Dir: Ingmar Bergman (Autumn Sonata; The Magic Flute; Hour of the Wolf; Persona; Scenes from a Marriage; The Virgin Spring; Cries and Whispers; Fanny and Alexander; Wild Strawberries)
Once again, as always, genius. Bergman continues his exploration of human misery and the deconstruction of the medium in this intense, distrubing, blindingly good character study. The usual stable of actors is here, Ullmann, Andersson and Josephson all brilliant. And Max von Sydow again is completely mesmorizing.
He plays a middle aged hermit who encouters three others living on the same island. He strikes up a friendship with the man, has an affair with his wife, and a long-term relationship with their friend. Each contact, in its own way, breaks down von Sydow, stripping him of the wall of isolation that had kept his animal nature hidden away. He becomes increasingly emotional, violent, and eventually he completely disintegrates.
The thematic nature of the story is, as per usual, intensely honest and brutal. Bibi Andersson shines here as the insomniac wife, a creature unable to function without male affection and desperate for release from her lonlieness. Josephson is cynical and clinical, a collector of photographs that catalogue human emotions and placed in idiosyncratically numbered boxes in a fascinating metaphor from Bergman. Ullmann here is less interesting that normal, perhaps a by-product of the fact that her real life love affair with Bergman was ending at this time. Her character is a wicked hyprocrite, calling for honesty and yet literally evil in her deception.
These basic Bergman themes are reinforced by a quite distrubing focus on animal cruelty in the script. It is a difficult metaphor to explore as the audience, myself included, is so revulsed by the idea that it is hard to analyze. But Bergman holds nothing back, never showing the actual act but being entirely frank about the aftermath of indiscriminate torture and mutilation of God's creatures.
As in the films Persona and Hour of the Wolf, the medium itself is subject to experimentation and critique. His most radical move yet is in this film, where at four points in the narrative Bergman cuts to the actors being interviewed about their characters, exposing their own reflections about how to play the roles. I think it is a bold move, but this time fails because I am not sure the actors give any insight that an attentive viewer did not already know. The device, with more attention given to what is said during these cuts (they were improvised, apparently) could be very interesting. But as they stand now they seem more redundant non-sequitors than statements about acting.
But the closing scene makes up for all that. I can't help but reveal the ending in order to discuss it. von Sydow has finally reached the end of his rope. In a long shot, we seem him pacing back and forth. The camera begins to slowly zoom, to the point where the images becomes so blurred as to make man and scenery indistinguishable. Zooming further, the scene itself dissolves as the camera technology prevents seeing the man anymore; the frame is just pixels of color, which of course is all it was to begin with. It is a truly brilliant use of Bergman's experimental mindset to make a point in the story. To know the last line, itself another masterpiece, watch the film.
The 60's for Bergman, and I have now scene most of the films, must rank as the most sustained period of genius from any artist of the century. I am giddy every time another of his films comes from the BCE, and am likely to watch them all again once I have exhausted the DVD catalogue.