Tag Archives: Sweden

Top 100 Films #12 – Winter Light (1963)

 

Nattvardsgästerna (1963) Filmografinr: 1963/03#12. Winter Light (1963)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Ingrid Thulin, Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Gunnel Lindblom

My favorite Ingmar Bergman film is one I hesitate to call a “favorite” simply due to the nature of the subject matter explored in his 1963 film Winter Light. The film is the second in a loose thematic trilogy of Bergman-directed movies exploring themes of faith and its effects on people of all walks of life. The trilogy also includes Through a Glass Darkly and Silence, both of which are excellent films in their own right. Winter Light follows Pastor Tomas Ericsson (Gunnar Bjornstrand) over a day as he prepares for his afternoon service in a neighboring town. Over the course of the morning, he has interactions with Jonas Persson (Max von Sydow), who feels depressed after reading about China developing an atomic bomb, Marta Lundberg (Ingrid Thulin), an atheist who is in love with Tomas, and Karin Persson (Gunnell Lindblom), the distraught wife of Jonas. Tomas, who is struggling with questions about his own faith in God, fails to help Jonas with his depressive feelings, which eventually leads to his suicide – leaving his wife Karin alone with their children. Ingmar Bergman is a director who is notorious for exploring difficult themes, most notably about death and faith – two things that almost nobody likes involved in their escapist entertainment. Winter Light is Bergman at his most uncomfortable and instigative – it’s a film with almost no hope and no light. It’s a cold, bitter, challenging, and deeply personal experience in every sense. The bleak nature of Bergman’s script allows for serious questions about God’s silence and one man’s struggle with his once rock solid faith to come across as urgent and deadly serious, especially after it leads to the death of a member of his congregation. Gunnar Bjornstrand’s performance as the Pastor Tomas Ericsson is terrific, allowing members of his congregation to speak at him about their worries and troubles even when he is not sure about his own future with the church. His internal struggle throughout the film is palpable, and makes his interactions with others seem cold and businesslike. Max von Sydow’s performance as the mentally tortured and horribly depressed Jonas Persson is erratic, panicked, and absolutely devastating. When Jonas’ final moments come, the little light truly begins to drain from Winter Light. While it truly is a difficult moviegoing experience, Ingmar Bergman’s film is also one of the most intellectually-challenging experiences I’ve ever had – nothing has ever resonated in my mind quite like Winter Light. I can’t recommend it to many readers, but if the experience sounds like it may be for you, then I can promise you’ll never forget your short time with Winter Light – it’s an unsung masterpiece from one of cinema’s greatest.

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Top 100 Films #25 – Wild Strawberries (1957)

 

1200#25. Wild Strawberries (1957)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Victor Sjostrom, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Bjornstrand

Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries is the film that introduced me to international cinema, and showed me just how powerful foreign-language films could be.  It was my first Bergman film, and immediately hooked me and turned me into a lifelong fan.  I saw Wild Strawberries at the perfect (or possibly the unfortunate) time in my life – I had just begun my fight with anxiety and depression, and for the first time I could truly relate to a character on screen. Wild Strawberries follows an aging professor named Isak Borg (Victor Sjostrom), who has learned that he will be honored with a jubilee doctorate award fifty years after his graduation from school.  Borg sets off on the long trip to the awards ceremony with his pregnant daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin).  Along the way, Isak begins to reevaluate and reassess his life and his own decisions – brought on by a series of nightmares and daydreams.  His increased sense of mortality combined with run-ins with several hitchhikers leads to Isak having a far more interesting road trip than he ever expected.  Wild Strawberries is chock full of Ingmar Bergman’s famous themes of death, mortality, life, and age, with the main conflict in the film being a man’s own existential crisis.  Bergman employs the use of atmospheric dream and nightmare sequences, giving much of the film a thick, uneasy tone.  The dream sequences are incredibly well-realized and haunting, with the most memorable coming early on in the film and involving Isak having a run-in with Death.  The film’s emotional payoff is absolutely worth the often bizarre and surreal journey, turning Wild Strawberries into one of the most beautiful and poignant movies Ingmar Bergman ever made.  The film inspired another of my favorite filmmakers, Woody Allen, and its influence can be felt in many of his best films, including Stardust Memories, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Deconstructing Harry. Though all those films are excellent in their own regards, none of them come close to the masterpiece that is Wild Strawberries – one of the very best films from one of the all-time great directors.  Wild Strawberries certainly isn’t an easy watch, but viewers brave enough to tackle its heavy subject matter will find solace in its incredible finale.

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Top 100 Films #33 – Scenes from a Marriage (1973)

 

image-w1280-1#33. Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson

While Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage is one of the longest films I’ve ever dedicated my time to, it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had with the medium.  The television miniseries version of Scenes from a Marriage runs for 281 minutes, split into six parts.  The film follows the lives of Marianne (Liv Ullman) and Johan (Erland Josephson), an affluent Swedish couple who have just celebrated their 10-year anniversary together.  Johan eventually reveals to his wife that he is having an affair with a younger woman, and requests a separation from Marianne.  After he leaves the house for an undetermined amount of time, Marianne learns that many of her friends knew of the affair long before she did.  Eventually their separation leads to a divorce, and both parties remarry.  Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s films are notorious for their contemplative looks at life, death, love, and faith, and Scenes from a Marriage is no different.  While it may not be as dream-like or atmospheric as some of his films, many of his famous themes are still very apparent, especially with how the story plays out over its 4.5 hour run-time.  The commentary it provides on love is almost entirely unique in the medium of film, giving a bleak and honest look at marriage.  Bergman pulls no punches with his screenplay, examining in depth the banality, frustration, and dissatisfaction found in many marriages.  While I can’t personally relate to the circumstances that Johan and Marianne find themselves in throughout the film, Scenes from a Marriage still somehow manages to connect with viewers.  This is done by Bergman not “picking sides” in the film, instead treating both parties as equals and openly criticizing them both, and allowing the audience to make up their own minds about the events taking place before them.  Bergman’s script is intelligent in this way, using long scenes of dialogue to push the story forward – using its minimalism as an advantage, rather than as a cheap source of exposition.  While Scenes from a Marriage is undoubtedly bleak and harrowing, its closing chapter is surprisingly romantic and intimate in its notions – something I have rarely felt while watching a Bergman film.  Scenes from a Marriage is a 4.5 hour epic about the pitfalls of marriage and love in general, and while it may not be the best starting point for an exploration into international cinema, it’s an undoubtedly affecting and progressive picture that will leave viewers reeling in the best way.

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Top 100 Films #49 – Autumn Sonata (1978)

 

lead-autumn-sonata#49. Autumn Sonata (1978)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Lena Nyman, Halvar Bjork

Sweden’s Ingmar Bergman knew familial drama like few others before or after them, and his 1978 film Autumn Sonata may very well be one of his most powerful late-career projects.  Starring the always marvelous Liv Ullmann as a pianist named Eva who invites her aging mother Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman) – a world class pianist – to visit her and her husband Viktor (Halvar Bjork).  Eva’s disabled sister Helena (Lena Nyman) makes an appearance in the home, shocking Charlotte and bringing about a wide range of difficult feelings.  Eva feels as if Charlotte has never truly loved her daughters as a mother should, which also brings with it a simmering tension ready to boil over at any moment.  Autumn Sonata is a beautiful, small film that likes of which are hardly seen anymore, especially from auteurs like Ingmar Bergman.  It deals with the usual Bergman themes of death, regret, and sorrow, but also delves deep into themes of reconciliation and the reconstruction of relationships, and does so very elegantly. The familial unit of Eva, Charlotte, and Helena feels genuine and depressing for a number of reasons – each character desperately wants to express themselves fully and say what they need to, but can’t for fear of furthering the chasms between them.  Eva and Charlotte’s subtle rivalry over their achievements and talents as pianists furthers the tension and Bergman uses it to produce some very subtle moments of building angst and bitterness.  The performances in Autumn Sonata are incredible, as they often are in Bergman’s best films.  Ingrid Bergman’s commanding performance as the cold Charlotte is one of the film’s strongest points – making viewers flip-flop between sympathy and genuine dislike of the woman.  Her chemistry with co-star Liv Ullmann is palpable and is a large part of why Autumn Sonata is such an affecting piece.  Ullmann’s more emotionally fragile Eva is terrific – she gives the audience a real sense that her current life is truly unsatisfying, living with constant regret and a desire for more. Lastly, Lena Nyman’s Helena stands out as being a very good performance – her character’s disabilities feel genuine and cause her and her family a great deal of real frustration and empathy.  If you’re unfamiliar with the films of Ingmar Bergman, Autumn Sonata may not be the best starting point – but it sure as hell represents everything great that the director tackled during his prolific career.  It features great performances, an emotionally charged script by Bergman himself, and excellent, un-shaking direction.  When the emotional fissures between the lead characters finally begin to widen, Autumn Sonata becomes a true masterpiece.  

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Top 100 Films #93 – The Virgin Spring (1960)

 

029-the-virgin-spring-theredlist#93. The Virgin Spring (1960)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Written by: Ulla Isaksson (based on 13th-century Swedish folktale Töres döttrar i Wänge)
Starring: Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg, Gunnel Lindblom, Birgitta Pettersson

Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman is no stranger to tackling heavy subject matter, and his 1960 film The Virgin Spring is a perfect example of this.  Bergman’s movie based on a medieval folktale deals with themes of revenge, faith (or lack thereof), and the brutality of man.  The Virgin Spring follows young Karin (Birgitta Pettersson) and her servant Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom) as they travel by horseback to deliver candles to their church.  Along the way they encounter three sinister young herdsmen who eventually rape and murder Karin as a frightened Ingeri watches from a distance.  The men later accidentally seek shelter at the house of Karin and Ingeri, where her mother and father learn of the murder and seek revenge against them.  The Virgin Spring earned Bergman his first of three Academy Awards, and helped the Swedish filmmaker break out on an international stage.  Bergman is at his very best when he’s dealing with themes of faith and innocence, as he was never afraid to ask unanswerable questions.  The Virgin Spring is a visceral, all too realistic trip through Medieval Sweden, and certainly isn’t for the faint of heart.  For anybody looking for a challenging and intellectual – but rewarding – experience, I highly recommend it.

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