On a Bergman kick lately, so I meant to watch this and Hour of the Wolf for SHOCKtober, but only made it to one. The beginning of Bergman’s extensive work with cinematographer Sven Nykist, brilliant looking but with less of the extreme blacks of Smiles of a Summer Night and The Magician. Supposedly this was stylistically influenced by Akira Kurosawa, after which Sven and Ingmar created their own style.

Pure and flowery Karin with dark, suspicious Ingeri:

Karin (Birgitta Pettersson, a housemaid in The Magician) is the beautiful daughter of Tore (Max Von Sydow, The Magician himself) and Mareta (Birgitta Valberg of Port of Call), sent to church to deliver candles one Sunday wearing her nicest dress. Pregnant dark-haired servant girl Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom of Winter Light) comes along. The parents are devout Christians (especially mom, who whips herself in atonement) but the girls aren’t – Ingeri prays to Odin and Karin seems to only care about being spoiled by her parents and looking pretty for boys. Along the way Karin flirts with a boy whom Ingeri knows, and the two flee from an icky bridge keeper.

Commentary says the raven represents Odin

The raven appears right after the old man at the bridge, an Odin supporter:

While Karin is alone she comes across a grotesque gang of acrobat goat-herdsmen brothers, and shares her lunch with them, but the two older ones chase then rape and kill her, while the youngest watches, afraid.

The herdsmen:

Karin, first realizing she’s in danger:

The brothers continue on their travels, ask refuge at Tore and Mareta’s house, and in private offer to sell Mareta a beautiful dress – the one Karin was wearing when she left that morning. So the parents already know Karin is in trouble, possibly dead, when Ingeri comes along and confirms it to Tore. “Kill me first. My guilt is greater than theirs. I willed it to happen. Ever since I became with child I’ve hated her. The very day I prayed for it, he did it. It was him and me, not the herdsmen.”

Sad parents:

Tore puts himself through a purification ritual, wrestles a tree to the ground, then waits for the brothers to awaken and kills them all (knife, fire, and throwing the young boy into the wall). Ingeri walks them to their daughter’s resting place. Mareta: “I loved her too much, Tore, more than God himself. When I saw how she favored you, I began to hate you. It is me God meant to punish by this. I bear the guilt.” When Karin’s head is moved, a spring bubbles up from the ground beneath it. Tore senses God is speaking to him, knows he went too far killing the boy, and swears to devote the rest of his life to building a church on that spot.

Von Sydow, out for blood:

Earlier when Ingeri is preparing sandwiches for Karin’s lunch, she puts a live toad between slices of bread, which falls out just before the murder. The DVD commentary: “in ancient scandinavian folklore, toads were thought to be the devil in disguise.”

The movie won an oscar (against Clouzot’s La Verite), but the American and French critics who’d been Bergman’s biggest champions trashed it. Bergman later said it should be regarded as an aberration in his work, and never made another film in an historical setting.

Tree wrestling:

A decade later Wes Craven took the same story and made reprehensible trash out of it with Last House on the Left.

Watched this twice, since one of Katy’s birthday presents to me was sitting still for four hours while I showed her two of my favorite recently-watched movies: this one (success!) and Certified Copy (failure). Maybe a dumb birthday present, but it was my own idea, so I’m the dummy.

Obviously I loved this, since I watched twice before even getting to a journal entry. With its comic scenes of relationship-swapping and gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, it reminded me of The Magician, which I also loved.

Okay, lotta characters. Lead guy Egerman (Gunnar Bjornstrand, the scientist who squares off vs. The Magician) is a serious attorney with a stern beard and a grown son (conflicted theology student Henrik: Bjorn Bjelfvenstam of Wild Strawberries) by his dead wife. Egerman’s young wife of three years, Anna (Ulla Jacobsson of Zulu), is still a virgin, acts like a kid, treats her husband like a father and spends much quality time with Henrik. I think we all see where this is going.

Desiree with a foolish-looking Egerman:

Enter Egerman’s ex-mistress, the perfectly poised blonde actress Desiree (Eva Dahlbeck of Varda’s Les créatures, Bergman’s Dreams and Secrets of Women), then while Egerman is at her place in his pajamas one night, enter her current lover, the duel-happy Count Carl Magnus Malcolm (Jarl Kulle of Babette’s Feast, Fanny and Alexander), whose wife Charlotte (Margit Carlqvist of To Joy) loves/hates/obsesses over him, the pair of them sharing a competitive spirit.

Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm:

All these counts and rich lawyers are balanced by Petra (Harriet Andersson, Monika herself), Egerman’s maid, who flirts shamelessly with Henrik, tormenting him further, and ends up rolling in the hay with Frid (Ake Fridell, even less serious here than as The Magician‘s assistant Tubal), a servant in Desiree’s mother’s house. They’re all such great characters, and Desiree’s mother (Naima Wifstrand, granny in The Magician) might actually be the best, a woman too old and rich to give a damn about what she says or who it offends.

Desiree gets all these characters invited to dinner at her mother’s house, concocts a secret plan with the Countess. I’m not sure if the plan goes off as they intended, but the end results are good. Henrik elopes with his step-mom and Desiree is back with Egerman (shamed and blackened by his wife’s disappearance and his loss at Russian Roulette to the Count with a soot-filled pistol), leaving the Count back with his wife – for now, at least. Despite the romantic-comedy genre, I wasn’t sure Katy would go for it because of the Bergmanness of it all, not to mention the two suicide attempts – if either truly counts as a suicide attempt. Henrik pathetically ties a noose to an ornamental thing on the wall, which immediately breaks, and he falls into a button on the wall, activating a clockwork device that slides young Anna from her bedroom into his own.

Apparently the film that turned Bergman’s career around after years of commercial failures. He says in his intro that he’s always been able to do whatever he wants since this came out, winning the “best poetic humor” award at Cannes, which sounds like something the jury made up just so this wouldn’t go empty-handed after The Silent World took the palm. Remade as a Stephen Sondheim musical in the 70’s with Elizabeth Taylor as Desiree.

P. Kael:

In this vanished setting, nothing lasts, there are no winners in the game of love; all victories are ultimately defeats—only the game goes on. When Eva Dahlbeck, as the actress, wins back her old lover, her plot has worked — but she really hasn’t won much. She caught him because he gave up; they both know he’s defeated. Smiles is a tragic comedy; the man who thought he “was great in guilt and in glory” falls — he’s “only a bumpkin.” This is a defeat we can all share — for have we not all been forced to face ourselves as less than we hoped to be? There is no lesson, no moral … The glorious old Mrs. Armfeldt tells us that she can teach her daughter nothing—or, as she puts it: “One can never protect a single human being from any kind of suffering. That’s what makes one so tremendously weary.”

J. Simon:

Music influences … Bergman more deeply when he adopts its rhythms for the structure of his films. More kinetic scenes alternate with more stationary ones, agitation with sedateness. And there are the strategically recurrent themes. Thus the photographs of Anne that Fredrik picks up in the beginning, that he makes more of as he fingers them than he does of his trophy wife near the middle, and that get symbolically pocketed by Desirée near the end. Various clocks strike hortatorily, notably the cuckoo clock for cuckoldry in Desirée’s parlor, and the church tower clock with its circling carved figures corresponding to some of the film’s characters, a roundelay that first ends with a symbolically crowned female figure, next with the grim reaper. The dance of life, climaxing with the dominant female, can as easily become the dance of death.

An Ingmar Bergman comedy! I never imagined that such a thing existed. And it is so wonderful, as gorgeously filmed as Monika but altogether more fun. I have not been watching many Bergman films, and maybe it’s time to do something about that.

When Albert Vogler’s “Magnetic Health Theater” rolls into town, all its participants are accosted by the local authorities and challenged to prove themselves a worthwhile entertainment before they’ll be permitted to perform for the public. These participants include Vogler himself (Max von Sydow, even more impressive than usual), the famed mute illusionist, with Mr. Aman (Vogler’s assistant, actually his wife in disguise, Ingrid Thulin), potion-maker Granny (Naima Wifstrand), a young coachman (Lars Ekborg, male lead in Monika) and sideburns-sporting huckster Tubal (Åke Fridell, Monika’s father). Oh, but on the way, they pick up a dying alcoholic actor (Bengt Ekerot, appropriately played Death in The Seventh Seal), who’s a corpse by the time they arrive.

L-R, that’s Tubal, Granny (in the shadows), coachman Simson, Vogler and Aman/Manda:

The challengers – Consul Egerman (Erland Josephson, lead in The Sacrifice) and his wife with police chief Starbeck (under a hilarious wig) and “royal medical adviser” Vergerus (Gunnar Björnstrand, who’d play a character named Vogler in Persona) with a silly intellectual’s beard and armless spectacles – are pitting their science and law against the trickery and deceit of the traveling show, confidently toying with the visitors.

L-R: Vergerus, Starbeck, Egerman:

Also in the house are Sara (Bibi Andersson of Persona) who likes the group’s coachman, young Sanna, cook Sofia (Sif Ruud of Port of Call) who likes Tubal, and violent-tempered Antonsson (Oscar Ljung of The Virgin Spring)

Antonsson, Sanna, Sara, Sofia:

It all gets complicated once night falls. The Magician’s wife is unmasked, he reveals himself not to be mute (this had already been “scientifically” revealed when Vergerus grabbed his tongue), everyone is sleeping around, and the “dead man” charges through the dark kitchen snatching some brandy, then actually dies later on. The next morning the show goes off rather badly, with the men in power pulling back curtains to reveal the trickery. But Vogler succeeds in “hypnotizing” Starbeck’s wife into humiliating him (she relishes the opportunity), then severely freaks out Antonsson, who retaliates by attacking and killing Vogler. This should be a sobering moment for the locals, but the police chief immediately announces Vogler’s death to be nobody’s fault, and Vergerus races upstairs to perform an autopsy on the so-called magician – where Vogler switches bodies with the dead actor and tries to haunt Vergerus out of his rational scientist mind.

In the end, Tubal and Granny are quitting the troupe and Sara is joining, running away with her coachman, when they are stopped in the driveway. Everyone assumed they’ll be arrested, but in fact the King has requested a performance, so Vogler leaves in triumph. I loved the story, and the characters are distinctive enough that I kept most of ’em straight. Besides the comic madness, the whole thing is rich in meaning and mystery.

G. Andrew:

The Magician struck some as a little frivolous in comparison to [the films Bergman made just before and after]: much of the film was in the comic register, and what’s more, the sequence that constituted its dramatic climax sounded echoes of the populist horror genre.

…one of Bergman’s portraits of the artist as an all too human, less than wholly honest manipulator of others. Acutely self-critical, he was highly aware that, as a director in the cinema and the theater, he was using tricks of the trade to persuade audiences that they were witnessing something “real” or “truthful.” Vogler, too, under­stands that his demonstrations of bizarre behavior and miraculous phenomena are in the end a matter of smoke and mirrors, and he’s racked by doubt and self-loathing, made all the worse by the gullibility of many spectators—Mrs. Egerman, for instance, her adoration stemming from a forlorn hope that he’ll somehow cure the enduring grief she feels at her daughter’s death. Many people, the film suggests, are to some extent complicit in the deceptions of which art is necessarily composed—though as Mrs. Egerman’s housekeepers, Sara and Sofia, amusingly reveal in their sly responses to the proffering of love potions by, respectively, Vogler’s cocky coachman and his philistine manager, not all those who are told stories are quite as susceptible in their rapid suspension of disbelief as they may first appear. One can never be entirely sure as to who’s most deceitful, who most deceived.

And oh look, the day I’m posting this (but two weeks after I watched the movie) I learned that its cinematographer Gunnar Fischer has just died at age 100. He also worked on Monika, and surprisingly, Tati’s Parade.

A handsome young man with always-perfect hair and a boring, sickly widower father meets a vivacious girl from a turbulent household. And they fall in love, run off together, and it’s perfect. Or it would be, but the movie sticks with them long enough for her to get pregnant, forcing an eventual return to civilization, at which point she makes herself useless, sleeping around while he slaves to make a living and tries to save for their future. It does not end well for the couple. But at least they’ve got their health.

Beautiful, amazing looking film shot by cinematographer Gunnar Fischer, who shot all of Bergman’s most famous films in the 40’s and 50’s. Harriet Anderson would appear in some more Bergman films as well as Dogville and The Day the Clown Cried (really). Harry (Lars Ekborg) wasn’t as excellent as Monika was, and thus was only rewarded with a small role in The Magician.

Released in the States in 1956 as an hour-long edit retitled Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl, which is the version that hit U.S. arthouses like a bomb, shocking people who’d gotten used to boringly chaste homemade product like From Here to Eternity, leading horny adults to start frequenting foreign films, which continued until home video destroyed the trend since now we could see all the bare breasts we wanted at home.

D. Micevic:

It happens near the end of the story, after an idyllic summer between two young lovers, Monika and Harry, has turned sour and they awake from their idealistic dreams to an existence of poverty and acrimony. Monika sits in a café smoking a cigarette, about to bed another lover. The camera closes in on her face—Bergman’s calling card of extreme close-ups during moments of intense personal anguish. Yet, in an instant uncharacteristic of the director, Monika looks directly at the camera as everything surrounding her fades to black. The shot holds for nearly a minute, preventing our escape as Monika stares us down, challenging us to pass judgment on her. It would be easy to scorn her decision, but Bergman provides us with no pedestal from which to condescend. If we are to reprimand her, we must confront her directly. It’s unnerving and brilliant, and this moment alone is worth consideration for anyone even slightly familiar with the director.

Bergman: “I have never made a less complicated film than Summer with Monika. We simply went off and shot it, taking great delight in our freedom.”