he was actually able to confront real questions about his identity. Accordingly, in, Through a Glass Darkly, Bergman suggested that the closest thing to god or the divine experience is rooted in human connection and/or social relationships. Like in, The Silence, this film too presents its viewer with individuals who cannot communicate and therefore, in Bergman’s perception of the order of the world, are quite depraved. Yet, while, The Silence, presented two sisters, both of whom have had struggles in communication; Persona, on the other hand, arguably presents one individual broken up into two sides of consciousness, represented, respectively, through the actresses Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman.
Artistically, the manner Bergman and his cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, took in representing such a a complex, internal psychological struggle is truly profound. Through diverse lighting and blocking techniques, Bergman and Nykvist achieve shots that serve to make this film own up to its reputation as a work of self-reflexive art; or, moreover, art for art’s own sake. The two film geniuses utilize such memorable techniques as lighting half of the face and leaving one side dark, superimposing two faces together and finally, creating impressionistic scenes in which the interaction between the actresses is seen as dream-like, almost as if both of them are ghosts living in an alternate world of dark inner-psychology. Be that as it may, with a modern novel, the narrative here is banal, commonplace, lacking in action even; yet, as we know, that is not the point. The focus of the work is the aesthetic contributions being put forth by Bergman and Nykvist, furthermore, the greater thematic interpretation. The film ends showing us a scene of Elisabet being filmed as she returns back to her profession as an actress, leaving us with our last impression, the most metacinematic moment in the film. The only words which Elisabet speaks through the entire film are “no” and “nothing”. Being that Bergman had his roots in theatre, it is no question that he was familiar with the existentialist questions of Shakespeare presented in such works as King Lear and/or Hamlet. Without the question of god burdening the artist, he was now free to endeavor in facing such deep, profound questions as are usually associated with schools of deconstructivism and/or postmodernism.
08. The Passion of Anna
Ingmar Bergman’s 1969 postmodernist work, The Passion of Anna, is arguably, the last installment in a four-film series dealing with themes of deconstruction, existentialism and personality disintegration. The film begins attempts to illustrate the personal inner-conflict of the artist represented through the sadism, destruction and abomination of the human condition and moreover, of daily life. Thus, it is no surprise that Bergman considers this film to achieve what he had hoped to manage in Shame and instead only achieved in the last thirty or so minutes of the film. Once again, as with other films in this series, we are presented with the main character of the artist, always played by Max Von Sydow, attempting to come to terms with his enigmatic position or identity as both the victim and the victimizer, the devourer and the exploited, etc. Through this essentially contradictory nature of the artist’s identity, we can see in this film played through an almost stream-of-conscious narrative, the inner-turmoil of the artist represented in various diagetic inserts throughout the film. For example, the most poignant representation of the artist’s inner-turmoil through real-world grotesquery or tragedy would be the constant inclusion of murdered, maimed or dead animals, whose images seem to pervade over the tone, or color, of the film.
Once again, as in various previous films in this so-called series of Bergman’s cannon, Bergman provides the viewer with newsreel footage evocative of the Vietnam War. This is unsurprising really, as this film was done during a time when it was quite fashionable to be anti-Vietnam or anti-war and more importantly, that this film was coming from Sweden, one of the most emblematically neutral nations in the world (if not the most emblematic). The film unfolds in a way that is quite similar to the traditional form of the modern novel, in that it often relies on stream-of-consciousness narration, without paying heed to providing objective explanations of all of the images that are presented to the viewer. Instead, the film relies on providing subjective impressions that are then in turn, to be comprehended and understood by each viewer, respectively; that is, instead of relying on the perspective of the narrator, an all-knowing, omniscient figure that leads the viewer to objective interpretation, revoking his role as a participant in the work of art.
Perhaps the most interesting portion of this film though would be Bergman’s fashion of embracing the deconstructivist stylistic techniques. It is almost as if this film stands as the pinnacle of his experimentation as an artist, as he provides us not only non-diagetic inserts of each of the four main actors, speaking as their selves, musing on the psychological motivations of their respective characters. It is interesting that in his memoir, Bergman states that he wishes that he had edited out this portion of the film, being that its inclusion was something so groundbreaking, so pioneering, in its refusal to follow conventional stylistic guidelines in relation to cinematography and editing. Yet, perhaps the most interesting, perhaps even rebellious, act of Bergman’s is to include footage that we didn’t see from the end of his previous film Shame within the narrative of this film. Changing from color to black and white, we see these images of Bergman’s previous film without explanation; it is left up for the audience to decide its significance. In seeing this moment on film, one cannot help relate this to the final moments of the film in which Bergman says, just as the film fades out to black, “this time they called Andreas”. Moreover, this is not a film about one man’s personal struggle, but it is a film speaking to the various hardships of the human condition, in the most general terms.
09. Hour of the Wolf
Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 film, The Hour of the Wolf, is a continuation of the postmodernist themes of deconstructivism introduced in Bergman’s earlier 1966 work, Persona. Embracing the principles of self-conscious cinema, as did its predecessor, there are many moments in the film that one may point to as being strikingly metacinematic. To that same point, beginning in the film’s first moments, the viewer can actually hear the sounds of a film crew working on a set, apparently, preparing to set up a shot. Before long though, it is clear that this is the film crew that is working on the set of this film itself, as we hear a voice giving orders, which clearly, belongs to Bergman himself. Be that as it may, one may argue that this sort of metacinematic representation is only a short step away from Persona, which began with the actual images of a projector beginning to show a film. Yet, instead, this time we only hear a film crew preparing to shoot a scene. Despite that, although not directly metacinematic, there is a moment later on in the film in which many critics argue is quite reflective of the art form itself. One may compare this scene to the sort of ’play within a play’ in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, Hamlet; regardless, the scene I am speaking of, of course, is the wonderful puppet show that we see when Johan Borg, is a guest at the castle of Baron Von Merkens.
This scene plays into the profound themes of disintegration that Bergman scholar, Marc Gervais, proposes in his audio commentary of the film provided on the MGM issue of the DVD. Indeed, he is quite right to suggest that the entire film is a sort of extended metaphor for the disintegration of the artist in postmodernist society. As with many characters in Bergman’s films, one may argue that Johan Borg is representative of Bergman or, the artist himself, just as the characters of Antonius Block from The Seventh Seal, David from Through a Glass Darkly or Pastor Ericsson from Winter Light have arguably, represented identity traits that are characteristic of the life experience of Bergman himself. Despite that, here we have the same sort of themes of artificiality, embracing art for art’s own sake, as have been proposed in Bergman’s previous film, Persona. Just as we have begun to become engrossed in the film’s narrative, just as the film begins to seem to recreate reality in a sort of escapist manner, Bergman rips the rug out from under our feet and says: “Wait! This is a movie!” One may argue that he almost reminds us that he is the puppet master, as we see this eerie character of Baron von Merken’s capture all of the characters complete attention with this, rather, crude, simplistic form of entertainment; the puppet show. Thus, perhaps in this moment Bergman offers an implicit critique of conventional forms of cinema, cinema that too often lowers itself to the level of cheap-thrill, escapist, objective, conventional narrative-driven product.
Being Bergman’s only work of horror, per say, it is interesting to see Bergman’s inspiration taken from early German expressionist cinema and/or early forms of the European silent cinema from the 1920’s and teens. It is interesting how Bergman, being a devout, intellectually-driven artist, takes this conventional genre and completely makes it his own by modernizing the thematic content of the narrative and furthermore, by compulsively indulging in making his audience aware of the art form as they indulge in it; thus, providing the viewer with further evidence supporting the argument that this film serves as a prime example of Bergman’s self-reflective cinema.
One can clearly see Bergman’s inspiration (almost a tip of the hat) from such pivotal expressionist masterpieces as F.W. Murnau’s, 1922 film, Nosferatu and Robert Wiene’s 1920 film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Specifically, Bergman’s usage of overdone, almost, expressionistic make-up on Max Von Sydow’s character of Johan Borg is quite reminiscent of the make-up in the two early German expressionist films that I’ve just mentioned. Furthermore, the landscapes that are included in the beginning of the film, with the great rock forms of the Swedish archipelago, are strikingly expressionistic in their stark contrasts of light and dark, also, in their sort of generally austere composition; one of the characteristic traits of early expressionist cinema is that character’s emotions could be represented through setting and mise-en-scence; thus, this film, if taken to be a modern continuation of the expressionist genre, is no exception.
10. Summer with Monika
Ingmar Bergman’s 1953 film, Summer with Monika, is based on a short story that was later developed into a novel by famous Swedish literary figure, Per Anders Fogelström. Bergman happened to be in collaboration with him while he was writing his novel and after hearing the idea, suggested to Fogelström that they make a film out of it. Fogelström was willing and the process of sending scripts back and forth through the mail began until they both came to a sort of synthesis of input that both sides were pleased with. The original idea in Fogelström’s own words was: “… it’s about a girl and a fellow, just kids, who pack their jobs and families – and beat it out into the archipelago. And then come back to town and try to set up in some sort of bourgeois existence. But everything goes to hell for them.” Throughout the development of the concept though, many things changed and the focus of the narrative switched over from Harry to Monika, regardless, the film still retained the same title to heighten the potential ticket buyer’s association with Fogelström’s novel, as he was quite a popular figure in Sweden at the time. (That is, despite the fact that Summer with Monika seems to suggest a film told from the perspective of a male figure, ‘a summer with Monika’) …
Despite that, once the screenplay was finished and turned into Carl Anders Dymling of Svensk Filmindustri, he accepted the script on the grounds that it would be “small and simple – the world’s cheapest film.” Due to a lockout staged by producers in reaction to the high rate of tax placed on entertainment by the Swedish government that prevented all film production the previous year (1952), the executives at Svensk Filmindustri were now eager to get product onto the market. Thus, regardless of the questionable adult elements in Summer with Monika, such as the scenes of nudity, adultery and inter-marital violence, Svensk Filmindustri was happy to get content out on the market. Bergman is said to have claimed that a member of the board at Svensk Filmindustri actually resigned due to the release of his film, or in his own words: “in protest of such filth.”
The small cast was composed of actors who were relatively unknown to the Swedish cinema community at the time period. Lars Ekborg, who played the role of Harry, was mostly known only as a stage actor; yet, he would go on to play another role for Bergman in his later release entitled, The Face. The role of Monika, of course, went to Harriet Andersson; Bergman had written the role of Monika specifically with Andersson in mind. We know Andersson from her work in Through a Glass Darkly and Persona. They met while Andersson was working as an elevator attendant and had a short-lived romantic relationship; during that period, Bergman helped launch her film career.
It is said by various critics that Summer with Monika is a film, that aesthetically, is largely inspired by the work of the Italian neorealist movement and specifically, such filmakers as Vittorio de Sicas, director of Bicycle Thieves. Italian neorealism is a style of film marked by narratives that focus on characters of low and/or poor working class backgrounds, filmed on location and using nonprofessional actors. Therefore, we can see that although the definition does not exactly fit the qualities of Summer with Monika, there are some qualities that do match – which, I’ll get into later on in the presentation. Also, you might be interested to know that there is a sort of tribute to Summer with Monika inserted within Truffaut’s 400 Blows; not only is the character of Antoine Doinel seen stealing a poster of the famous image of Monika from the film but in the end of the movie, he stares directly into the camera quite similarly to how Monika does in the end of this film.
The plot is more or less as follows: Monika, a sensual, yet commanding young vegetable seller who is constantly being pursued and/or sexually heckled by men meets a boy, Harry, who is of a higher social stature, perhaps even more bourgeois than she is. Regardless, they fall in love and escape the city and all of its social pressures to pursue their romantic relationship. They do so by stealing Harry’s father’s boat and taking off into the Swedish archipelago for a summer. Throughout their trip which at first seems idyllic, the realities of the city come back to haunt the couple; Monika has become pregnant and they have run out of food and even have to result in stealing from a families home in order to get something to eat. Yet, in their time spent together, Monika has largely brought Harry into adulthood. She teaches him how to dance, to make love and even how to steal vegetables… Yet, when it comes time for them to return to the city, we see that Monika is just another figure that we have become so familiar with through the novels of Richardson or even, Flaubert. This woman suffering from a certain profound ennui — a perpetual romantic disillusionment and sense of disquietude. No matter what she has and where she is, she will never be happy; she will always want what she doesn’t have. She has this sort of malady of escapism; she can never be content in her current situation. Harry comes home and attempts to integrate Monika into the bourgeis lifestyle but she quickly becomes dissatisfied with the life of domesticity and even loathes spending time with her child. We end the film with Monika spurning Harry and leaving him to fend on his own with their daughter, leaving us with the grim image of all of the couple’s furniture being sold off and the young man staring at himself in a mirror as he reminisces on the time he spent in the archipelago and how it, for better or worse, changed his life forever.
Shooting began on the 22nd of July in 1952. The film was shot on an idyllic tiny island of Sadelöga just off Utö in the Swedish archipelago, as I have said before. To save money transporting film back forth, they let 3 weeks worth of shooting pile up and upon returning back to the city realized that apparently all of material had been deemed virtually unusable; there had been a bad scratch on all of the negatives. They were told they had to reshot the entire thing from beginning to end, the 75% of the film in exteriors… Bergman’s usual cinematographer up until The Virgin Spring in 1960, Gunnar Fischer, provides some excellent capturing of city scenes as well as idyllic landscapes of the archipelago. However, I have to say some of the most memorable cinematography of the film takes place in the jazz bar scene near the end of the film when Monika runs off while Harry is still at work to meet another guy. She looks directly into the camera and the viewer gets a really strong impression of her emotion; this effect is even further intensified by the fact that Bergman allows for subjective interpretation of the audience by not having Monika speak or explain her look, but instead, just has her remain silent, staring directly into the camera for about ten long, drawn-out seconds… The amazing thing though is that those 10 seconds are made to feel almost like an hour as we, as viewers, get lost in the passion and mystery which lies dormant in Monika’s eyes. It is almost if we are watching a stage-play and the lead actress is looking out to the audience, breaking the fourth wall, implicitly asking for our judgment. Whether or not that is the case, Ingmar Bergman’s technique and execution (in collaboration with his cinematographer Gunnar Fischer) in this rather early film is marvelously impressive, I regard this production as profound in its cinematography and innovational its construction theme and narrative. Despite that, Bergman’s later work is obviously much more impressive, yet, it is always gratifying to be able to trace the growth and progression of the artist as one’s career unfolds throughout the years.
1. Bergman, Ingmar. Images: My Life in Film. New York: Arcade Pub., 2007. Print.
2. Bergman, Ingmar, and Maaret Koskinen. Ingmar Bergman Revisited: Performance, Cinema and the Arts. London: Wallflower, 2008. Print.
3. Gervais, Marc. Ingmar Bergman: Magician and Prophet. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1999. Print.
4. Cowie, Peter. Ingmar Bergman: A Critical Biography. New York: Limelight, 1992. Print.