Blog Archives

A Film in Images: Winter Light

Unforgettable Scenes #4: “We find it difficult to talk to each other…”

Bergmanathon: Celebrating One Year of Ingmar Bergman Love

10 Things I Learned From Movies I Watched in 2011

The Ten Best Films About Religion

Ten Memorable Long Takes in Movies

My 15 Favourite Moments in Ingmar Bergman Movies

Ingmar Bergman’s Trilogy of Faith: Review

I recently (finally!) received my DVD copy of Bergman’s Faith Trilogy. Now, the Australian/New Zealand DVD is different to the Criterion DVD cover, and the whole front cover is the above image and nothing else. Spookily relevant.

And I thought, what better time to finally review the three movies… three masterpieces of cinema, and three of Bergman’s best films. So here they are, reviewed individually. Make of them what you will.

Through A Glass Darkly (1961)

The first instalment of the trilogy tells of a family, led by the brutally silent and self-involved David (Gunnar Björnstrand), attempting to deal with mental illness. The beautiful young Karin (Harriet Andersson) has schizophrenia; though this is never actually stated, it becomes obvious as the film progresses. This movie is a character study if ever there was one, and one of the more emotionally affecting films of Bergman. The family appear to be happy at first, but they are all extremely flawed, and some even hate each other.

This is the first of a string of Bergman movies filmed on the island of Faro, which Bergman made his home for a long time. The island itself eminates a sense of claustrophobia, and it seems at time that this family has been pushed too close together for their own safety. Any director could make Karin seem like an insane person ruining the lives of her family, but Bergman opts for another outlook: Karin is imperative to the emotional survival of her family. Without her, there would be a hell of a lot less light in their lives. Even the cheerful Minus (Lars Passgård) is truly sombre at heart, and unhappy like the others.

Their true unhappiness is revealed early in the film in a shockingly unexpected scene; so far in the film, the mood has been very light, but as David steps inside after handing out gifts to his family, he breaks down and cries, loudly and emotionally. It is at this point that the true fragility of their relationship is revealed. Mental illness causes strain, but the strain put on the family is not so much the mental illness as just the general disquiet and contempt that the people have because they are flawed. The only person who is really directly affected by the illness is Karin; the others are just flawed. They’re not mentally ill; just hurt.

Karin is the one who breaks down in hallucinations of a spider-God raping her. Karin hears voices, and dreams of walking through walls. Karin is the metaphor for a broken angel, perhaps a martyr of sorts; Karin once shone a light on her depressed family, but her mental illness has destroyed that light, and it is gone, and Bergman’s analysis of the remains is a requiem, viewing the fragmented family through a glass, darkly, the ‘glass’ represented by the camera lens and ‘darkly’ represented by the darkness within Karin’s shattered psyche.

My Rating:

4.5/5 Bergmans

Is It Worth Adding To Your Netflix Queue?

Winter Light (1961)

Winter Light is the most intense of all of Bergman’s films. It is a marvel that the man has managed to squeeze such amazing emotion into 80 minutes. It contains emotion and emotional value not present in any other movie ever made. It is so unique.

The plot centres on the pastor of a small rural church. He is played with brilliant quietness and sharp accuracy by Gunnar Björnstrand, in a performance that may perhaps be impossible to top. He is lonely, embittered, and filled with doubt. Doubt in himself, doubt in his beliefs, doubt in the people around him and doubt in God. Like Harriet Andersson’s Karin in Through A Glass Darkly, he envisions the God he used to love as a spider. He has prayed and worshipped a figure that seems not to care; who has never spoken, or intervened at any time. Who has remained silent.

Emotionally, Bjornstrand’s Tomas Ericsson is dead. And he has been ever since his wife died, thus treating the gentle advances of the fragile Marta (Ingrid Thulin) with a cold ignorance. In a long, long monologue in the form of a written letter told by Thulin, she explains and professes her absolute unconditional love from him, and soon after, he turns to her and rejects it.

The film relies heavily on dialogue, but dialogue is definitely not all it has to offer. It is shot by Bergman’s longtime cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who took over from the late Gunnar Fischer. Nykvist frames each shot beautifully, and there is one noticeably haunting shot in which almost all the frame is consumed by a white light (you could say, the ‘winter light’ of the title) and it wraps around Tomas’s face as he speaks Jesus’s words to God as he suffered on the cross: “God… why have you forsaken me?” This is an astoundingly beautiful poetic moment if you are familiar with the Biblical passage (which I was not, but I still found it affecting), and the most touching moment of the movie.

It seems that this may also be one of Bergman’s more personal films. There is a scene where, whilst sitting in a car with Marta, he reveals that it was his parents’ dream that he become a priest. This is not only a revelation for Tomas, but a revelation for Bergman. He had a strict Lutheran upbringing, and his father was a priest who would beat him and mistreat him regularly. This makes Björnstrand’s admission (and indeed, the entire film) all the more poignant.

If you wish to think of the film on a more basic, accessible level, then think of it this way: this is not a film about religion, or religious doubt, as much as it is a film about broken people, searching for love and a reason to live in the world. Humans are left to scramble, scream and cry down here on Earth, while God up in the heavens (if he does indeed exist, depends on what you believe) is silent, contemplating.

My Rating:

5/5 Bergmans

Is It Worth Adding To Your Netflix Queue?:

The Silence (1963)

The final film in the “trilogy” is The Silence, a directly paced, affecting work. The story is about two sisters, Ester and Anna, and Anna’s son Johan. They are in a strange country, where people speak a language that even translator Ester does not understand. The majority of the film documents their stay at a hotel, as their characters begin to unfold in a series of amusing, strange, erotic and frightening scenes.

Ester is sick, and dying, and we follow her painful sickness through part of the film. She is a distant, lonely woman, as is her sister. However, her sister is more interested in sex, watching a couple have intercourse and then picking up a man of her own, while her sister lies feebly at home, breaking down emotionally, and masturbating in a lonely sequence.

Johan, it seems, has more life and innocence than his mother and aunt. In fact, you could say he is the only character that displays any real sense of life and innocence in the film. He wanders aimlessly around the vast hotel, stumbling into the lives of other people; a hotel porter, an old man, and even a room full of circus midgets. His viewpoint of the world is touching, and brings a certain depth and an entirely different level of understanding to the film. It’s much easier to think about the film from Jonas’ perspective, but it is within the two women that the real challenge lies.

They are distant, self-absorbed, and spiteful. Anna frolicks around nude whilst Ester looks on, in a manner of both hatred and curiosity. On a deeper, repressed level, their relationship is incestuous. But again, they’ve repressed any love for each other with a hell of a lot of bitterness, as many of Bergman’s characters tend to do, and in a manner which he would most notably revisit in another sibling study, Cries and Whispers.

I asked my friend Andrew (who is a confirmed Bergman addict) whether he thought The Silence was light-hearted or an overall darker toned film, and he responded with the latter, contradicting my image of a lighter movie. I was thinking of it as Jonas’s movie, and had overlooked the real emotional turmoil which lies within the sisters. Jonas is there to simply provide relief from the sister’s endless hatred and repression, just as the maid Anna provides relief from the conflicted sisters Maria and Karin in the aforementioned Cries and Whispers.

Whatever manner or tone you prefer to think of the film in, it is undeniably a powerful examination of a world bathed in quiet, where no one can understand each other’s language, and so they resort to silence as a cure for the craziness, but instead, it takes them deeper into an abyss of darkness where life can barely see anything at all, let alone attempt to bubble for the surface.

My Rating:

Is It Worth Adding To Your Netflix Queue?:

Anyway, those’re my reviews. If you’ve got anything to say about the movies, please leave a comment below. And by the way, how do you like the new rating system?

Thanks for reading.

5 Memorable Moments in Ingmar Bergman Movies

Continuing the “5 Memorable” series (now with its own banner :-)) is a selection of five memorable moments (or scenes) in the awesome movies of Swedish legend filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. In no particular order:

1: The Seventh Seal: Death Meets Antonius:

The only clip I can find for this scene is not subtitled, but the iconic image pretty much speaks for itself:

2: Winter Light: Ingrid Thulin’s Letter:

A shockingly extended and beautifully performed monologue, this static, almost unbroken shot of Ingrid Thulin’s character professing her true feelings for a religiously doubtful Gunnar Bjornstrand is timeless, and fantastic.

 3: Persona: The Repeated Scene:

One of many fantastic scenes from Bergman’s best movie is the gutwrenching scene in which we see Liv Ullman listening to Bibi Andersson tell her the truth about herself (well, themselves), only to have, in a sickening twist, the camera turned around as we are forced to hear the entire monologue again, this time with the camera focusing on Andersson. It’s a fascinating technique, and a very effective one. Don’t forget to turn on the closed captions so you know what she’s saying.

4: Cries and Whispers: How You Have Changed

Some great acting here. Cries and Whispers is a film filled to the brim with raw emotion, and this scene manages to capture a lot of it so beautifully.

5: Fanny and Alexander: The Prologue

Largely thanks to Bergman and his cinematographer Sven Nykvist, we have this magnificent epic film, in which every shot and every scene is so beautifully executed that just looking at any of the film’s brilliant scenes is full of so much raw beauty that it’s hard to comprehend how one human being imagined it all to be so perfect.

So those are my five selections. Now I need to know…

Leave a comment with what you thought of my choices. Do you like Ingmar Bergman? What’s your favourite moment, scene or movie from this master? Let me know.

Thanks for reading.

Weekend at Bergman’s: Five Great Films Directed by Ingmar Bergman

His name rings through the annals of film history, echoing through the dark infinite halls, a hauntingly recognisable title. It bounces off the walls of film and television, recurring such beautiful images as the one above in our minds, as clear and crisp as they were on the day he filmed them. This is a man who has literally created… history.

I say these words with assured clarity and certainty, but yet, I was only introduced to his films about a month ago. My friend has numerous posters in his room, more so than normal, all of them decent film posters, some of them relics. But, the king of them all, dead in the centre, is that of a film called Persona. I asked him, “what’s Persona, and why haven’t I heard of it?” He knew that I had only recently become a film fanatic, so he excused my blatant Bergman naivety, and introduced me to a whole world of classic, startling pictures that, to put it lightly, blew me away.

Since then I’ve compulsively watched every Bergman film I could find (well… borrow) and I’ve totalled a neat eight films from the black-and-white mastermaker. I know, it’s not nearly enough, but it’s a start, isn’t it?

Anyway, these are my five favourites, counting down, from this cinematic lord…

5: Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Bergman’s final film before a long string of unrecongised television movies, this whopper of a five hour masterpiece (or three hours, if you want the short version) tells the epic and disturbing tale of a brother and sister and the events that shape their life within the course of one tumultuous year. This has everything you could ever want from a Bergman movie, and is a fine example of his work and the places it has taken him. It’s nice, too, to get a movie this long that can really be described as an epic. I mean, the ninety minute movies were fine and dandy, but its great to know Bergman released a good and long pacing movie, which brings him to Lean-like status in my book. I tell a lie, he’s better than Lean, and this is one of the five that proves it.

4: The Seventh Seal (1957)

Some are undoubtedly going to disagree with the placing of this at fourth, but I must argue for it. Just because this is in fourth doesn’t mean it’s not one of my favourites. The Seventh Seal is a stunning, captivating journey in which a travelling young man (Max von Sydow, anyone?), haunted by the spectre of Death (who has long walked at his side, apparently) who attempts to journey home to his wife. Along the way he meets various people and is greeted with various sights, from pleasant to disturbing, in a quest not only for home but for answers; religious truth, a reality check, something to let him know life is not pointless. Bergman shows us many awesome sights, from the unique shot of the two mains engaged in a chess battle to one of the final stunning shots, which can be seen at the top of the page of this post.

3: Cries and Whispers (1972)

Of all the great cinematography from the legendary Sven Nykvist in the films of Bergman, it was perhaps never as shocking and striking as in Cries and Whispers. The first thing that struck me about this movie was the colour. Red. Red. RED. It is a chilling blood red that completely fills the frame in nearly every shot, and the fades to red at the end of the scenes must be some fantastic way of engulfing the viewer into the fragile and stunningly emotive world of the human soul. Bitter resentment, hatred, love and ignorance decorate the characters minds and souls as they come together to mourn the sickness and eventual death of their sister. There are countless things about this movie that make it a masterpiece, and I’m glad to be able to say that in a year dominated by The Godfather, there was an alternate offer that was equally as difficult to refuse.

2: Persona (1966)

A visual stunner with references dating to the birth of cinema and some dreamlike sequences that no doubt were an influence on David Lynch as well as beautifully delivered monologues and haunting imagery all combine to present us with a flawless and fabulous examination of humanity and existence, personalities, differences and unnoticeably obvious similarities. From its opening prologue which is undeniably one of the best, most provocative opening sequences in film, to the numerous observations of film as a whole and the casual reminders that we are watching a film, such as a flickering projector which begins to run and then stops sudden at the end. The merging personalities which decorate the film eventually turn into merging physical identities, as in the startling image of the two faces as one, a shocking reminder of the lesson the entire film teaches us: we are not as different as we think.

1: Winter Light (1963)

Of the countless Bergman films which examined religious doubt and a general loss of faith, none were as bleak or powerful as IB’s timeless classic Winter Light. A more than bite sized portion of an excellent trilogy dealing with that aforementioned theme, Winter Light tells of a pastor who has lost his faith, almost completely, and spends most of the eighty minute run time contemplating his life and everything he’s ever done for religion. Is it all in vain? Is there really a God? He just doesn’t know anymore, and for a pastor such as he, it is a sad, depressing thing to see. His “girlfriend,” a lonely and intelligent woman (Ingrid Thulin) deliveres a deeply passionate monologue through the form of an extended but not long letter that is punctuated with the fluid language of Bergman that is a wonder to behold. The pastor himself (Gunnar Bjornstrand) is warrented a much-deserved monologue as Bergman’s quiet but deadly little examination of faith draws slowly to its close. It’s not an eventful film, per se, but it emotionally speaks volumes about life, love, religion, existence and everything that ever mattered. A masterpiece.

So there you have it! My five favourites of Ingmar Bergman, so far. These are five classic movies that I highly recommend. I very nearly may have missed out on the Bergman experience, but I luckily stumbled upon a friend–and a movie–which changed everything.

I urge you to see these films, and if you already have, please leave a comment telling me what you think of my choices and reviews and… anything in general about the post.

Thanks for reading.