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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ingmar Bergman | Sommarnattens leende (Smiles of a Summer Night); Smultronstallet (Wild Strawberries); Skammen (Shame); En Passion (The Passion...)


Smiles of a Summer Night

Wild Strawberries


Shame

The Passion of Anna


FOUR FILMS OF INGMAR BERGMAN
by Douglas Messerli

Of all the film directors who have been influential to my love of the cinema, Ingmar Bergman has meant the most to me. The New York Times recently reported that noted film critic Philip Lopate, at least in his youth, mostly disdained the work of the Swedish director, and other critics have described Bergman as a filmmaker for the middle class. Perhaps these individuals know a community of different “middle-class” viewers than those with whom I grew up; certainly the citizens of the small Iowa city and suburban community in which I lived—all quite middle class—had they even viewed one of Bergman’s films, would have found little of interest, the work being far too serious for their taste, his characters unbelievably tormented, and his cinematic structures too experimental and complex. But then these people probably don’t see the films of Woody Allen—a director highly influenced by Bergman—either. Robert Rosenbaum, writing also in the New York Times, recently claimed that Bergman was highly overrated and that “his star has faded.” But, in the end, these arguments seem pointless: younger film viewers appear to have lost interest in and knowledge of both Bergman and (Lopate’s favorite of that period) Michelangelo Antonioni, men who died this year on the same day, July 30. The CNN reporter, describing the famous chess game of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, clearly had never heard of the man nor seen the movie.

While I have enjoyed nearly all of Bergman’s films—I have seen all but a handful of his earlier films—I am particularly fond of his 1955 comedy Smiles of a Summer Night, Wild Strawberries of 1957, Persona of 1966, and The Passion of Anna of 1969, three of which I have chosen to write about here.
Soon after I completed my commentaries about those films, the AFI Film Festival in Los Angeles showed Bergman’s great film Shame, which I attended. Accordingly, I have added a brief discussion of this film as well.

THE NATURAL ORDER OF THINGS

Ingmar Bergman (writer and director) Sommarnattens leende (Smiles of a Summer
Night
) / 1955

Along with Jean Renoir’s incomparable Rules of the Game (which I discussed in the 2006 volume of My Year), Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night is my favorite cinematic comedy, a work attune to the writings Marivaux, Molière, and Mozart, while sharing much in common with Shakespeare’s great comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Bergman’s masterpiece—as film critic Pauline Kael described it—is an “exquisite carnal comedy,” “a nearly perfect work.”

From the very first scene, as the self-consciously groomed attorney (his beard is one the strangest of film history) Fredrik Egerman (Gunnar Björnstrand) efficiently completes his work, we recognize that however hard Egerman has strived to organize a pleasant and fulfilling life for himself, he is doomed to failure. Behind his back, his clerks gossip about his current young wife—just sixteen years of age when he married her—and of the great actress Desirée Armfeldt (Eva Dahlbeck), with whom Egerman had a two-year affair after his first wife’s death. These scenes set the tone of the first of two parts into which the film is divided, life in the city and life in the country, the first establishing the desired order of Egerman’s selfish life, the second the unraveling of all his perceived structures.

Although Egerman’s city life is, on the surface, quite pleasant; yet, as we witness his proud strut down the street on his way to pick up photographs he has had taken of his beautiful young wife, we can immediately sense his doom. For the evening he has planned a trip with his attractive doll-wife to the theater, where, incidentally, Desirée is performing. Upon his return home, however, the viewer quickly recognizes that, as in Hamlet’s Denmark, something is rotten in this turn-of-the-century Scandinavian household. Egerman’s son Henrik has just passed the exams for church ministry, but the melancholy young man, caught between his sexual desires and religious principles, is clearly suffering. As he declares later in the film, “If the world is full of sin, I want to sin.” But he is too innocent to successfully woo even Egerman’s flirtatious young maid, Petra.

Although Egerman’s wife, Anne (Ulla Jacobsson), is indeed a beauty, we soon discern that in the one year she has been married to Egerman, she has refused all sexual contact, that she is still a virgin, and her role in this home is similar to that of Nora in Ibsen’s The Doll’s House, set only a few years earlier. Their relationship is brilliantly characterized in Egerman’s command that they take a nap before dinner, which Bergman portrays in the uncomfortable image of their two bodies lying side by side, the one sleeping, the other like a young schoolgirl being forced to take a nap. And as she turns toward him to resolve the distance with a kiss, the older man mumbles the name of his former lover Desirée, which results later in Anne’s demand to leave the play the moment she discovers the lead actress shares the same name.

Like a naughty and chastised boy, Egerman puts his doll wife to sleep before sneaking out to an after-theater encounter with his actress friend. But even here we perceive that Egerman will not get his way, as the witty Desirée spars with him, sending him into a pool of water before humiliating him with the sudden appearance of her current lover, the jealous military officer, Carl-Magnus Malcolm. Faced with Malcolm’s threats, Egerman has no choice but to retreat into the night dressed only in his foe’s nightshirt.

Malcolm, in turn, is married to a friend of Anne’s, a woman close to her age but far different in her behavior. Charlotte Malcolm, unlike Anne, has taken on her own lovers to avenge her husband’s acts. But while she insists that all men are hairy beasts and that she detests her husband, we recognize in the repetition of her statements—“I hate him, I hate him, I hate him!"—that she is still desperately in love with Carl-Magnus.

Fortunately, Desirée, who has borne a son that may or may not be Fredrik’s child, is plotting a revenge that will return Egerman to her and restore the necessary order. She convinces her hilariously wise mother to give a grand party, inviting the Egermans and the Malcolms to the country.

No sooner have the first guests arrived than Petra, the Egerman housekeeper, discovers a new lover in Frid, the groom, who, in his ritualistic descriptions of the three smiles of the summer night, dominates this second portion of the movie.

While the men battle it out on the crocket court, Desirée and Charlotte make plans to alter the course of love. At dinner, the elderly Mrs. Armfeldt toasts her guests with a wine, a strange brew containing “a drop of milk from the swelling breasts of a woman who has just given birth to her first child and a drop of seed from a young stallion.” Almost immediately, the young lovers—lovers unknown even to themselves—are affected, as Henrik becomes inconsolable with what he sees as the meaningless chatter of his elders, angrily abandons the dinner table; Anne soon follows with the intention of relieving her headache.

Henrik’s bedroom, we have been previously told, was the former room of the King who, in love with another man’s wife, had arranged to mechanically transfer the woman’s bed through an opening in the wall into his own room once the husband had fallen asleep. As Henrik clumsily attempts suicide, he falls upon the lever, and Anne and her bed are brought into him. The son and step-mother immediately fall into one another’s arms, kissing. These are the lovers of the first smile of the summer night: young lovers. When Petra, observing the escape of her mistress and Henrik, wishes that she had been such a lover, Frid reassures her: “There are few young lovers in this world. You can almost count them.” Perhaps old Mrs. Armfeldt has expressed it best earlier in this film: “Why is youth so terribly unmerciful? And who has given it permission to be that way?”

As arranged, Charlotte flirts with Egerman, and when she later escapes the house on her way, apparently, to rendezvous with him, Carl-Magnus jealously follows. As he encounters Egerman in the pavilion, the man who has fought 18 duels challenges his rival (as he has previously told his wife: “I can tolerate someone dallying with my mistress, but if anyone touches my wife, I become a tiger.”) to a game of Russian Roulette.

After a few hair-raising rounds, the gun explodes in Egerman’s face, showering him in dark powder—but it is only a blank, Carl-Magnus has not used real bullets. So does Carl-Magnus win back his Charlotte, as Petra and Frid toast the second smile of the summer night: for jesters and fools.

Now without son or wife, Egerman is left nearly empty-handed and must accept the love he has had with his mistress as the proper order of things. And, in this sense, Bergman’s great comedy is strangely a testament to the idea of a natural order that transcends the bourgeois conceits of men like Fredrik, in which women become idealized objects. In the end, promiscuous sexuality, even a form of incest—an affair between of a young wife and her stepson—is preferable to the selfishly closeted world of Egerman’s house. As the film closes, Frid toasts the final smile of the night: “For the sad, the depressed, the sleepless, the confused, the frightened, the lonely,” in short, what all of us will surely become.

Los Angeles, September 17, 2007



ON THE ROAD

Ingmar Bergman (writer and director) Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries) / 1957

Despite my seeming knowledge of Bergman’s films I quickly discovered in reviewing these works that, although I have always thought of myself as having a phenomenal memory, one I sometimes evince in these volumes, it is quite faulty. I quickly realized that what I most recalled of Wild Strawberries, for example, was the early dream sequence, which I thought occurred much later in the film. I had evidently forgotten most of the film’s plot.

For those who might share some of my loss of recall, I’ll briefly describe the story. The 78-year-old doctor Isak Borg (played to perfection by Victor Sjöström) self-admittedly has withdrawn from others, involving himself in his scientific research. A doctor of some note, Borg is to be awarded a special degree in medicine on the day we encounter him, and must travel from his home in Stockholm to Lund for the ceremonies.

During the early morning hours, however, Borg has frightening dreams—or at least highly symbolic ones. He finds himself on a street where most of the houses are in bad repair and are closed up. Attempting to check the time, he discovers that the hands of all the clocks, including his own pocket watch, have disappeared. Soon after he comes upon a man who, when he touches him, turns into dust. Just as suddenly an unattended hearse, led by horses, rushes into the street, its wheels becoming caught in the streetlight. When one wheel finally is dislodged, the coffin falls from the leaning hearse, and as the doctor goes forward to put the dead man’s hand back into the box, the hand grabs him, clearly attempting to pull Borg into the coffin with it—the dead man appearing to be Borg himself.

I find this scene—the one I recalled from my childhood—the weakest of the film. Although Bergman’s images are quite powerful (the use of bright white light and shade in these scenes is truly memorable), the dream is an almost hackneyed vision of the man’s fear of impending death, paralleling, of course, his loneliness in which he has entrapped himself. The director, fortunately, does not make a great deal of this sequence—it is what it is, a dream of death—and when the doctor later attempts to relate the events of his dream to his daughter-in-law, he is told that she is disinterested. Thus we are saved any further analysis. For, despite Bergman’s use of dream imagery elsewhere in this film and in others of his works, the Swedish master has little connection with the surreal images of Buñuel, Fellini, or even Hitchcock. Rather, Bergman is at heart a psychological realist, and his images function simply as outward manifestations of human fears and doubts.

Clearly something is amiss in the old man’s state of mind. Upon awakening, accordingly, Borg determines to change his plans; instead of flying to Lund, he will drive, allowing himself the sixteen hours before the event to revisit his childhood summer house and the region where he lived as a young country doctor. Agda, his housekeeper, who has been looking forward to the flight and ceremony, is furious, but his daughter-in-law Marianne, who has temporarily left her husband and has been living in Borg’s house, is determined to join her father on his voyage, returning to her husband and her previous life.

Thus we quickly recognize that the film will not be simply another one of Bergman’s intense dramas of doubt, but a sunnier “road” movie (the film premiered the same year as the noted American novel On the Road), this a journey through the Swedish countryside. The moment Borg begins his voyage he is reprimanded, in no uncertain terms, for being an insensitive and uncaring man, a man, as Marianne describes him, who is “as hard as nails.” She blames him, in part, for his son Evald’s implacability and, ultimately, for the failure of her marriage. The doctor has evidently loaned his son money to begin his career, and refuses, despite his wealth, to forgive the debt.

It is Sjöström’s great acting that saves Borg from becoming a kind of pained scapegoat; while clearly his Borg is hurt by Marianne’s pronouncements, the character retains a wise sense of irony, which plays nicely against the slings and arrows his figure must face throughout the day.
Coming upon the house where he grew up, Borg again dreams, but this time the images he conjures up are those of the past, as he is forced to watch his beloved Sara flirting with and accepting the love of another man. The conversation he overhears reveals his own sense of perfection, his high ideals regarding himself and others that make loving him quite unbearable. Later scenes at the dinner table and elsewhere further develop both the sense of a loving family and a mother, like her son, somewhat cold of heart.

When Borg awakens from his daydream/memory, a young woman—also named Sara (played like Borg’s Sara by the beautiful Bibi Andersson)—asks if she might join them in their travels, and as quickly as she is accepted she, in turn, is joined by her two male companions, Viktor and Anders, who spend much of the remaining journey arguing about the existence of God and other philosophical issues of the young. In short, Borg is forced on this journey into the past to encounter also the difficulties of middle age and youth as well.

Suddenly, a car swerves in front of them, sending both vehicles off the road. In what is one of the most perverse events of the journey, the fighting couple now also accompanies them. The couple engage in a horrifying battle of language, reminding one of the later literary figures Martha and George of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. As Sten Altman says of himself and his wife: “Me and my wife are dependent on each other. It is out of selfish reasons we haven't beaten each other to death a long time ago.” Their ongoing quarrel becomes so rancorous that Marianne, now driving the large automobile, finally stops and orders them out, “for the children’s sake.”

A stop along the way for gas elicits the joy of a couple who knew the kindly doctor as children, and reveals that Borg is still loved throughout the area. So does Marianne and the viewer discover that Borg was once, perhaps, a loving, caring being. Compared with his 95-year-old mother, whom they next visit, he is nearly a model of humane behavior. Mistaking Marianne for Borg’s long-dead wife, she orders her out of the house. Once she is told who Marianne is, the mother sullenly outlines the failures of her children, serving up an old box of their toys for comment, offering Borg a watch without any hands—like the clocks of his early morning nightmare.

As Marianne later reports, the mother “is as cold as ice,” fearing that the behavior has been inherited, passed on from mother to son to Evald as well. She reveals to her father-in-law that the separation between her and Evald has come about because she discovered she was pregnant, Evald refusing to have the child she is determined to bear.

Borg now is forced to understand the effects of cutting off others from himself and reimagines his own wife’s love affairs, as the woman describes to her lover how she will be coldly forgiven for her sexual indiscretions, but allowed no mercy, no further love. Another dream in which the doctor’s medical knowledge is examined and found failing ends his memorable journey.

Borg’s ceremony is a solemn one, and all are impressed. Finally, having come to understand that he has entrapped himself in his own emptiness, the doctor apologizes to his housekeeper—who despite her morning threats has turned up at Evald’s house. Agda is so startled by his statement that she wonders about his health. When he goes even further to suggest that they call one another by their first name, she refuses; yet, Bergman, as always, allows his characters complete humanity, as she suggests that her bedroom door will be left ajar, in case he needs her in the night.

In short, order and love is restored. Borg’s young travelers award him a fond farewell, Sara calling up to his bedroom window, “Good-bye, father Isak. Can't you see you're the one I love? Today, tomorrow, and forever.” Evald reports that Marianne will remain—and get her way. But when the father attempts to tell his son to forget about his debt, Evald interrupts, assuring him it will be paid. The trip that Borg has made has evidently redeemed his life, but it is a journey which ultimately he can share with no one else; wisdom, redeemed faith—whatever one calls it—cannot be shared, but merely reminds each of us that, although we must reach out to one another in order to survive, we remain alone.

Los Angeles, September 2, 2007


SPIRALING INTO HATE

Ingmar Bergman (writer and director) Skammen (Shame) / 1968

Bergman’s 1968 movie, Shame, came as a surprise to his Swedish audiences. After years of being criticized for concentrating on the personal psychological makeup of his characters, most often at the expense of larger political and social events, the great director chose in this work to focus very much on events of the day, the war in Viet Nam, political tensions in Czechoslovakia and the student protests in Paris. Working with the original title of “The War,” Bergman set out to create and succeeded in producing a terrifyingly political work, a work in which the major characters, Jan (Max van Sydow) and Eva (Liv Ullmann) Rosenberg—former musicians in the now disbanded symphony orchestra—attempt, like the Swedes throughout World War II, to remain neutral, but are gradually sucked into the waves of violence going on in the periphery and later at the center of their lives.

The Rosenbergs, living, like Bergman, on an isolated island, grow ligonberries and various vegetables; their only contact with the rest of the world is limited to an occasional purchase of fish from a local neighbor and trips across the bay into the small city where they sell crops and purchase their needed groceries. Although a war has been brewing around them, their radio does not work, and they have little notion of the various factions or how close they are to the front.

As the film opens, they are scheduled to travel into town, and after several delays, where Bergman establishes Jan as a frightened, dysfunctional being and their car as a near non-functional machine, they arrive in the mainland village only to witness caravans of military forces; even their local antique shop and wine dealer has been drafted into military service.

Upon returning home their island is suddenly attacked, and they are forced to return to the ocean for a possible escape in the ferry. Along the perilous short journey, however, they discover nearly all the neighboring houses have been destroyed, the occupants’ bodies—both adults and children—lying scattered about. The ferry port has been blown up, and they quickly retreat back to their own home, the only one that has seemingly escaped destruction.

Just as suddenly, the advancing rebel forces break in upon them, demanding they come into the yard where the leaders, with camera, microphones, and spotlights, attempt to interview Eva about her political views. She has none she declares; she is neutral. When they turn to interview Jan, he falls to the ground, apparently suffering from a heart condition.

That scene, as others before it, is emblematic of Jan and Eva’s relationship: she is the forceful, practical woman who must prod and hold up her weaker husband. Jan will, in fact, continue to suffer with heart problems throughout the film—not only those connected with a defect of the heart, but with a lack of heart, an inability to comprehend the suffering of others.

The couple is spared for the night, as the nationalist troops regain control of the island. But a short time after, they are arrested by their own countrymen and denounced as traitors. The film, which supposedly reveals their treachery, evidently has been doctored, and Eva is shown as supporting the rebels.

In some of the most powerful scenes of the film, Jan and Eva are threatened with torture, as others about them appear to have died and had their limbs torn off, arms broken. In fact, the head of this new military outpost (formerly the local folk high school) turns out to be the Rosenbergs' friend, the former mayor of their local town, now Colonel Jacobi (Gunnar Björnstrand). He is well aware that the film is a fraud, sending them home without damage to their bodies. But the event, has clearly shaken them, has damaged their souls, and soon after, as they attempt to restore their lives to some sense of normalcy, we recognize that—no longer able to pretend neutrality—they have come to depend on the patronage of the now militarized mayor. Their neighbor warns them of the dangers, but despite their own anger with one another for their weaknesses, they seem unable to escape events; like many individuals living in a nation at war, unable to change the course of events they have become prisoners of their own country.

When Jacobi offers Eva his life savings, she agrees to a sexual encounter. Jan awakens from a drunken stupor to discover the money, recognizing what has occurred while remaining too weak to prevent it. The rebels, consisting of locals on the island, break in upon them, interrogating Jacobi. Discovering that he has given them money, the intruders claim they are willing to spare his life if Jan and Eva turn over the cash. For the first time in his life, however, Jan stands up to the warriors—even though we recognize his motives to be connected to jealously and anger—claiming he has seen no money. Like Peter denying Christ, Jan denies his wife three times: “I’ve seen no money.” The rebels retaliate by destroying the contents of the house before torching it. Jan, they demand, must shoot Jacobi. Barely able even to hold the gun, Jan shoots Jacobi in the back, merely wounding him. Again and again he shoots his former “friend” as he attempts to crawl across the yard to safety. Rosenberg, who justifies his act by arguing that “they would have shot him anyway,” suddenly has become one of the murderers, and the couple, now ousted from their former Eden, has no choice but to salvage anything remaining and wander the island in search of escape.

The discovery of a young soldier, a boy who has deserted his unit, brings out Eva’s tenderness as she attempts to salve his wounds; the boy, who has not slept in days, falls to sleep upon her lap and, for a brief moment, represents the son she has sought throughout Bergman’s grim tale. Jan, now a maniacal bully, demands the young man stand, taking him from her side with the boy’s gun in hand, demanding to know why the soldier was seeking out a nearby beach. As Eva runs toward them in an attempt to save the child, we hear gunfire in the distance, and we recognize that Jan has shot him, becoming one of the monsters they so feared early on. So Bergman reveals how a whole nation can be transformed into a mob as horrifying as the Germans under Nazi rule, or the Serbs in Kosovo, or….the Americans in Viet Nam and Iraq, how a basically good people can become beings who, if they awaken from their horrific trance, will face only shame.

At a rocky beach they await, with others, a fishing boat to take them away. But that trip is only a further voyage into Hell, as the boat’s captain—presumably in disgust—slips off into the ocean as the vessel becomes ensnared in a flotilla of hundreds of dead bodies. The film ends with Eva’s dream of a better world, but even in that faint memory of love and peace, the roses are burning, creating what she perceives as a beauty in their very destruction. Jan and Eva, we realize, have entered a world where redemption is impossible, a place from where there is no escape.

Los Angeles, November 10, 2007


CRUELTY TO ANIMALS

Ingmar Bergman (writer and director) En Passion (The Passion of Anna) / 1969, USA:
1970

An isolated 48-year-old man, Andreas Winkelman (Max von Sydow), lives on an island to where he has escaped after being arrested for forgery and hitting a policeman. He is visited one day by a beautiful woman named Anna Fromm (Liv Ullmann), who asks to use his telephone; her call—which he intentionally overhears—is a frantic one to a lawyer or friend about her dead husband, in which she asks for money supposedly left her, but which evidently does not exist. She is understandably distraught, and leaves Andreas’s house without her purse. When Andreas discovers it, he explores its contents, reading a letter from her husband in which he pleas for their separation, insisting that if they continue their relationship “We’ll run into new problems which will result in a nervous breakdown and psychological and physical violence”—a phrase repeated in words and letters throughout the film almost like a mantra. Indeed, in this second scene of the movie, Bergman reveals several of the major themes of this film, not only the “psychological and physical violence” suggested by the letter, but the intrusion of privacy and deceit typified by Andreas’s acts.

Returning the purse to Anna, Andreas meets others of his neighbors, Eva and Elis Vergerus (played by Bibi Andersson and Erland Josephson), a beautiful and discontented woman and her architect husband who have a summer home on the island, and with whom Anna is now staying. The meeting results in an invitation to dinner with the three, and the revelation that, in his spare time, Elis is a photographer, attempting to catalogue various “catastrophes” centering on the emotional conditions of his subjects’ faces. Like Andreas’s determined listening to Anna’s telephone conversation, there is something voyeuristic in his acts.

The conversation at the dinner table in this scene, which apparently was ad-libbed by Bergman’s cast, is one of the most interesting of the film, as Eva describes her belief in God, despite her parents' agnosticism, through her childhood reading about God which described his long flowing beard, a belief she still holds. Queried whether she would teach her children about God, she admits she might not attempt to pass on her faith. Anna, meanwhile, describes her values as being centered in the notion of honesty (“I try to live by the truth”), and cites the harmony and openness of her relationship with her dead husband, also named Andreas (“We lived in harmony by being truthful.”). Winkelman and we know something else of that relationship. Is she lying or is she deluding herself?

Clearly, there is something evil going on in this small island community—modeled upon Bergman’s own island home, Färo—for innocent animals are being mutilated and slaughtered. Andreas first discovers the animal cruelty when he finds a small puppy hung from a noose near his own home, and soon thereafter, a neighbor discovers that the throats of eight of his sheep have been cut, the animals left to die. The final act of this island madman (or woman) results in a horse burning to death, all of which end, later in the film, in the murder of a hermit-like friend of Andreas.

As Elis travels to Italy to bring Milan a new cultural center, Eva visits Andreas, who offers her a couch on which to sleep. A brief romantic tryst, during which she reveals her love for Elis but also her own sense of failure and emptiness, ends in him presenting with the small puppy he has saved to comfort her on her sleepless nights

Halfway through his film, accordingly, Bergman has established all his major themes—issues at the center of so many of his films—the love, fear, deceit, and violence which his characters can neither contain nor resist. And we recognize that, as in Greek drama, they now have no choice but to play out their emotions. Anna begins an affair with Andreas, destroying his “splendid isolation.”

Although Anna has, in some senses, “killed” her husband and young boy—she was driving when the road became slippery and the car crashed—she continues in her delusions. And we soon are soon forced to associate, at least, the violent acts of animal cruelty on the island with her lies. Bergman never reveals who commits these atrocities, but they are part and parcel of a larger world (revealed occasionally through grainy television images of brutal acts in the Viet Nam War) that has confused acts of love with hate. The passion of the title, indeed, is not only Anna’s pretense of passion, but everyone’s (in the original Swedish the film was simply titled En Passion). Bergman reiterates this “pretense,” pointing up the theatricality of our lives, by having each of his major actors speak improvisationally about their characters and the roles they are playing.

According to the director’s later statements and his commentary in Images: My Life in Film, the women did in fact speak straightforwardly in their own words, while the men had no idea what to say, forcing him to write their supposedly “improvised” lines. Accordingly, he argued, the experiment led to “two different films”: “The interviews should have been cut.”

Yet even as staged events, these four brief scenes, spread across the span of the film’s actions, force us to remember that these are, after all, actors, not realist beings, and like most of us, their so-called “real” lives often resemble “staged” events. Perhaps the cruel acts directed toward the island’s innocent animals are also “staged” enactments that cry out for attention and help.

Predictably, as Anna and Andreas’s relationship begins to fall apart, Winkelman, like the first Andreas, seeks an out, desiring a return to his solitude. They fight, and he beats her before escaping the house. As he encounters the remains of the burned horse, Anna reappears. He joins her in the car, admitting he knows the truth of her relationship with her husband, disparaging her for her determined deceit; in her anger, she swerves off the road, nearly repeating the earlier “accident.” Andreas’s reaction, “You’re crazy. You’re out of your mind,” calls up the narrator’s earlier observation that a madman has been loosed upon the island. Her statement that she has returned for Andreas’s “forgiveness” only reiterates our association of the animal atrocities with the “psychological and physical violence” between this couple.

As Anna drives off, Andreas walks forward in the direction of his home, stops and turns back, moves forward again, turns back, moves forward and falls to the ground as if immobilized, trapped in indeterminacy as the camera seemingly pans in closer and closer, nearly washing away his existence in the grainy texture of the clip.* The narrator informs us, “This time they called him Andreas Winkelman,” forcing us to realize the strange wrinkle of time at work in The Passion, that everything has been repeated, the first Andreas replaced by a second, the only difference being his last name.

I first saw this film with my then new companion Howard in the summer of 1970 in Washington, D.C., and it profoundly moved me. I presume it was because Howard and I were daily working out our own terms of how to live together and often endured similar “psychological and physical violence” as that described in the film. Returning to this notable Bergman work at the age of 60—at a time when living together may be just as difficult but when the daily horrors of violence have worn away—I now recognize just how intensely Bergman’s characters seem to have lived their lives, as if every second were an instance of great spiritual and metaphysical importance. Yet Bergman, only nine years younger than me today at the time he filmed The Passion, was still battling the demons of the young, as he had divorced (in 1969) his fourth wife, concert pianist Käbi Laretei, and ended (in 1970) his long relationship with actress Liv Ullmann. Bergman writes of his feelings at the time: “I was scared. You are scared when you have, for a long time, been sawing off the branch upon which you sit.”

___
*Reportedly, Bergman actually gradually blew up the image of this scene, thus achieving the grainy effect I describe.


Los Angeles, October 20, 2007

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