Cinema of Sweden


The SquareRuben Östlund’s The Square realizes that satirising contemporary art world is the easiest thing to do. So it makes up for it with a paralysing nuance that comes across as taking two steps forward and one backward. Östlund’s ambivalence towards his subject is apparent from the first scene. An uninitiated American journalist (Elizabeth Moss) asks the director of a contemporary art museum, Christian (Claes Bang), to explain a piece of curatorial text written in artspeak. He mumbles something about the context of exhibition, which the journalist accepts without question. The scene is supposed to be a sendup of the inscrutability of modern art, but the text the journalist reads out sounds legitimate, as does Christian’s response. This scene is followed by shots of the demolition of an old, imposing sculpture at the museum’s entrance whose place a modern work called The Square will take. This destruction is supposed to be read by us as sacrilege. But later in the film, Christian explains the meaning of The Square to his kids through family anecdote in a way that makes an authentic case for the work.

The artwork in question, The Square, I believe, is a genuinely interesting installation, and belongs to the family of contemporary sculptures that converts the hallowed halls of the art museum into a public space of confrontation. A four metre by four metre square of LED lights, it carries the following motto: “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” Östlund follows up this on-screen statement with shots of the homeless in Stockholm. The blunt juxtaposition brings out the real problem with The Square and its utopian intentions: access to the museum itself is a question of social status and the mutual trust the work seeks to foster is in effect upper-class solidarity. On the other hand, Östlund refuses to see the museum or the art world as a monolith. The young marketing executives who come up with an awful, exploitative ad campaign for The Square are lampooned directly, but Christian is a well-rounded character shown to be capable of empathy and change.

Christian, though, is embedded in a power structure that he consciously makes use of. When a subordinate of his refuses to run a personal errand for him, he threatens the young man by turning it into a question of professional trust. He sleeps with the journalist well aware of the equations at play. He has preconceived notions about those living in low-income housing and doesn’t realize the implications of accusing everyone in an impoverished, immigrant-dominated apartment complex in order to zero in on one person who’s stolen his wallet and phone. At the same time, he comes out of his cocoon to own up to his mistakes and to trust others. When he loses his daughters at the mall, he entrusts his shopping bags to a homeless person. In a video-taped apology to an immigrant boy grounded at home because of his accusation, Christian displaces personal culpability into sociological abstractions, but finally takes his two daughters with him to meet the boy in person.

It would be more fruitful to see The Square not as a satire but a set of qualified observations about contemporary art and its institutions. The film understands museums as cultural establishments run like corporates needing to balance their role as proponents of progressive values and purveyors of artistic expression. When Christian is forced to give a press conference about the offensive promotional video, he’s taken apart by both socially-minded liberals and “defenders of free speech”. Christian’s existence is so sophisticated, so wrapped up in layers of irony and simulation that he becomes unable to tell the real from the artificial. He prepares his impromptu speeches in advance, even their improvisational bits. The gets taken for a ride by a con job at a public square, but is unfazed by the real violence taking place during a performance act. The Square’s single most important insight might be this: interpersonal trust in public spaces, all but killed by increased social inequality, can only resurface as parody in art museums for those with no need for it.

The most evident syndrome of this malady afflicting modern art establishments appears in a grand dinner scene in which a male performance artist (Terry Notary) wanders naked in imitation of a primate amidst tuxedoed patrons of the museum. At first amusing, his doubly-performative act turns out to be an escalation of hostilities culminating in a real attack on a woman. In this return of the repressed, the implicit social-behavioural contract of the museum space breaks down and the patrons are hard put to find an appropriate response to the aggression—a crisis paralleling the emotional violence the museum inflicts on the world around through its publicity campaign and the impossibility of the outside world to proportionally react to it.

The film’s cinematography is reminiscent of Lanthimos’ work in its unstable, dynamic compositions employing the architectural elements of the museum. Östlund’s chops as an entertaining filmmaker is apparent in the dinner scene and the thrilling sequence where Christian delivers the letters as his subordinate tries to protect their car from curious street hawks, passages pregnant with impending violence. But the film is also full of open threads and pointless sequences seemingly left loose for the purpose of ambiguity. The film maintains an air of mystery only because it constantly contradicts itself, afraid to look like a newspaper cartoon about modern art.

Western

In Western, Valeska Grisebach poses a series of interlocking power relations between characters and their communities that sets in conflict their individual selves and their group identities. Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann) is part of a German crew trying to setup a power plant in the woods of Bulgaria near the Greek frontier. The raw material for construction hasn’t arrived yet arrived at the site, so the crew spends its time lazing around on the river bank, knocking down beers, hitting on women of the nearby village, plucking fruit from private compounds and generally driving around at night. The men even plant a German flag to mark out their territory. Meinhard, in contrast, goes into village to get to know the residents. Over time, he makes friends even though he doesn’t speak Bulgarian. He helps them out with building wells in the village and, in turn, Adrian, one of the villagers, lets him use his horse and even has his nephew teach Meinhard to ride.

Supposedly an ex-legionnaire, Meinhard is a wanderer with no family or home. His reaching out to the villagers is an attempt at belonging to a place and a people. But what Western demonstrates is that, connect though he might with the residents, Meinhard will never be able to escape the larger identities circumscribing his individual, personal behaviour. The villagers refer to him as the German. They bond with him through positive clichés about Germans. One of them breaks ice with him using German military anecdotes. Meinhard, in turn, doesn’t realize that his symbolic gestures of belonging—giving his pocket knife to Adrian’s nephew, taking part in gambling, threatening a local lynchpin when he roughs up Adrian—align him along certain fault lines within the community. As an outsider, he can only see the village as a monolith to assimilate into, but doesn’t realize that his status as a higher-paid, well-travelled, working-class man from a developed country situates him in a complicated dynamic with the village residents; that the welcome the villagers extend him is precisely predicated on him being an outsider.

Meinhard’s relation with the crew, meanwhile, deteriorates just as he develops a rapport with the villagers. His German colleagues don’t like him hanging out late in town, pursuing women they’re after, or preventing them from using the village’s scanty water source. Like with the soldiers from Herzog’s Signs of Life—a work that Western alludes to—their worst instincts come out when they’re subject to boredom and lack of purpose in a foreign country. One of them justifies the flag-hoisting and points out that they’re the ones helping Bulgaria develop. After an untoward, selfish incident, Meinhard warns his crew chief Vincent (Reinhardt Wetrek) that he’d kill him if such things happen again. Meinhard’s severity alienates him from his own kind, but his self-effacing liberalism doesn’t exactly allow him to become one with the villagers. He’s left stranded at the end, dancing alone at a country festivity in a parody of communal participation, like many a tragic hero of arthouse cinema.

Grisebach constructs her film as a series of convivial scenes of groups of people conversing over drinks and food—this applies both to the Germans and the Bulgarians in the film, united in spirit in their desire to belong to a community. The passages of the film where Meinhard spends time with the villagers are tender in their imagination of the possibility of language not being a barrier in human relations. A film unfolding at a particular place and time, Western nevertheless functions as an encapsulation of larger political drifts (and, in this, it recalls the other recent, incisive film about the crisis of the EU, Toni Erdmann): the dubious promises of mobility offered by the European Union, the transition of Bulgaria from communism to a neoliberal order, the westward migration of its citizens for better prospects, and the living echoes of German-Bulgarian wartime relationship. The focus, as with many German films, is the weight of national history on individual consciousness.

Ghost In The Shell

Persona (1966)
Ingmar Bergman
Swedish

When I came home I saw myself in the mirror and thought: we’re alike. Don’t misunderstand me, you’re much prettier, but we are alike in a way. I think I could turn myself into you, if I made a real effort.


PersonaIngmar Bergman’s Persona (1966) isn’t like anything I’ve seen of his other works – perhaps the first time I’ll replace the word ‘meticulous’ with ‘avant-garde’ when describing his films.  The film follows two women – Elisabet Vogler (the luminous Liv Ullman), an actress who has deliberately pushed herself into a shell of silence and Sister Alma (Bibi Andersson), her young nurse – on an isolated island where each others’ desires, fears, agonies and memories unfold. Although fraught with elements apt for traditional character analyses, including the famous character switch trick that scriptwriters love, Persona manages to avoid the trap that the Bergman has partly set for himself through his previous films. Suitably imbibing elements of the modernist mode of cinema championed by the New Wave, Bergman creates a confounding work that is as rich in its implications and as cinematic in its execution as his previous films.

Bergman frequently crosscuts between images of natural landscapes and those of the characters’ faces. Bergman presents a simple analogy between the faces of landscape and landscapes of the human face. These landscapes keep changing the film as the film progresses, much like the very many faces the characters assume. Bergman seems to underscore that we are all actors in a way, taking up one face or the other throughout our lives. Although by profession it is only Elisabet who is an actor, Alma, too, turns out to be one in the film. Alma and Elisabet are like two mirrors placed in front of each other. Elisabet is an actor who has assumed another role – that of a silent spectator of the world. She watches Alma as if she were a movie character and psychoanalyzes her once she gets to know her past. She may even be feeding on Alma for her next role. Alma, on the other hand, feels closer to Elisabet, yet acts like a film character herself. She too tries to pull down Elisabet’s new-found mask, in an attempt to expose the fakery of her being. But all such textual inferences sum up to nothing, for, as the first few frames of the film suggests, Persona is more self-referential than referential (In a fascinating shot, the camera photographs Elisabet photographing the camera!).

This perplexing shift of Bergman into the modernist trend (along with his notorious comments on Godard) presents a whole new dimension to the film. Alma and Elisabet may very well represent the whole of traditional cinema and the modernist wave respectively. Bergman drops enough clues to this. Early on, Alma tells the doctor that she may not be able to “cope up” with the tough nut Elisabet. She laments aloud when she is alone. On the other hand, Elisabet is sober and detached (Later, the doctor tells her: “Your hideout isn’t watertight. Life seeps in everything. You’re forced to react.”). When Alma turns on the radio to listen to an exaggerated melodrama, she laughs. Elisabet is visibly affected by the violence of the outer world whereas Alma is disturbed by her inner world, much like the two cinemas they stand for.  Bergman presents them as the two definitive – and necessary – halves of cinema with a “can’t life with, can’t live without” relationship with each other.

PersonaFurthermore, they act as the audiences of the respective cinemas as well. Elisabet watches Alma dispassionately, never reacting even to the most dramatic gestures and words of the latter. She seems completely devoid of external emotions. She alienates both herself from Alma and Alma from her. Alma, however, complements Elisabet with her excessive sentimentality and expressiveness.  Contrary to Elisabet, she tries to involve herself with Elisabet and even expects her to react to her misery. Alma’s need for an emotional response is indeed adversarial to Elisabet’s intellectual reply. This complementarity is more than just literary. Bergman often cuts from one character to the other in a pattern that establishes them as mirror images, obeying eye-line matches. The characters wear opposite coloured clothes. Bergman frames his shots in such a way that one of the characters superimposes over the other as if obtaining a hybrid. In a notable scene, Alma threatens Elisabet with a bowl of boiling water, upon which the latter reacts with the only words she ever speaks in the film. Alma, like many who disapprove of the modernists’ self-indulgence, even tries to expose Elisabet’s “pretentiousness” (“You’re acting healthy. You do it so well everyone believes you. Everyone except me, because I know how rotten you are.” she says).

Not everyone thinks that Bergman’s self-reflexive endeavor is a success. Robert Kolker presents a dissenting view of Persona in his book, The Altering Eye:

“In any given sequence, once Bergman begins to concentrate on the interaction of the two women, the devices used to create distance disappear, and we are invited to partake of immediate emotion and psychological mysteries. The characters’ fears and agonies and Bergman’s fascination with them overtake any desire he might have to examine the way they are created. His desire to communicate the perverse pleasures of emotional confrontation outweighs his need to confront the intellect by denying narrative desire and its fulfillment.”

But, this narrative instability, I think, is precisely the intention of Persona. Bergman extends the interplay of his characters on to the audience as he places them in the shoes of Elisabet and Alma, in tandem. He first engages us emotionally and tempts us to do the conventional character analysis in every sequence and suddenly, by exposing the material nature of film or having an extremely perplexing sequence, pushes us into the modernist mode, thus distancing us. Ironically, the screen burns midway in the movie (as if someone has poured boiling water on it) to chop off any emotional connection that it may have built. Neither does Bergman embrace the modernist style completely, nor does he indulge himself in literary analyses or excessive sentimentality, perhaps because he believes both of them to be vital, as he stresses in the film.

But, such a reading (or any particular reading for that matter) of the film may be downright speculative, however concrete the evidences are. But that is because the film itself is both elusive and tantalizing at the same time. Persona presents us an easily digestible narrative but one that is also extremely difficult to penetrate. Bergman puts us in a limbo wherein we are neither allowed a clear view of the characters’ psyche nor are we made capable of realizing that what we see is just a two-dimensional entity. Persona may be a grand confusion of filmmaking styles, but it is also a film that attempts to absorb the best of both worlds, illustrate the drawbacks of traditional and modern cinema, examine the role of the artist  (Elisabet apparently stops speaking during a performance of Elektra – a tale of revenge – and continues to do so even when the world burns) and, most importantly, study the relationship between cinema and its audience through the ages.

Mirror

Though Andrei Tarkovsky’s canon consisted of only seven features, three student films, one documentary and a couple of stage plays and there were more unrealized projects than filmed ones, each of the ideas that were completed were gems and remain unparalleled to date. Looking back, each one seems hand picked and “sculpted” second by second and without doubt, the experience just improves with multiple viewings. Of course, Tarkovsky means different things to different people and the section just attempts to give a universal outline of the projects.

Andrei Tarkovsky and his classmates Alexander Gordon and Marika Beiku, on the suggestion of the former, decided to collaborate and adapt the Ernest Hemingway short story. The Killers (1956) is Tarkovsky’s first documented work and is, for most of the runtime, un-Tarkovskian. The quarter hour long thriller consists of three scenes with the first and the last scenes directed by Tarkovsky. The film has a pretty conventional execution and carries a film noir feel with it. Its open ended nature and stress on off-screen events would ring a bell for one who has watched Ivan’s Childhood before. Apparently, the film was praised by Tarkovsky’s professor at VGIK.

Tarkovsky’s next collaboration with Alexander Gordon at the VGIK, There Will Be No Leave Today (1958), is larger in scope and vision than its short predecessor. Written on the lines of the Clouzot classic The Wages of Fear (1953), the film revolves around a group of soldiers who try to transport a very sensitive bunch of weapons to an explosion area. The thrill never wanes even for a minute and screenplay is kept as taut as possible. This was possibly an influence of the very many thrillers from France and the USA at that time and Tarkovsky’s style was yet to be revealed to the world.

The Steamroller and the Violin (1959) would be Tarkovsky’s first independent venture and was presented as his graduation film at the VGIK. The Steamroller and the Violin does show some characteristics of a Tarkovsky film, especially the emphasis on the seclusion of the artist from the society and the subsequent bonding of the Artist and the Worker.  The film’s use of music, however, seems to be inspired by the Russian directors (Kalatazov et al.) of that time with tones of opera standing out. Also, the restriction on the colour palette, which would become stricter with subsequent films, is let loose and the film poses a childlike vivacity, much like the protagonist himself. The film won the best film at the New York Student’s film festival in 1961.

Tarkovsky’s first commercial feature, Ivan’s Childhood (1962), would be the starting of depiction of major autobiographical elements. Tarkovsky himself had spent a large part of childhood at the country side due to the war and he felt that many children who had such wonderful childhood were forced to witness the cruelty of the war. Pregnant with typically Tarkovskian imagery, the film remains one of the best anti-war films till date. The elements of nature depicted on monochrome are just perfect for the somber atmosphere it builds. Rather than showing the direct impact of violence on their minds, Ivan’s Childhood consists of the titular character’s life in between missions interspersed with dreams of the past. Ivan’s Childhood won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival and would be his last film to win an award without any haggle.

1966 would witness Tarkovsky’s magnum opus, Andrei Rublev. Ingmar Bergman called it the best film he had seen till then and the world hailed it unanimously as a masterpiece of epic proportions. Indeed, Andrei Rublev is massive in its vision and execution and one does not hesitate to place it in the same league as Ran (1985), Spartacus (1960) and the like. Though set in the medieval era of Russia, Andrei Rublev is very much a contemporary film and serves as a commentary on art, the artist, his duty and his obstacles. Co-scripted by director Andrei Konchalovsky, the film shows that a true artist should not merely practice his art, but he should find faith in his work, connect with the natural and the supernatural and hence bridge them both with compassion. Tarkovsky favorite, Anatoly Solonitsyn plays the title character with perfection. Clearly, the film alludes to Tarkovsky’s own struggles in the Soviet that would exacerbate in the following years.

Dubbed as the Soviet reply to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) is much more human and much less of a science fiction than the former. Tarkovsky’s spat with co-writers continued for a third time, this time the reason being his departure from hardcore sci-fi of the book to the version he completed. Tarkovsky distorts time, space and reality like never before and disorients the viewer form any trace of rational explanation, perhaps mirroring the very nature of human memory. He shows how our own memories, past and experiences are inescapable and become an integral part of our own personality. True to its theory, Tarkovsky’s trauma of a fractured personal life directly shows in the relation between Kelvin and Hari. Tarkovsky describes how human love is still a complex phenomenon and even in this advanced age of science. The film also argues that knowledge should be based on morality and the fragility of both inner and outer nature must be respected.

Tarkovsky’s next feature Mirror (1974) is by far his most personal work and the most enigmatic too. Most of the events, locations and characters in the film are autobiographical and Tarkovsky makes a very personal mark on screen with them.  His pining for lost beauty and innocence of childhood is evident. Repeatedly, Alexei tries to enter his dream as if to revive the past. He also sees the image of his mother and the absence of his father. This is contrasted with Alexei’s constrained relationship with his wife, who incidentally resembles his mother and his negligence towards his son. The most striking aspect of mirror is its use of past and historical events in the form of newsreels, perhaps suggesting that history, like the past, is ineluctable and forms a part of us. Through undifferentiated images of the past and the present, Tarkovsky blurs the line between dreams and reality and yet provides a stark contrast between the two. This poem of a film is hailed by many as his best work.

Stalker (1979) is arguably Tarkovsky’s most accessible work as far as its themes are concerned. The film takes us into the journey of a writer, a professor and a stalker into the Zone where one can realize one’s innermost wishes. The journey is that of discovery of faith with the professor representing the rational brain, the writer representing the intuitive heart and the stalker himself representing the doubting soul. The Zone, much like the Ocean of Solaris, is a reason-defying place that acts as the human mind and “changes by the minute”. The film’s amazing production design captures the spiritual decay in modern world effectively with its narrow colour range. Stalker, in more than one way, marks Tarkovsky’s transition from his earlier works to his trademark style that would be visible in the subsequent years. First off, Tarkovsky’s use of extremely long shots shows its roots here. Also, the quest for faith in a rotting post-modern world, that was also Tarkovsky’s own, would go on to become the primary theme in his next films.

During his journey to Italy in the early eighties, Tarkovsky shot his only documentary, Voyage in Time (1980), in collaboration with writer Tonino Guerra. Though not deliberately filmed for that purpose, Voyage in Time serves well as a companion piece to Tarkovsky’s next film Nostalgia. Not only does one get a partial insight into the mind of one of the most mysterious directors, but also gets to know how life and film was not much different for the director, the advice that he gives in the film for budding filmmakers The measured style of Tarkovsky is retained and one can see how Tarkovsky uses his experience and memories to reconstruct, almost exactly, the required situations and locations into his films. Voyage in Time lets us know the directors that Tarkovsky considered great, with the film never once feeling like a plain interview.

If one were to pick one film from Tarkovsky’s filmography that embodies all of his styles, ideologies and trademarks, it would most definitely be Nostalgia (1983). A deeply multi-layered film that conveys much more upon contemplation. The film follows, ironically, a translator Gorchakov who is unable to relate to his new country and yearns for return to past. He fails his Italian assistant who craves for his attention and eventually splits. Once again, Tarkovsky places his protagonist between inner and external conflicts. Gorchakov struggles to abolish internal and external boundaries in order to come to peace with himself. He finds faith with the help of Domenico, an outcast who asks the former to carry a candle across the pool in order to save the world. Nostalgia mirrors the director’s own struggles to believe and come to terms with his exile to Italy. The 9 minute shot of Gorchakov carrying the candle across is not just a revelation for the character but the viewer himself.

In 1986, Tarkovsky went on to make what would become a befitting end to a majestic career. The Sacrifice is out and away the most verbose of Tarkovsky’s films. Perhaps Tarkovsky, a person who had been consistently accused of being inarticulate and self-indulgent, foresaw what was to come and tried to express what he wanted to as clearly as possible. Taking off from Gorchakov’s act of faith in Nostalgia, The Sacrifice demands Alexander to make a large sacrifice in exchange for restoration of peace within himself and outside. Shot beautifully by Bergman favorite Sven Nykvist (both of whom passed away recently), Sacrifice takes Tarkovsky’s theory of “time-sculpting” to new heights with the film comprising of just 115 shots. The film is dedicated to Tarkovsky’s son, who wasn’t allowed to return to his father in exile, and like Bergman’s The Silence (1963), The Sacrifice hopes that sanity and belief will be restored by the new generation.

Tarkovsky died in the December of 1986 months after the premiere of The Sacrifice. In retrospection, it looks as if he had known his end (a psychic once told him that he would make no more than 7 films) and had it transformed on screen. With his demise, a whole new chapter in the history of Soviet cinema came to an end. His legacy was passed on to budding directors like Alexander Sokurov, who has carved a niche for himself in world cinema. Through films of directors like Kiarostami and Sokurov, one is time and again reminded how massive Tarkovsky’s contribution to cinema was and how, in his own words, “There’s no death, there is immortality. Time is one and undivided.”

Tystnaden (1963) (aka The Silence)
Swedish
Ingmar Bergman

“I didn’t want to accept my wretched role. But now it’s too damn lonely. We try out attitudes and find them all worthless. The forces are all too strong. I mean the forces… the horrible forces. You need to watch your step among all the ghosts and memories.”

 

The SilenceThe concept of faithlessness in today’s world has been filmed by a number of directors around the world in various manifestations. But none have come close to Bergman’s “faith trilogy” (save Andrei Tarkovsky, who Bergman himself considered unparalleled). The final part of the trilogy Tystnaden (1963) is perhaps the most difficult and coldest of the three films. The film itself was (in)famous for its graphic images that were unacceptable in that period of time.

Anna, her son Johan and her sister Ester are forced to spend a few days in a hotel in a foreign country following Ester’s illness. Anna is a free-lover and commences an intense affair with a waiter at the hotel. Ester does not approve this and Anna gives Ester a cold shoulder for probing into her affairs. Meanwhile, Johan who roams in the corridors meets various people and also bonds with one of the old stewards. Ester’s illness worsens and death is not far. Ester realizes this and regrets to the old steward that her relationship with Anna is not well. Ironically, Ester, who is professionally a translator, is unable to communicate to the old steward who symbolizes a pastor/God in this situation. She is hurt by the silence of god which is seen in the strained relationships of Ester and Anna. Eventually, she passes away after passing a letter to Johan that contains the equivalent foreign terms for a few words. The film ends with Anna leaving Ester to die alone and carrying on her indifference to non-bodily love.

While the first film established God as love and the second one saw faith and disbelief in mixed proportions, Tystnaden spells faithlessness in most its characters. With Ester being the only believer, the only hope for survival is through Johan (in the form of the few foreign words she passes to to him that signify communication and hence love). The trilogy (the previous ones being Såsom I En Spegel (1961), Nattvardsgästerna (1962)), as a whole puts forth notions of God and Godlessness (that translate to love and lack of love respectively in relationships among various individuals) and manifests itself in different situations. A truly meditative set of films that you have to watch in a unperturbed environment.

Nattvardsgästerna (1963) (aka Winter Light)
Swedish
Ingmar Bergman

“God, my God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”
 

Winter LightFaith and doubt in God have always been a critical theme in most Bergman films, especially the ones in the so-called “Faith Trilogy“. Nattvardsgästerna (1963) is the second installment in this trilogy following Såsom I En Spegel (1961). Having established the concepts of God as love and God as a monstrous spider that can be simplified as “Godlessness” in the first part of the trilogy, Nattvardsgästerna puts these two concepts into test.

Tomas is a pastor who has lost his wife few years ago. As a result of this he has created, for himself, a Utopian world where nothing is deadly and God is always benign. He ignores the harsh realities of the world such as the Spanish Civil War and the nuclear race. Hence, He is unable to impart faith to people who come for help. There is Märta, an agnostic who loves him and desperately seeks to snap him out of his facade of belief and fantasy. Märta’s belief will depend on Tomas’ reciprocation of love which does not seem plausible yet. After a spiritual conversation with a believer about causes of suffering, Tomas realizes that his apathetic attitude towards love has cost him more than the cruel reality itself. Having recognized his isolation from society and hence love and communication (also addressed in the sequel), Tomas proceeds towards the pulpit with what seems to be a “revitalized belief”, thus providing a reinforcement for Märta’s faith, if not his own.

The film can be viewed as a bridge between absolute faith in God (as love) suggested in Såsom I En Spegel and absolute disbelief (as absence of love) as will be shown in its sequel. Symbols and metaphors galore, Nattvardsgästerna boasts of fantastic performances by Gunnar Björnstrand as Tomas and Ingrid Thulin as Märta. Nattvardsgästerna was followed by Tystnaden (1961), the final film in the trilogy that describes a colder and more apocalyptic premise of the “belief theory”.

Såsom I En Spegel (1961) (aka Through A Glass Darkly)
Swedish
Ingmar Bergman

“Papa spoke to me”
 

Through A Glass DarklyIngmar Bergman‘s Oscar-winning film is the first of the “Faith” trilogy and is followed by Nattvardsgästerna (1962) and Tystnaden (1963). The title refers to a biblical passage that means we (humans) have an imperfect interpretation of God and we will see clearly later (possibly after death).

The story revolves around 4 people on an island and spans about 1 day. Karin, played convincingly by Harriet Andersson, has just been discharged from a mental institution. She lives with her husband Martin, father David and brother Minus. Karin’s gradual mental disintegration, David’s indulgence in his writing more than family, Martin’s disappointment at the non-reciprocation of his love and Minus’ struggles with his sexual identity set up the atmosphere of constrained relations and developing sorrow. Karin’s shuttling between her visions and reality, which she knows but cannot do anything about, is known only to Minus who appears to be the only hope for Karin.

Conceptually, the film offers two interpretations of god – one that of love (which David sees and suggests to Minus to hold on) and one that of hate (which is seen by Karin when she views god in a spider form). It, however, ends on a hopeful note leaving the details to its sequels. Beautifully shot in black and White by veteran Sven Nykvist, the movie is characterized by strong performances and thematic costume work like all Bergman films. The film won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1961.