Thursday, March 13, 2014

Through a Glass Darkly

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, Sasom i en spegel (Through a Glass Darkly) is the story of a woman who deals with her own mental illness and crisis of faith during a holiday in a remote island as she also deals with issues of the men in her life. The film is the first of a trilogy of films that Bergman would make where it would explore faith and the sense of decline in that world. Starring Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Bjornstarnd, Max von Sydow, and Lars Passgard. Sasom i en spegel is a cerebral yet harrowing film from Ingmar Bergman.

The film takes place in the span of 24 hours during a family holiday where an author is finishing up his book while fishing his son-in-law and watching his teenage son put on a play. Yet, their main concern is for the well-being of Karin (Harriet Andersson) who has just been released from a hospital due to her schizophrenia as they hope a vacation would help her. Things however go wrong as Karin’s behavior starts to unravel as she begins to behave erratically where it would affect her father David (Gunnar Bjornstrand), her husband Martin (Max von Sydow), and younger brother Minus (Lars Passgard). Especially as all three men would endure her strange behavior as David and Martin would feel guilty for not helping her enough while Minus would encounter something that would later plague as he’s already gotten himself into a very fragile relationship with his father.

Ingmar Bergman’s screenplay takes it time to play into Karin’s unraveling in the course of 24 hours where the film begins with a family swim and then dinner as things seem to start well. Yet, there is also tension within the family as the author David admits to Martin that he used Karin’s condition as material for his new book which he was finishing up as it plays to his own emotional conflicts. Even as he watches a play that Minus has created which has some references about him that makes David more uneasy. The film would then progress slowly into Karin’s own story as it would be this exploration of a woman trying to find some sense of hope in her own illness. In her journey in this remote island, she would claim to have these encounters with a mysterious being thinking it’s God where Minus would endure her strange behavior while David and Martin are out fishing.

The presence of faith would definitely play a key role into the film’s third act where the four characters all question about the idea of God and whether he exists. Particularly in the end where it plays into the idea about God itself and how would he exist as it leads to some very intense moments. Especially for Karin as she has been the one asking for his existence as this moment would play into what might happen to her.

Bergman’s direction is very succinct in the way he explores an entire day in the life of a family where the sole woman in the family begins to fall apart as the day goes by. Much of it would involve wide shots of the island of Faro as it would be a character of the film in some respects. An island where it’s just the four of them in a summer home where it’s peaceful and quiet but the growing sense of tension and uncertainty in Karin’s behavior makes the whole holiday anything but peaceful and quiet. While Bergman uses a lot of wide shots for the look of the island, he adds that sense of discomfort and terror that occurs in the film which would intensify the drama. Notably as the close-ups and striking compositions play to the drama and what Karin is going through where there is an unpredictability that occurs in her behavior.

The direction gets more intense in its intimacy once the drama becomes more visceral in its exploration of faith and humanity in Karin who becomes more troubled as the film progresses. Though the question of faith doesn’t really appear throughout the film until its third act, it would cast a shadow into the film as it relates to Karin’s quest to find some sanity in her state of mind as well as some of the things she’s discovered. Even as the questions of faith would eventually lurk into the men where Bergman’s use of close-ups and medium shots would become more engaging and discomforting where the questions of faith become more prevalent for its end. Overall, Bergman creates a very captivating and provocative film about a woman’s descent to madness as she seeks questions about faith and existence.

Cinematographer Sven Nykvist does amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to play into the gorgeous look of the film‘s exteriors while casting some dark moods for some of the film‘s interiors with its use of light and shadows. Editor Ulla Ryghe does excellent work by infusing some style with the use of dissolves and fade-outs to play with the film‘s structure while using some methodical cuts to play into its heightened drama. Art director P.A. Lundgren does fantastic work with the look of the house that the family lives in as well as the wrecked ship that Karin and Minus would encounter.

The costumes of Mago are terrific as it aimed for a more casual look to play into the personalities of the four characters in the film The sound work of Stig Flodin is brilliant for the sound effects created that would play into Karin‘s state of mind as well as some of the atmosphere that occurs in the island. The film’s music features a cello suite by Johann Sebastian Bach that only appears in a few moments of the film as it is effective for the sense of melancholia that is present throughout the film.

The film’s incredible cast only features four actors with Lars Passgard in a superb performance as Minus as a young man eager to get some kind of connection with his father while dealing with Karin’s illness as it would have a great effect on him. Max von Sydow is great in an understated performance as Karin’s husband Martin who is the observer of the family as he calls out on David’s sense of detachment but also takes shot at himself for not helping his wife more. Gunnar Bjornstrand is phenomenal as Karin and Minus’ father David who deals with his own failings as a father as he also tries to deal with the existent of God over some of the things he’s encountered and make sense of the terror that is happening in the family. Finally, there’s Harriet Andersson in a remarkable performance as Karin as this mentally-ill woman trying to recover from her illness but her newly heightened sense of hearing and eccentric behavior which plays to her descent to madness as well as asking God for help as it’s a performance that is scary but also entrancing at times.

Sasom i en spegel is a tremendous film from Ingmar Bergman. With its great ensemble cast, Sven Nykvist’s evocative cinematography, and captivating themes on faith and existence. It’s a film that manages to be provocative but also sensitive in its portrayal of mental illness and people’s desire for some kind of faith and hope in a world that is ever changing. In the end, Sasom i en spegel is a magnificent 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 - Winter Light - 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 the Marionettes - Fanny & Alexander - (After the Rehearsal) - (Karin’s Face) - (The Blessed Ones) - (In the Presence of a Clown) - (The Image Makers) - Saraband

© thevoid99 2014


Alex Withrow said...

Great review of one of my all-time favorite films. I love revisiting this film and being captivated by Andersson's madness.

thevoid99 said...

I decided to watch in the spur of the moment as I was trying to figure out what to see. Man, that was great as I'm now looking forward to The Silence to complete the trilogy.

TheVern said...

I have never seen a Bergman film before, but the title of this intrigued me. I really like the description of plot and will have to seek this one out.

thevoid99 said...

@TheVern-For me, I would start out with either The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries and then go for something like Persona, Cries & Whispers, and Fanny & Alexander as starting points.