The Ingmar Bergman Trilogy
Review by Michael Jacobson
Gunnar Bjornstrand, Ingrid Thulin, Max von Sydow, Gunnel Lindblom, Allan
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: Film Exploration, American Trailer
Length: 80 Minutes
Release Date: August 19, 2003
think I have made just one picture that I really like, and that is Winter
Light…Everything is exactly as I wanted to
have it, in every second of this picture.” – Ingmar Bergman
Ingmar Bergman's trilogy of films are united by the subject of faith, the
strongest exploration of that subject has to be in the middle movie, Winter
Light. One gets the feeling
when watching this minimalist offering from the great Swedish filmmaker that
it's perhaps the truest representation of his own personal voice on the issue.
story takes place in near real time, with 3 hours of action presented in 80
minutes of screen time, on a Sunday morning from the end of a morning church
service to the beginning of an afternoon one.
We spend most of the time in the presence of Tomas (the excellent
Bjornstrand), a priest who is now questioning everything he once believed in and
has virtually come to reject the existence of God.
there is potential for real drama with such a character and such a personal
crisis, Bergman opts for a different route.
His musings, like the wintry weather outside, are cold, dry, and
monochromatic. In three key
exchanges between Tomas and a suicidal parishioner, his long time lover, and
finally with a crippled but insightful assistant, Bergman never sacrifices
philosophy for emotion. The results
can be a little off-putting to the casual viewer, but for the attentive, there
is gold under the surface.
the difficulty of the narrative is that Tomas isn't a very likable character.
Again, consider how such a character might truly win our sympathies and
break our hearts; instead, he is presented as a shallow, self-centered man who
can no longer focus on others because he's too caught up in his own throes.
His rejection of God, we learn, stems from the loss of his wife some
years back. He couldn't cope by
taking solace in his work as a man of the cloth; instead, as suggested by the
film's opening, it's become nothing more than empty ritual to him.
One gathers by how few people attend the morning service and how fewer
attend the afternoon one that his lack of passion is taking a toll.
first major exchange comes with Jonas (von Sydow), a farmer with a simple but
relevant fear in 1962: the bomb. But
Tomas can offer no consolation. Instead,
he prattles on about his own sadness and weaknesses, even coming to the
conclusion in front of his suicidal parishioner that life has no meaning.
What you expect to happen next does in fact happen, but it brings no
emotional climax. If Tomas regrets
at all his inability to simply tell the man “don't do it”, he internalizes
it like everything else. Even when
he makes the necessary visit to Jonas' wife (Lindblom), we never get emotional
release, as she merely notes sadly that she'll have to tell the children.
second comes from Marta (Thulin), who has loved Tomas for years and been dutiful
to him despite his coldness. In a
simple yet tour-de-force scene, Tomas reads a letter from her, and we see her in
close-up, looking at us directly, speaking the words of the epistle as though it
were to us and not him. She
recounts a story of how he rejected her during her bout with an unseemly rash.
She admits to never having been religious herself, but points out that
Tomas own rejection of God baffles her.
the two share a scene in an empty classroom, Tomas lets loose on her with a cold
soliloquy of even more rejection, while she quietly responds with sadness and
yet still remains watchful and loyal to him. This is the scene where you begin to realize that Tomas'
problem with God is particularly one-sided.
God has offered him two chances to reach out to a fellow human being with
compassion, and Tomas remained locked inside himself.
final exchange comes between Tomas and Algot (Edwall), a hunchbacked assistant
who exhibits a purity in faith. He
discusses the suffering of Christ, and ponders…was it the physical pain of the
cross or the rejection that hurt Him most?
Before His death, Jesus had to come to terms with His apostles falling
asleep in Gethsemane, their abandonment when the soldiers came, Peter's
denial, and ultimately, the feeling that even God had turned away.
this simple yet eloquent discussion of the nature of God sow the seeds of change
in Tomas' heart? As typical of
Bergman, the ending remains ambiguous. As
Tomas begins his new service with only Marta in the pews, one can either take it
as another meaningless act of going through the motions, or as a sign that maybe
Tomas is beginning to rededicate himself to his faith.
Either conclusion could be successfully argued.
original Swedish title of the film is The Communicants, and while Winter
Light conjures up the proper tone and image for the feeling of the picture,
the other title with its double meaning is even more suitable.
It talks about those who take Communion, of course, but also suggests the
irony of souls who try to maintain communion with God while failing to find
communion with their fellow man. The
opening sequence of the Sacrament illustrates this, as Tomas measures out the
bread and wine as though it were medicine, and somber faces, each isolated by
close-up, respond without a sense of satisfaction and eventually trickle
silently out of the building as though nothing were renewed.
in his previous film Through a Glass Darkly, Berman structures Winter
Light as a chamber drama, with only a few location foci and a minimum of
characters to explore. This
approach gives weight to the internalization of Tomas…in settings where it's
him and another one on one, there's really no abscesses for him to withdraw
into, so we can see he opts instead to retreat further into himself.
Though the sequences of dialogue are important, one will also note that
there is a great deal of silence in the film, redoubling the notion of lack of
communication, or possibly, as Bergman suggested, the silence of God as man
wouldn't pick this movie as the first one to show in introducing somebody to
Ingmar Bergman. The deliberate
slowness, even at 80 minutes, the coldness of emotion, the philosophizing
replacing passion and the grayness of the subject matter and the images make Winter
Light more second year course material.
But it's not a film that will be easily dismissed, either, and like Through
a Glass Darkly, I consider this movie to be one of Bergman's near-great,
though equally important, offerings.
delivers again on a very different kind of offering from Bergman.
In keeping with his themes and the feeling of winter, this is probably
the grayest picture the director ever made.
Less clean whites, less deep blacks…everything kind of leans more
toward the center of grayscale. There
is also a deliberately flatter look to the film, with lots of close-ups and less
detail in the backgrounds. This
digital transfer is first rate, with a clean print and very little in the way of
aging artifacts. The film is not as
expressive with black and white as others, but that's Bergman's choice, and
this disc represents a faithful rendering of it.
the audio, though mono, is clean, clear and offers some dynamic range in the
margins. The ringing bells are loud
and clear, and the sounds of voices in an empty church sound right and pure.
Both original Swedish and dubbed English soundtracks are good.
historian Peter Cowie continues his explorations of the trilogy with a segment
on Winter Light that's quite interesting (he also provides an essay in
the booklet). There is also an
American release trailer.