Before even seeing Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal,” we’re probably already aware of the iconic images of Death (Bengt Ekerot) extended, cloaked right arm and his game of chess with a knight named Antonius Block (Max von Sydow). These are the kind of scenes you save from the ending of a movie but Bergman makes the momentous meeting between Death and his challenger in the beginning. Like what can Bergman possibly give us for the rest of his movie’s 92-minute running time? How many times will Death and Antonius meet again, and how is it going to involve a coast village full of actors (Bibi Andersson and Nils Poppe) and the occasional blacksmith (Aki Fridell) and witch (Maud Hansson)?
I must say that I’m more of a Bergman fan when his work was grounded in more recent settings as well as more contemporary emotional and psychological concerns. Although I’m not saying that his work before “Persona” had no merits. “The Virgin Spring” hit me hard but like it, “The Seventh Seal” have the same primitive, storybook-like air and pacing to it, the characters having the same abstract dimensions within a unique yet helplessly dated environment.
But while it might lack the kind of articulation of character that I’m used to in his work or in other works, it does show all of them within this cultural fabric that’s obsessed with death. It is the medieval Europe after all, after all, when people equally feared God and the Bubonic plague. And with the actors and fresco painters as characters in this movie we can see art making these zeitgeist-y questions more permanent for future generations to see and remember. Maybe it’s this distance between my culture and the one I’m watching, a distance I lamented at one point, comes to the movies benefits because contemporary eyes will always see something fresh with the time capsule what Bergman puts on-screen.
A Plague-filled country isn’t the best one that anyone could return to, especially Antonius who has just fought valiantly during the Crusades and has thus seen his own share of multiple deaths. One can read his return and his meeting with death with suspicion, the seemingly noble, well-intentioned man inadvertently bringing death wherever he goes. But we don’t necessarily have to blame colonialism or other countries for bringing death home. Death is inescapable.
Since we’re on the topic of culture and widespread death, notice Bergman’s sober perspective on how the characters form quick grudges and bonds. Men switch territories, actors change visions, women cheat on their lovers. Yes, sometimes, people and their trust for each other are their worst enemies, as Death consistently tricks Antonius with his disguises. And yes, it’s easy for other storytellers to blame other humans or the necessary evil of interpersonal relations on the deaths occurring during the movie’s time frame. But despite of its implications of human passiveness, Bergman lets these characters bond and forgive each other, setting necessary boundaries to keep the really bad people out. The movie also stars a younger, rougher Gunnar Bjornstrand as Antonius’ squire, belonging to a set of actors whom Bergman will continue to use.
- Oscar Horrors: ‘The Virgin Spring’ (thefilmexperience.net)
Ingmar Bergman‘s Fanny och Alexander is not just a pretty gilded portrait of a well to do Swedish family, the Ekdahls, who face constant threats towards its dissolution. Interpretations of this movie are boundless, whether we’re looking at it in terms of class, religion, life reflecting art, human fortitude and intentionally terrible child rearing.
I also see the widowed actress Emilie Ekdahl’s (Ewa Froeling) second marriage to Bishop Edvard Vergerus (Jan Malmsjo) and their inevitably toxic relationship as a metaphor for the austere nature of mourning.
Critics have applauded the film’s lack of neuroses but let’s be tools and look at it in that perspective anyway. Besides, this is about Emilie’s son Alexander’s (Bertil Guve) childhood and the events in that stage of his life will be the one he would most likely recall as a functioning yet fractured adult would. The spirit of Alexander’s father Oscar first appears while playing the piano and seems to rest after he gives his son advice. What haunts me the most is when Edvard visits Alexander. As if by helping killing Edvard off – there’s a part of me that wants that scene remade so that I can see what Jessica Chastain, who so really needs more work, can do as Ishmael, Alexander’s mystical ally – Alexander replaces his father with his strict stepfather. ‘The horrible, dirty life engulfs us’ as Alexander’s grandmother Helene says as she wipes her tears and leans on her Jewish paramour Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson). But the Ekdahls are a well-natured bunch and their happy moments cushion the movie’s scary message.
The Virgin Spring seems to ask: Why are teenage girls perpetually dumber that we expect them? Tore (Max von Sydow) sends his daughter Karin (Brigitta Pettersson) out on a simple errand but within her little pilgrimage she does things that common sense would tell the audience not to do.
Why would she go into a dark forest without hesitation or go on without her escort? Why would she let herself get distracted by suspicious looking men?
This movie seems different from Ingmar Bergman‘s later, more excellent films because of its straightforward approach towards storytelling, but he comes up with a great formula nonetheless. He compartmentalizes every part of the narrative, the script firing off one section or character evenly.
And I know that Hollywood rules don’t apply to him but I also somehow applaud his decision to show a graphic sexual assault but not a murder. In 1960.
It has a straightforward enough of a message but we can also dig for the complexities within this cautionary tale. We can say that this movie exposes the arbitrary and cruel nature of violence, as she’s taken away without warning.
Instead of saying ‘bad things happen to people,’ we can say that God punishes a girl for her lack of judgment, innocence, gullibility, altruism and obliviousness.
They aren’t necessarily vices but I assume that contemporary audience’s eyes see her qualities as flaws working against her survival. We’re not looking at her merely as a victim because a victim is a blank slate and she is not.
And as much as it is about Karin it’s also equally about the people around her, and through them Bergman finds room for complex character studies within this simple movie. An example is Karin’s more beautiful yet pregnant escort Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom).
In the earlier part of their journey they argue about Karin dancing with the father of Ingeri’s child, being doubtful of anyone’s purity. She leaves Karin for a while, making a pit stop at a cabin and then running away to follow Karin from a distance.
Ingeri inadvertently watches as Simon and his cohorts assault her. Keeping her pregnancy in mind, she also behaves as if constantly troubled, and being a constant survivor doesn’t help her guilt and powerlessness.
There’s also Tore and his reactions towards the news of her daughter’s violent murder. As luck would have it, Karin’s murderers would ask to lodge in his home. He avenges her but his act doesn’t satisfy him.
The titular spring appears where her body is found, a sign of her family’s redemption. But since the movie has gotten to the point in depicting Tore’s part of the story, it shows a family with one less child, a community broken from a future that could have been.
- My 15 Favourite Moments in Ingmar Bergman Movies (via Southern Vision) (manonmona.wordpress.com)
I first heard about Ingmar Bergman‘s Persona in David Scott Diffrient’s essay about the shock cut, a technique mostly used in horror films. I assumed he was just talking about one of the film’s opening images – a hand pinned down by a large nail. Persona isn’t a horror film per se, but with that image of the hand comes more jarring images in its opening sequence – a phallus, an androgynous child lying down in a gurney, that child slowly coming back to life.
Sven Nyqvist’s cinematography, Bergman’s camera and editing throughout the film somehow evokes the horror psyche whole giving their audience one of the best shot films ever made. Its minimalist hospital walls where nurse Sister Alma (Bibi Andersson) meets her patient, actress Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann), thin bare trees standing on beaches where she chases Elisabet, close-ups that would change angles for every accusation she airs towards Elisabet. Amazing.
The second thing I heard about Persona before watching it Sarah Boslaugh’s write-up of Andersson, including the latter in an essential performance list. We’ll go back to the child in the gurney who wakes up and reaches for a blurry picture of Elisabet, and in a way that’s what Andersson as Alma is trying to do. Like most of Bergman’s finer works, one person reaching for another seems like an impossible journey.
It’s a misguided way for Alma to think that her catharsis might break Elisabet’s silence, but instead she just ends up doing everything for Elisabet. She finds herself wanting to become what Elisabet has been before her silence. Andersson does great work, carrying the film, going through every imaginable emotion with both vulnerability and control, amazingly handling Bergman’s analytical script. Ullmann as Elisabet only blurts a few words when Alma tries to burn her face. Yes, Andersson’s the prettier one, but Ullmann’s her stoic reactions are captivating and her internal struggles are so enigmatic that the latter can almost steal the show by just being there.
Some images in the film include a close-up of a face, half Elisabet and half Anna, or of Elisabet holding Alma, both facing the camera as if it’s a mirror, both ethereal beauties, she becoming the sister and doppelgänger that Alma has always wanted. Looking at them, it’s easy to assume their closeness, or that they’re the same person all along.
If it was only as instinctual as Helene, a disabled young woman, calling out for her mother, Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman). But Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata is about Helene’s sister Eva (Liv Ullmann), who sees an opportunity in seeing Charlotte again and she has a lot to say. What drives Bergman’s characters are emotion and memory, and therefore the possible social and political ideologies behind them get more ambiguous.
In a scene where Eva takes Charlotte to her room, we find out that she is and can be beautiful, sorrowful, vain, demanding, impatient and cruel, and she is all those things throughout the film. Eva, however, takes on her mother’s attributes in parts of the film, especially when she feels in control of the situation.
What makes the film just as ambiguous, then is how similar they are despite their different appearances and chosen paths.
I wanted to discuss its political interpretation because of a certain shocker spoiler. We can’t fully talk about artistic intentions here, but when a movie, a script or a book brings up a learned woman’s stance supporting abortion, she ends up looking like a babbling shrew. I suppose my discomfort comes from the later texts that had a less complex interpretation of the issue. In this movie, its hard to map out what it means for Eva to rid of a child under Charlotte’s orders, that Charlotte’s taking away Eva’s right to become a mother, that it is never explicitly said whether Charlotte is pro-choice, when the operation is allegedly forced, or if the child is presumable conceived out-of-wedlock.
By the end of the film, Eva’s husband seems to have questioned his unadulterated worship towards her. Watching and listening in the hall whether Eva is alone or with Charlotte, he’s the stand-in for the movie’s audience. We’re asking questions too, which is another thing I love about this movie.