Posts Tagged ‘Smiles of A Summer Night’

(This is a reprint of the post first posted in cinebuff.wordpress.com)

One feature of Bergman films is an unconscious acknowledgment of personal influences of his world on him. Bergman was working for Svensk Filmindustri while Alf Sjöberg made The Road to Heaven (1942), a stark medieval allegory, hints of which we can see in The Seventh Seal. The fact that he went on to put Miss Julie, the film that established the reputation of Sjöberg on the boards after his death, cannot be coincidental. If Bergman has found relentless use of close-up of the face a technique to reinforce the existential and moral problems of his characters we may find in Carl Dreyer’s use of such close-ups as forerunner. In citing these in no way detracts the artistic excellence of this Swedish filmmaker. Another feature of Bergman’s subject matter is his introspective quality derived of course from his childhood memories, adolescence and personality. The Seventh Seal for example is his search for faith in the absence of a personal God. In a way he repudiates the faith of his fathers and in its place coalesce certain existential sureties from his own a clue of which in his film Persona (1966). “Today I feel that in Persona — and later in Cries and Whispers — I had gone as far as I could go. And that in these two instances when working in total freedom, I touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover.” If we consider this film in particular we see it as self-revelatory as to his interior life. Take for example the images of Elizabet Vogler and Alma merging as one. This shot is a follow up of the birth of Elizabet’s son and it is narrated by her nurse. It is a painful memory for the actress and she hates herself and her baby. In merging the two faces of the nurse and the patient, Bergman is merely reliving his own condition. It is the reverse of the son towards his father. What spiritual baggage that he is left holding is anathema considering circumstances of its birth. The child- parent relationship must have been traumatic that it is explored in his movies again and again like a melody that one cannot get rid of. His Autumn Sonata (1978) and Fanny and Alexander (1982) are cases in point. This rather obsessive aspect of Bergman where he would rather get rid of the world and its uses on which politics, commerce and culture gather strength (and by which nations may trade their tawdry goods across,) he would confront his viewer and also himself by deep concerns that his own countrymen found as excesses. Consider ‘Bergman’s tight use of a 1.33:1 frame which often excludes any clear glimpses of the world beyond a face which finds no up, down, left or right in which to direct its gaze’. (The radical intimacy of Bergman-Hamish Ford) I for myself cannot think Bergman could pull off a film like say Ophul’s ‘The earrings of Madame de…’ or Fassbinder’s Lola. His metaphysical make-up is too ingrained in him to let him get into a serious business of commenting on political or social concerns of his day. His first success came with Port of Call (1948). In telling the love story of Gösta a seaman who saves a girl from drowning and keeping her by his side Bergman resorts to rather straightforward narrative. Berit has a terrible past and she would rather risk telling it before she commits herself to Gösta. In resolving their differences and mutual acceptance he touches upon social themes like failed parents sending their daughters to reformatories, the reliance of working class women on back-street abortions. We see him more as a disengaged filmmaker from polemics. I mentioned this film to show Bergman, as he has himself admitted at the time, was heavily influenced by Italian neo-realism. ‘The is most apparent in the stunning location sequences of Port of Call, where the influence of Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica can be seen in virtually every shot. Some of these sequences have a raw documentary-feel… that is lacking in virtually all of Bergman’s other films’. (James travers-2007) Take a film like Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) where love, marriage and infidelity angle of the film is of a different league than the lighthearted touch of Renoir (The Rules of the Game) for instance. The aging Egermann takes his young wife to the theater to see his former mistress. His directorial touch doesn’t bring out anything new in their three-way confrontation except some heavy observations. The three actresses on stage mock men, love and marriage. One of them says that a woman can do anything she wants to a man as long as she doesn’t hurt his dignity. Bergman won a jury prize at Cannes for the film (1955). His handling of the comedy of romantic entanglements was as different from his Magic Flute or the Silence. With films as disparate as the Magician or So Close to Life he showed that he was not confined to any particular style as his genius to put on what he had thematically chalked out. The subject matter determined the style. It could have come only from his intuitive understanding of various modes and viewpoints of filmmakers of his age. Critical acclaim of his films have waxed and waned. Bergman’s status in late 50’s and in the 90s are light years apart. Ingmar Bergman is not to be judged by films per se but in the way he opened us to appreciate the shared condition of life and film art beyond the fads and polemics. It is purely an internal experience. Elizabet, his character in Persona stopped speaking unable to respond effectively with ‘large catastrophes’ such as Holocaust or Vietnam War. Bergman was also confronted by catastrophes that in his case were private. Luckily for us he responded with films.(Ack: James Travers, Hamish ford, Pedro Blas Gonzalez.)



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