Thursday, September 19, 2013

Winter Light

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, Nattvardsgasterna (Winter Light) is the story of a small town pastor who deals with a crisis of faith as he is convinced that he’s failing those in his small town as his congregation grows smaller. The film is the second part of a trilogy based on the theme of faith where Bergman explores the loss of faith. Starring Gunnar Bjornstrand, Max von Sydow, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnel Lindblom, and Allan Edwall. Nattvardsgasterna is a chilling yet rapturous film from Ingmar Bergman.

What happens to small town pastor who notices the small number of people attending churches as there are a few who are troubled as the pastor is unable to help them? That is essentially the premise of the film as it is told in the span of an entire day in the life of Tomas Ericsson (Gunnar Bjornstrand) who starts to question his doubt as a suicidal fisherman named Jonas Persson (Max von Sydow) and a loving woman named Marta (Ingrid Thulin) all come to him for help. Yet, Ericsson has no idea how to help them as Marta tries to help with his doubts only to create more trouble as the film goes on. Even as Ericsson also notices the growing decline of people coming to the church as he believes that he’s failing everyone including God.

Ingmar Bergman’s script has a unique structure as much of the first half is spent inside the church that Ericsson lives and serves at where the film begins and ends with a church service. Yet, both scenes would play into Ericsson’s growing sense of doubt as well as the feeling of decline about faith and religion in a world that is changing and filled with hopelessness. In the beginning of the film, there’s only 11 people in the church including Ericsson, Jonas Persson and his wife Karin (Gunnel Lindblom), Marta, the organist, and other locals. Only five would go come in to eat the body of Christ and drink his blood as it plays into Ericsson’s growing doubt as he later meets the Perssons and Marta as its first half has Ericsson asking questions to himself and God about this lack of faith as well as his inability to really help those in need. Even as he reads a letter from Marta who expresses her lack of faith and anger towards Ericsson over his neglect though she remains devoted to him.

The second half of the story takes place outside of the church where it would play into Ericsson’s inability to help as well as the sense of him not being needed with the exception of a few people. Even as he has to do a nighttime service at a nearby church as he wonders if anyone is going to show up. It would also play into the complex relationship between himself and Marta where a lot is revealed but also into how Ericsson is still mourning the death of his wife four years earlier. The film’s final moments where it is at a church where Ericsson is to perform a service is about not just the story of the Passion but also its meanings where it would play into the doubt that Ericsson is going through.

Bergman’s direction is very entrancing in the way he plays up a world where faith is prevalent in the film. Notably in the opening service scene where Bergman has the camera right at Ericsson as he performs his service while using slow, tracking medium shots to feature those who are attending including a wide shot of the church to see who is there and how it feels sort of empty there. Bergman would also use close-ups for a few moments including in some intimate shots while he also creates this amazing sequence where Marta reads her letter in scene that sort of breaks down the fourth wall. There’s also an intimacy in some of the conversations that Bergman plays out including the way he puts his actors into a frame where Jonas is in front of the camera and Ericsson is in the foreground talking.

Bergman’s direction in the second half where Ericsson steps out of the church has this element of realism that is happening. Notably as it showcases the chaos of the world where Ericsson is aware of the indifference towards the church in the small town. Even as those who turn to him realize how powerless he’s becoming where Bergman uses some wide and medium shots to create something that feels like a world is changing and faith has dwindled. By the time the film returns to another church towards the end, the intimacy becomes far more intense during a scene where the church’s handicapped sexton Algot (Allan Edwall) talks about the story of the Passion. It’s a moment that would finally make a decision for Ericsson about what to do as it also raises question into who will show up for the nighttime service or will there be one? Overall, Bergman creates a very fascinating yet engrossing film about a pastor’s doubt in a world that is changing.

Cinematographer Sven Nykvist does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the entrancing look of the church interiors in the day as well as the daytime exterior scenes to the more haunting moments in the film‘s final moments where Nykvist uses a lot of shading to play up the chilling atmosphere of the film. Editor Ulla Ryghe does excellent work with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward while using some methodical cuts to play out the intensity of the drama. Production designer P.A. Lundgren does amazing work with the look of the churches as well as the schoolhouse that Marta works at. Costume designer Mago does nice work with the clothes as it‘s mostly straightforward including Ericsson‘s uniform. The sound work of Stig Flodin and Brian Wilkstrom is superb for the intimacy that is played out including the scenes at the church as the only music that is played are organ church pieces inside the church.

The film’s cast is fantastic as it features some noteworthy small performances from Elsa Ebbesen as an old widow who is one of the few that attends the services and Olof Thunberg as the church organist who feels melancholic about the indifference the church is getting. Allan Edwall is excellent as the handicapped sexton Algot who is still devoted to the service despite the decline of the congregation while Gunnel Lindblom is wonderful as Jonas’ wife who comes to Ericsson for help about her husband. Max von Sydow is great as the troubled Jonas as a man disturbed by the chaos of the world as he seeks guidance from Ericsson. Ingrid Thulin is brilliant as Marta as a loving woman who tries to help Ericsson despite some anger towards him as she later deals with her doubt as well as Ericsson’s growing resentment towards her. Finally, there’s Gunnar Bjornstrand in a tremendous performance as Tomas Ericsson as a man consumed with doubt and hopelessness as he feels like he’s failing those around him where Bjornstrand puts a lot of weight into a very difficult character who tries to deal with indifference and a world that is changing.

Nattvardsgasterna is a magnificent film from Ingmar Bergman. With a great cast and amazing technical work highlighted by Sven Nykvist’s cinematography, it’s a film that is definitely one of Bergman’s best. Notably as it raises the idea of faith and doubt in a world that is changing as Bergman asks big questions about the idea of faith. In the end, Nattvardsgasterna is a spectacular film from Ingmar Bergman.

Ingmar Bergman Films: (Crisis) - (It Rains on Our Love) - (A Ship to India) - (Music of Darkness) - (Port of Call) - (Prison) - (Thirst (1949 film)) - (To Joy) - (This Can’t Happen Here) - (Summer Interlude) - Secrets of Women - Summer with Monika - Sawdust & Tinsel - A Lesson in Love - Dreams (1955 film) - Smiles of a Summer Night - The Seventh Seal - (Mr. Sleeman is Coming) - Wild Strawberries - (The Venetian) - (Brink of Life) - (Rabies) - The Magician - The Virgin Spring - The Devil’s Eye - Through a Glass Darkly - The Silence - All These Women - Persona - (Simulantia-Daniel) - Hour of the Wolf - (Shame (1968 film)) - (The Rite) - The Passion of Anna - (The Touch) - Cries & Whispers - Scenes from a Marriage - (The Magic Flute) - (Face to Face) - (The Serpent’s Egg) - Autumn Sonata - (From the Life of Marionettes) - Fanny & Alexander - (After the Rehearsal) - (Karin’s Face) - (The Blessed Ones) - (In the Presence of a Clown) - (The Image Makers) - Saraband

© thevoid99 2013

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