Saturday, 3 May 2008


I saw my first Ingmar Bergman films in the early Sixties. My first was, not unsurprisingly, THE SEVENTH SEAL. I followed this with THE MAGICIAN and THE SILENCE and some years later HOUR OF THE WOLF. Over the last three or four years I've been catching up with a lot of the Bergman films I missed first time around. I rate Bergman right up among my favourite four or five directors, his films reach parts of me that other films don't reach. When I finally caught up with THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY I began to feel distinctly uncomfortable as the film progressed and I was unsure why. Eventually I had to turn the film off. It was a rental disc and had to be returned but I immediately purchased a copy. It sits on my shelf still in its shrink wrap. I figured out why I couldn't watch it : the film dealt with a painful reality of my own life. I trust Bergman enough to know that the film will be meaningful to me -but now is not the time for me to watch it. WINTER LIGHT also falls into the category of very personal films. It is very much a chamber piece - set mainly in two churches in a remote snowbound area of Sweden. The film deals with Pastor Tomas (played brilliantly by Gunnar Bjornstrand) who is going through a crisis of faith. He feels ineffectual both in his calling and his personal life and strives to understand "the silence of God" in the face of the world's pain and his own private hell. The film is not, for me, an easy watch as I identify with Pastor Tomas although I feel that by the end of the film we have both come to the same conclusion. If you visit the discussion boards at Imdb you will see that it is the end of this film that really intrigues people and there seem to be two opinions - the first is that Tomas has completely lost his faith (the final nail being driven in by the crippled churchwarden who may or may not be Satan) or that it has been renewed as he begins again the familiar words of the Mass. My own view is somewhere between and although he still does not have an answer he is keeping the lines of communication open. I have stood both sides of the altar during Mass and know its power to communicate (the translation of the original title is THE COMMUNICANTS). This is very much a "religious" film and as such it is a hundred times more powerful than any Hollywood Biblical epic and, of course, like most great religious films it is made by an atheist. Christian directors for the most part seem hampered by the need for apologetics and a restraining sense of reverence. This film is, along with PERSONA, my favourite Bergman. He holds up a mirror to our deepest self and what we see in that mirror (Through a glass darkly) may not always be what we want to see, maybe disturbing and painful, but it is the truth. Rating *****

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