Tag Archives: The Bergman Files

The Bergman Files: To Joy

“One wants to be a real person and an artist” – the character of Stig early in the film.

For me, Bergman had been in a bit of a funk through his last couple of films. But thankfully he blows it out of the water, with the excellent To Joy (1950). There is a refreshing originality to this film when compared to the tired Thirst (1949) which makes this one of the more enjoyable early Bergman watches.

Many of the same plot points feature here – a love story, surprise pregnancy, abortion. However here the whole thing is set against the backdrop of an orchestra which revitalises these themes and makes them as engaging as they should be. The couple at the centre of the relationship, Marta and Stig are the new musicians in the orchestra, although they have met in the past. Much of the early part of the film takes part in the rehearsals of the orchestra and Bergman clearly has fun with those sequences. I did too, even though I have minimal interest in or knowledge of classical music, I appreciated the skill of the musicians and also of Bergman in presenting their work. His camera flits from musician to musician allowing the viewer to see the individual cogs and also the orchestra as a whole. In addition to the freshness that the orchestra adds to the film, the structure also strays from Bergman’s formula. The film starts with a horrific accident and then goes back seven years to build back up toward it.

The relationship between Marta and Stig is one with a lot of complexity and depth. It begins in a scene by the beach where they almost negotiate the terms of their agreement. But from this beginning, Bergman is able to paint a love story, though one with a number of hurdles to clear. Stig has some demons himself, especially the disconnect between his ambition and his skill as a musician. For a long time throughout the film he is yearning yet falling short of what the quote at the top of the page describes. Like many of Bergman’s characters, Stig is enigmatic, talented and struggling to find to his place in the world. Marta comes into this world and both supports and challenges him, building him to great heights and standing by him through great lows when she could be forgiven for cutting him adrift. A pet gripe of mine, film at times seems to have an obsession with adultery. In this film there is an adultery subplot that for me took all of the steam out of the narrative. Luckily the script recovered and the reconnection of Marta and Stig was an effecting one. Actually their reconciliation is really nicely done, especially as the whole thing is presented by the two of them reading love letters from the other. This reconciliation is reflected in the really nice ending which whilst sentimental, is effecting, completing the release of one of the main characters from their grief.

Once again Bergman gets a very good performance from his female lead, this time Maj-Britt Nilsson as Marta who carries the film. Also featuring here is the father of Swedish film and Bergman’s mentor, iconic director Victor Sjostrom as Stig’s mentor, and the conductor of the orchestra. Sjostrom gives a really good performance and his character is effective in that it expands the world of the film out from the two central players. The film looks excellent with clean cinematography and looks very sharp. Bergman employs a lot of close-ups as well, focusing in on the couple early in their relationship at the exclusion of the wider world. Much like how a new relationship feels, with only the other person mattering, rather than any outside distractions. Another really clever use of close-up is in the scene when Stig and Marta are married. As they are exchanging vows, the camera lingers on a close-up of Marta’s face, even when Stig is talking, showing the impact of this moment on one of the parties involved. Bergman also utilises darkness visually really well. Much like a silent director, he intentionally shrouds various parts of the screen in darkness, obscuring what he wants to remain hidden.

The presence of long swathes of music and the flashback structure means that this is the most original that Bergman has felt for a number of films. Expanding on his usual love story and themes by incorporating orchestral music and an illuminating structure to elevate the film.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

‘The Bergman Files’ Leaderboard

  1. It Rains on our Love (1946)
  2. To Joy (1950)
  3. Crisis (1946)
  4. Port of Call (1948)
  5. Music in Darkness (1948)
  6. A Ship Bound for India (1947)
  7. Prison (1949)
  8. Thirst (1949)

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The Bergman Files: Prison

“Once he wrote a script about a girl named Birgitta Carolina. She went through the world as if living in a real-life morality play, encountering evil, oddity, degeneracy, poetry, and goodness. And the script ended with her finding salvation. In the final scene she stood singing in the uniform of the Salvation Army.” – Vilgot Sjoman on Bergman’s original script for Prison.

Watching Prison (1949) for the first time, one is immediately struck by the striking imagery that Bergman seeks out – a lone figure walking along windswept hills kicks the film off. He also seeks it out in a more creative manner than the rather straightforward shooting of his first five features. There are zooms, pans, close-ups and much more than we have seen from him previously. There are a number of possible explanations for this. Firstly, the budget of the film was exceedingly tight, so Bergman may be going to more creative lengths to try and make the film look good. Whilst this is part of it, I think the main reason is a heightened ambition on display from the great director. He seems to be challenging both himself and his audience with this film.

Prison (1949 film)

DVD cover of Prison.

This ambition earned some goodwill from me toward Prison, but it only lasted so long. Unfortunately after the exhilaration of the first 15 or so minutes’ ambitious musings, the film becomes overly complicated and pretty underwhelming in general. The film is essentially a film within a film. Or at least I think it is. This device of a film within a film serves to distance the audience from what is occurring onscreen, resulting in scenes that should hold a lot of weight – the birth of new love and the tearing asunder of old – lack an emotional punch. When Bergman begins adding in flashbacks within the film within the film and dreams within the film within the film, things in the film just get altogether too dizzying to follow. I will not spoil the end of the film for those who wish to see it. But I will say that the ending mentioned in Sjoman’s summary above does not come to pass. Bergman was reputedly talked out of his original ending, convinced that it was too sentimental. I think this lack of conviction perhaps shows throughout the film, as it is a genuinely unfocused work.

As great a director as Bergman would go on to become, at this stage of his career he does not seem up to the challenge of handling this storyline. There is just too much going on here. The director in the film looks a lot like Bergman which suggests that the work is at least in part autobiographical. Add to this the scene involving a cinematograph, a favoured childhood toy of Bergman’s, and these suggestions grow even more overt.  The storyline is attempting to be quite self aware and self referential in its construction. And the thematic concerns are not integrated as well into the core love story narrative as in a number of his other early works. Mortality, famously one of the director’s core thematic concerns, is much more prominent here but it also just feels a little out of place in many of the sequences. Again Bergman is confronting, here the exploration of abortion in Port of Call (1948) becomes an examination of infanticide. It is telling that whilst this part of the film shocks, as well it should, it does not have the resonance that it should.

This is Bergman’s best looking and most interesting film thus far, but it is also my least favourite them. The start of the film makes you suspect that he is going to deliver something great for the first time in his career. By the end though, you will just be unengaged and unenthused.

Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught

 ‘The Bergman Files’ Leaderboard

  1. It Rains on our Love (1946)
  2. Crisis (1946)
  3. Port of Call (1948)
  4. Music in Darkness (1948)
  5. A Ship Bound for India (1947)
  6. Prison (1949)

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The Bergman Files: A Ship Bound for India

“The adult world is, with few exceptions, cruel hypocritical or at best indifferent” – Birgitta Steene writing about the worldview of Bergman’s early films.

Ingmar Bergman’s third directorial feature A Ship Bound for India (1947) tells the story of Johannes, a young man confronting the cruel adult world that Steene mentions in the quote above. In this film, that adult world is personified in the immensely unlikeable character of Captain Alexander Blom, Johannes’ father. In the film, Johannes returns to his home town after seven long years away. The early part of the film reveals a past love that had gone awry and the bulk of the film is a long flashback sequence which details how this occurred. Johannes lived on a salvage boat with his mother and father as well as a few other men who worked for his dad. Into this life comes Sally, Captain Blom’s mistress. That a man would so openly flaunt his mistress in front of his son and long-time wife, shows what kind of a character Captain Blom is. To put it bluntly he is an unmitigated and irredeemable prick of a man. It is not giving too much away to say that Johannes and Sally come to fall in love, and the film recounts the efforts of this young man to escape the cruel clutches of his father and make his own way in the world.

Erik Bergman (1886-1970), parish minister, fat...

Ingmar’s father Erik Bergman

The early parts of the flashback establish the two main male characters by contrasting them against one another. Johannes is kindly and quiet, exceptionally self-conscious of a small hump in his back. Conversely his father is a drunken jackass who gets into bar fights and cheats on his wife. This early part of the film shows that for all of his amazing talents as a director, shooting fight scenes was definitely not Ingmar Bergman’s strong suit. Captain Blom is not just a mean and cruel man, but a sadistic one. He loves the power he wields over everyone else in the film – his long-time crew, Johannes, his caring wife and his mistress Sally. He treats them all terribly for no other reason than he thinks that he can. However, gradually throughout the film, this hold that the Captain has over all of these people begins to weaken in one way or another. This manipulative man, who stirs up Johannes about his hump knowing full well how self conscious about it his son is, is truly one of the most unlikeable characters ever committed to film. It is well known that Bergman himself had a complicated relationship with his own father, so one has to wonder if that explains at least in part the character of Captain Blom. In many ways the emotional centre of the film is Alice Blom, Johannes caring mother and long suffering wife of the Captain. She is publicly humiliated by Captain Blom when he brings his mistress aboard. All she has ever dreamt of is a cottage in the country with her husband, and now that dream is being torn away from her. She illustrates her grief by recounting the heartfelt and symbolic story to Captain Alexander of when they first started out in the salvage industry and she operated the equipment that kept him alive underwater. She was literally responsible for him being able to breathe. Predictably, the Captain is entirely unmoved by the emotional pleas of this wonderful woman.

Johannes and Sally, who find love under the strangest of circumstances in this film. © 1958 Nordisk Tonefilm. All Rights Reserved

For me, A Ship Bound for India did not reach the heights of Bergman’s first two films. It is by no means bad, it just does not have the same heart running through its core. The love story between Johannes and Sally is rendered in a much more melodramatic manner than in the other two films which feature slow burn relationships that really build. My favourite aspects of the film thoughwere its nautical elements. The first real image of the film that we see is a ship being battered by a storm, and much of the film takes place on boats and the surrounding docks. There are plenty of shots of shipyards, boats and close-ups of ropes and propellers early in the film to set the scene. Success in this world is measured by one’s success as a seaman. Captain Blom puts his hunchbacked son down by scoffing at his assertions that he will one day be a successful captain himself. Johannes is lauded upon his return at the beginning of the film though because this is exactly what he has made of himself. This whole environment is a real change to the more urban or at least landlubber settings of the other Bergman films I have reviewed. The nautical aspect of the film also plays host to the film’s most riveting moment. In a Hitchcockian moment of tension, Captain Blom attempts to murder his son whilst he is underwater using the very old school diving apparatus. Great stuff!

 A Ship Bound for India is an interesting, but minor early Bergman flick. Overall, whilst I did definitely enjoy this film, it is a touch more obvious and does not have the same delightful subtleties that pervade both Crisis (1946) and It Rains on our Love (1946). By all means though, the film is still worth checking out to see Bergman’s film journey continue.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

‘The Bergman Files’ Leaderboard

  1. It Rains on our Love (1946)
  2. Crisis (1946)
  3. A Ship Bound for India (1947)

Want to win two Bergman films courtesy of Madman Films? Just like or comment on this post to go in the draw. More details here.

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The Bergman Files: Introduction and Competition #1

This week on the blog, I am debuting a new series of weekly posts entitled ‘The Bergman Files’. As you may have guessed, this series will focus on the works of iconic director Ingmar Bergman. Each week I will review one of his feature film cinematic releases, in chronological order. No small undertaking, with over 40 on that list.

Ingmar Bergman filming 1965.

The great Ingmar Bergman at work.

Why Bergman? A number of reasons. As you would probably guess, I watch a whole lot of films. But even someone who watches as many films as me rarely manages to cover off on a director’s entire filmography. When I think of my absolute favourite directors – Keaton, Malick, Lang, Hitchock, Welles etc – I haven’t even managed to see all of their films. So this kind of systematic approach will allow me to cover an entire life’s work.

Secondly, Bergman is a director who has always simultaneously intrigued and intimidated me. As someone who has at times struggled with fear of mortality, reading the synopses of his films has often put me off ever wanting to watch them. However, The Seventh Seal, the only Bergman film I have seen, is one of my absolute favourites. And whilst the subject matter is challenging, the beauty of the art in that case at least, totally supersedes and reservations I had.

I hope you guys enjoy this long series of posts. Hopefully there will be a few different things going on. I will be inviting some other bloggers to take the reigns for a review or two. The films, even those not on the 1001, will be graded using the beer rating system. And I will be keeping a ranking as I go, of my favourite Bergman film. As always, read, enjoy, share and comment friends.

The other thing that will be happening alongside this series is a couple of competitions. So here are the details for competition number one. Courtesy of Madman Films, up for grabs are a copy of two early Bergman films on DVD – It Rains on our Love and A Ship Bound for India. To enter the competition you will need to engage with the first four blogs I post on Bergman films (for the two films on offer as well as Crisis and Music in Darkness), either on this site, or when I promote the posts on Facebook and Twitter. Entries will close one week after the post for Music in Darkness goes up on the site.

Here are the different ways you can enter:

  • ‘Like’ the post on Facebook for one entry.
  • Comment on the post on Facebook for one entry.
  • Share the post on Facebook for two entries.
  • Retweet the post on Twitter for two entries.
  • Like the post on the website for one entry.
  • Comment on the post on the website for one entry.

I am really hoping that you guys will get involved with this new series of posts, and hopefully this will be the first of a whole bunch of giveaways. Entry is open to anyone, but just bear in mind the DVDs are Region 4. On facebook, only entries from those who ‘like’ the Not Now, I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie will be counted. Same deal with twitter, only those retweets from followers of beer_movie will be registered (this is simply because it is easier for me to contact the winner).

I am really hoping that you guys will get involved with this new series of posts, and hopefully this will be the first of a whole bunch of giveaways. If you have any queries about the competition, or the series of posts, feel free to email me at drinkingbeerwatchingmovie@gmail.com or use the comments section.

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