Not what I was expecting after the increasing despair of Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light – I mean there’s plenty of despair here, and more relationships falling apart irreconcilably and suicidal behavior and children being forever warped, but for the culmination of a “Silence of God trilogy” and a film that was originally entitled God’s Silence, there’s a curious lack of discussion of God.
After a train trip through a country at war, Anna (Gunnel Lindblom, suicidal Sydow’s wife in Winter Light) and sickly Ester (Gunnel Lindblom, Winter Light pastor’s no-longer love-interest) land at a hotel, sit in their room deteriorating while Anna’s son Johan makes the hotel his playground, spying on the porter (I loved him, a friendly old man who only speaks his fictional home country’s made-up language) and cavorting with a roomful of dwarves. The sisters hate each other – Anna tells some uncomprehending hookup that she wishes Ester were dead, finally takes Johan and abandons her sister to the hotel.
Quiet and mysterious movie full of ambiguity – hard to tell much about the relationships or history, why they are here, where is here (a place that Ester, a professional translator, knows none of the language), what Ester and the boy are thinking.
Anna and Ester form two sides of a whole person, a theme Bergman would go on to further explore in Persona. Anna is defined almost entirely through her physicality — washing, anointing herself with perfume and lotions, getting dressed and undressed, having sex, watching others have sex. Ester, the translator, with her typewriter, paper, and pens, is instead a creature of language — suffering from the lung disease that suffocates her, masturbating, smoking, drinking, and thinking of sex as a mechanical matter of “erections and secretions” that disgust her. Her body in ruin, only words seem to keep her alive.
Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie (1963, Vilgot Sjöman)
Extremely good, five-part doc on the making of Winter Light, which I’m obviously watching one movie too late, but I didn’t realize it existed back in February. Sjöman, who hadn’t yet made it big with the I Am Curious films, interviews Bergman at every step of the filmmaking process. Amazing to me how open Bergman is about his script after just having completed it, his intentions for filming before beginning.
“This is what we suffer from so terribly in watching American films, where everyone walks around acting so desperately natural, talking in this damned monotonous way. It makes it so dead and dull. It’s important to keep the dramatic contour. It’s not about just keeping up a naturalistic level of chatter, but actually playing a part, conveying a certain impression. And as you get towards the end of a movie – and the director must keep a careful eye on this – it’s important to raise the energy level in the actors. After having watched the film for an hour and a half, the audience is so tired that they need more energy. They need to understand the big picture.
Segments of process (except for scriptwriting) are interspersed with interviews discussing why things are done the way they are. For one Winter Light scene fragment, we see all the angles shot, then the first edit, then the final. Bergman gives this doc strict attention, not playing it off as PR fluff but maybe a chance to seem less forbidding to audiences as his films were turning more serious. And of course, he’s more conscious of his public image and the reception of the doc than he appears.
Vilgot for Criterion:
Bergman avoided some things, though. He was afraid of letting me read the first sketches he put on paper. These were later published in Bergman’s book Images: My Life in Film. So here we find the embryo for the film: the minister alone in the church, trying to force God out of his silence. Bergman was also afraid of letting the TV crew into the studio while he was working with the actors, so what I got for the TV series is an arranged rehearsal, made on a separate day after the real shooting was finished. … When time was ripe for the last interview, he didn’t approve of the result. “No good,” he said. He was blaming himself for being too superficial. “We have to do it once more, Vilgot.” So we did.
Bergman’s Dreams (2013, Michael Koresky and Casey Moore)
A Criterion-produced DVD extra without a DVD, stuck onto their blog and youtube, about dreams and dreamlike atmosphere in Bergman’s cinema – curiously without directly mentioning his film called Dreams or his TV adaptation of Stringberg’s A Dream Play (a major influence, Bergman closes Fanny & Alexander with a reading from it).