Monday, 5 July 2010

TILL GLADJE/To Joy (1950) & GLYCKLAMAS AFTON/Sawdust and Tinsel 1953

Sjostrom, Nilsson and Olin into TO JOY
Today I heard that Swedish Television is making a four-part mini-series on the life of director Ingmar Bergman, written by his son-in-law. By sheer coincidence, last night I watched a double bill of early Bergman films. I am writing about them together because there are some remarkable similarities in themes and stories. Both films feature men who enjoy what they do for a living - one is a professional violinist while the other runs a small travelling circus - but have to come to terms with the reality that they are, at best, only competent at what they do and will never become stars. Both men have failing relationships in which one of the partners has an affair, Both films end, as so often in early Bergman films, on a note of hope....despite this the films are wildly different in style and tone. Of the two films I find that I admire the earlier film, TO JOY. The film takes its title from Beethoven's 9th Symphony with its "Ode to Joy" which is surely one of the most uplifting musical pieces of all. It is the story of two young violinist who play in a provincial orchestra - they are played by Maj-Britt Nilsson and Stig Olin (who bears a disconcerting resemblace to a young Kevin Costner) - who marry but find that they simply can't get along. An idyllic period following the birth of their twins is shattered by the revelation of Stig's affair. They part but eventually reunite and all seems well until the wife is killed by the explosion of a paraffin stove - this is not a spoiler as Bergman reveals this in the very opening scene of the film which is then told in flashback. But at the end of the film there is a wonderfully uplifting codicil which, as I said above, is typical early Bergman, and grabs hope from the jaws of tragedy. The depiction of the young couple with their bickering, concerns, jealousies and insecurities is both believable and moving. On a technical level, Bergman obviously enjoys filming the orchestra sequences which, no doubt, appealed to his love of classical music and gave his the opportunity to introduce the film's third significant character - the cantankerous old conductor, wonderfully played by the great Swedish director Victor Sjostrom (of WILD STRAWBERRIES) and the scene where a concert goes horribly wrong is directed in true Hitchcock style. Rating ****
Harriet Anderson and Ake Groberg in SAWDUST AND TINSEL
SAWDUST AND TINSEL is a very different barrel of pickled herring and, perhaps, closer to what we come to expect from Ingmar. It was, for me (despite my regarding Bergman as one of the great film artists) almost a parody of the great Swede at his most dour. The film begins with a tinkling fairground tune which, almost immediately, changes to an ominous chord which would not be out of place as the introduction to a horror film. A dark stormy night as the ragged wagons wind their way across the Swedish countryside. Bankrupt, without costumes and withoutout any star acts, the performers know that the next town will be their last chance. The owner's relationship with a younger woman is racked by jealousy (the film has elements of PAGLIACCI) and the discovery of the affair drives him to near suicide - despite his own attempt to betray her and his colleagues by leaving the circus and returning to his abandoned wife and son. But again Ingmar offers a glimmer of hope for his characters but here, instead of Beethoven's joyous celebratory, life affirming music, it is a mere smile, an acceptance of their fate - anything is better bthan nothing - because they have nowhere to go. The film is dark and sombre in mood and, to be honest, it's not one I'd rush to see again. There is a flasback sequence where the circus clown discovers his wife bathing naked with a group of Artillery officers - its crushing humiliation is even more effectively portrayed by being fimed like a silent German expressionist film. Rating ***

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