Category Archives: Ingmar Bergman

Through a Glass Darkly-1961

Through a Glass Darkly-1961

Director Ingmar Bergman

Starring Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow

Scott’s Review #1,377

Reviewed July 15, 2023

Grade: A

Recently acquiring a robust Ingmar Bergman collection featuring over three dozen of the great director’s works, I have much introspective filmmaking to look forward to.

Considered visionary, influential, and many other stellar adjectives, his films are personal and human. They are frequently dark and not easy watches but the payoff is quite big for the patient cinephile.

His 1961 work, Through a Glass Darkly (1961) tells the story of a schizophrenic young woman, Karin (Harriet Andersson), vacationing on a remote island with her husband Martin (Max von Sydow), novelist father David (Gunnar Björnstrand), and frustrated younger brother Minus (Lars Passgård).

She has been released from the hospital and plans to enjoy the summer in tranquility at the family’s quaint cottage.

She slowly unravels as the reality sets in that she may not get better and the family is aware of this.

The story is told in a brisk twenty-four-hour period and consists of only the four aforementioned characters. It is structured as a three-act play in a very short ninety-one-minute run.

Let’s remember that mental illness was not as advanced in 1961 as it is decades later. Most who suffered from it were tossed away into a ‘loony bin’ and quickly discarded from society.

Delving into such controversial and unpleasant territory in 1961 deserves huge accolades.

The brilliance of Through a Glass Darkly is how Karin realizes her mental illness and its fateful ravages. She is aware of what’s happening to her and that she will never recover. After all, the hen’s mother also suffered from mental illness.

Her rich characterization is powerfully played by Andersson who is the standout in the film. This could be a result of Sven Nykvist’s cinematography but sometimes Karin looks like a little girl and other times a haggard older woman.

I wonder if Bergman was trying to show the parallel between Karin and her mother.

Speaking of the camerawork, as in Bergman’s films the black-and-white style only enhances the quality of the picture. The contrast between black and white and the frequent close-ups of the characters reveal glowing and ghostlike facial images.

I champion shots like this because it enriches the visual perspective and shifts away from the story momentarily.

Andersson is not the only actor who is excellent and second place belongs to Björnstrand as the father. His character is a writer and deeply pained. Revealed to have tried to commit suicide he is riddled with guilt, regret, and desperation.

von Sydow is decent as Karin’s husband but the actor has much better Bergman roles to reflect on. Any cinema lover will immediately associate the great actor with The Seventh Seal (1957).

Towards the end of Through a Glass Darkly, I didn’t quite connect the dots when the characters go into detail about how god is equated with love.

My focus was more on Karin and the other characters coming to terms with the fact that she would go to an asylum and never return.

What Bergman does so well in Through a Glass Darkly is he makes the audience envelop the characters, accepting and feeling their pain. I despair along with Karin when she imagines a spider emerging from the walls and crawling on her.

Of course, the audience doesn’t see what Karin imagines which makes the scene much scarier than if Bergman had shown a giant spider.

One’s imagination is always worse than what is on the screen.

Requiring patience and a deep dive into despair, Through a Glass Darkly (1961) is worth the work. Lovely beachside images and beautiful sunlight mix perfectly with anguish and depression creating an intimate experience.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Foreign Language Film (won), Best Original Screenplay

Wild Strawberries-1957

Wild Strawberries-1957

Director Ingmar Bergman

Starring Victor Sjostrom, Bibi Andersson

Scott’s Review #1,111

Reviewed February 10, 2021

Grade: A

A seventy-eight-year-old man (Victor Sjostrom) reflects on life, loss, and a million other emotions as he ponders his inevitable death in the Ingmar Bergman masterpiece Wild Strawberries (1957).

The film has a melancholy tone forcing the viewer to put themselves in the old man’s shoes and wonder how senior citizens view death. One great point is it represents the geriatric demographic, which has traditionally been sorely lacking in cinema.

It’s cerebral and reminds me of A Christmas Carol since an old man struggles over his forgotten and sometimes misbegotten youth.

Bergman creates genius on par with his most famous work The Seventh Seal also released in 1957. I’d list these two films as his very best and most inspiring.

Do older people fear death?  Do they whimsically revisit their youth from time to time or do they live with regret and unfulfilled desire?

My hunch is that it’s probably a bit of all.

Wild Strawberries made me think like the old man and the effect was powerful, making me worry about my death and relive my glory days.

Isak Borg (Sjostrom) begins to reflect on his life after he takes a road trip from his home in Stockholm to the distant town of Lund to receive a special award. Along the way, a string of encounters causes him to experience hallucinations that expose his insecurities and fears.

He realizes that his choices have rendered his life meaningless, or so he perceives it.

He is accompanied by his daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin) who doesn’t like Isak too much, is pregnant, and plans to leave her husband. They meet a trio of friendly hitchhikers led by Sara (Bibi Andersson) who reminds Isak of the love of his youth.

A bickering couple reminds him of his unhappy marriage, while his elderly mother reminds him of himself.

The best part is when the group stops at Isak’s childhood seaside home and imagines his sweetheart, Sara, with whom he remembered gathering strawberries, but who instead married his brother.

Anyone who has returned to their childhood home or neighborhood can easily relate to the powerful memories. I pretended I was in Isak’s character and several emotions occurred.

Sjostrom infuses a natural range of emotions. At first crotchety and distant I admired his sentimentality as he fondly recalls innocently picking strawberries on a summer day. How glorious and innocent to reminisce in an act so mundane yet monumental.

An old man, he was once young. How quickly the years go by. I took this as a lesson to appreciate each day and experience. Sjostrom had me mesmerized.

Some find Izak unsympathetic. I found him incredibly likable.

Relationships are a strong element of Wild Strawberries. Izak muses over past loves, his mother, daughter-in-law, housekeeper, and hitchhikers. Peculiar is his relationship with his housekeeper, Agda, played stunningly well by Julian Kindahl.

Are they secret lovers or platonic friends? They seem like husband and wife.

While the story is astounding, the visual qualities of Wild Strawberries are amazing.

The video content is crisp and clear with very bright black-and-white photography. Each shot is mesmerizing and reminiscent of paintings.

There is so much going on in Wild Strawberries. The closest adjectives to describe the experience are hallucinogenic and mesmerizing.

The people gathered over a meal were young, fresh, and carefree. They all have a life ahead of them and almost every viewer can recount a time when they felt that way.

It’s both nostalgic and sad to realize it doesn’t last as Bergman makes so painfully evident.

The scene where Isak witnesses a hearse approaching is terrifying. When he realizes it is himself lying in the casket it’s enough to give one a chill. It’s creepy and powerful in tone and effects.

Wild Strawberries (1957)  possesses many facets of the human experience like sorrow, joy, depression, acceptance, frustration, and fulfillment.

This is a work of genius and is highly recommended to anyone who appreciates great experiences in cinema.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay

The Seventh Seal-1957

The Seventh Seal-1957

Director Ingmar Bergman

Starring Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand

Scott’s Review #497

70127971

Reviewed October 23, 2016

Grade: A

The Seventh Seal (1957) is an Ingmar Bergman Swedish masterpiece that, after three mere viewings, I am just beginning to appreciate and fall in love with.

It is not that I did not “get” the dark, artsy theme to begin with- I did, but The Seventh Seal is a savory dish meant for repeated offerings, and with each, I have loved it even more.

The subject matter of the plague and the Black Death is heavy.

It is a quiet, yet powerful, dark, art film about death.

The film is shot in black and white, which does nothing but enhance the cold, stark concepts of the film. The color would have certainly made the film cheery or bright- if that can be said given the subject matter.

Instead, the filming is cold, yet illuminating, and the whites seem very white- the blacks- very dark, which is symbolic of the concepts of the film.

In the story, a disillusioned medieval knight-Antonius Block (Max von Sydow)  returns home from war disenchanted with life. He fought in the Crusades and returned home to Sweden to find it plagued by the Black Death.

He begins to play a game of chess alone- and is visited by Death- a hideous pale creature shrouded in black. Antonius challenges Death to chess- his fate is left so long as the game continues.

Throughout the film, Antonius is the only character who can see Death- the other characters cannot, making the film open to interpretations.

The other characters in the story are a troupe of actors that Antonius meets along the way to his castle and a young, fresh-faced girl who has been branded a witch and is fated to be burned at the stake is featured.

Since she is close to death, Antonius takes a particular fascination with her.

Throughout the film and the trials and tribulations of the characters, Death is continuously lurking around, watching these characters, which is a fascinating part of the film. They cannot see him, so we can only assume their time in this world is limited.

What makes The Seventh Seal so powerful is its honesty- harsh as it is. The knowledge that death is coming for these people is fascinating and many of the characters discuss god in length and pray, as religion is an enormous aspect of the film.

It almost contains a good vs. evil, god vs. devil component, and again, important to stress, highly open to interpretation. Great art films are.

Numerous scenes reverberate and are major iconic moments in film history decades later. The scene of Antonius and Death playing chess on the beach is chilling and ghost-like. Death- his pale face and a black cloak would frighten anyone. This scene has been referenced numerous times over the years.

The inevitable final shot- my favorite- is a long shot of peasants being led to their fate by Death as they are pulled begrudgingly by a rope by Death reminiscent of the Pied Piper and is entitled “Dance of Death”.

The individuals are dressed in black and are atop a hill surrounded by the sky, making the morbid scene highly effective.

The Last Supper scene is powerful and the final meal is enjoyed by the group- unsure of what fate has in store for them the next day.

I anticipate more viewings of this brilliant piece of filmmaking.

The Virgin Spring-1960

The Virgin Spring-1960

Director Ingmar Bergman

Starring Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg

Scott’s Review #243

60011418

Reviewed May 15, 2015

Grade: A

The Virgin Spring is a quiet masterpiece by director Ingmar Bergman.

A Swedish language film, it won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1960, surprising for such a dark film.

I have heard about this film for years, but it had alluded me up until this point, and I am finally glad that I viewed it. It is breathtaking and mesmerizing.

A unique film for many reasons, it inspired “revenge” films to follow, specifically The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, which is a horror film, yes, while The Virgin Spring is interestingly an art film.

The film also questions morals and the main character’s religious beliefs and reflections on guilt.

The filming is in black and white and the first point that struck me about the film is its gorgeous cinematography and lighting. The brilliant deep contrast of black and white with the illumination of a character’s face while the background is death black is very brazen and reminiscent of Citizen Kane.

It gives the film warmth and glow that contrast perfectly with the bleak subject matter.

The story of The Virgin Spring is a tragedy, yet the filming is so magnificent that it was not until the film concluded and I pondered the actual story that I realized just how horrific it truly is. And that is what Bergman was going for-provoking a thought.

This is not a film to kick back and be entertained while munching a tub of popcorn. It is a film meant to make one think.

An affluent Swedish couple, who owns a farm, lives a peaceful, quiet existence. They are stellar members of their community and church. They are humble, but they can afford to have servants.

They have a beautiful and pampered young daughter named Karin, who is sent to deliver candles to their church one sunny day. Karin is a trusting, virginal, and proper girl. She comes upon a trio of males- two adults and a young boy.

At first, gleefully sharing food with them and enjoying her newfound friends, they soon turn on her and she is viciously raped, robbed, beaten, and murdered.

The look of surprise, pain, and horror on Karin’s face is monumental. As this occurs, a pregnant and spiteful servant, Ingeri, watches in horror from a hiding place. A rival of Karin’s, Ingeri wanted misfortune thrust upon Karin, but as she watches in horror, the expressions on her face portray regret.

As the family hopes and prays that they can find the missing Karin, the men, and boy show up at the farmhouse in need of food and shelter.

Unbeknownst to the family, they are Karin’s rapists and killers, and once the truth is known, the once-sweet parents are out for brutal revenge. The young boy of the trio is guilt-ridden and physically sick from the circumstances.

Is the family’s revenge justified or should they (as good Christians) forgive? This is the moral point of the story.

The conclusion of the film is powerful as the father begs God for forgiveness. He questions his actions. But is he a changed man?

Bergman uniquely and intelligently shoots these scenes with only the father’s back in view as he throws his hands to go. We, the viewer, become one with the father in these moments, which makes for powerful storytelling.

Influential to many subsequent films, The Virgin Spring (1960) is a powerful tale, reminiscent of a fairy tale, that makes the viewer think about the ending.

Subdued yet horrifying, it is meant to be viewed and analyzed.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Foreign Language Film (won), Best Costume Design, Black-and-White