Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hour of the Wolf

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, Vargtimmen (Hour of the Wolf) is the story of an artist who goes on a retreat to an isolated island with his wife as he recalls around memories of his past. The film is a psychological horror-drama that explores life-long trauma and terror as it is set entirely in an isolated island. Starring Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Gertrud Fridh, Georg Rydeburg, Erland Josephson, and Ingrid Thulin. Vargtimmen is a chilling and intoxicating film from Ingmar Bergman.

Set in a remote island near Sweden, the film revolves around a man and his pregnant island on a retreat where the former starts to recall dark memories and strange images in his head as he becomes very distant. It’s a film that opens and ends with the wife Alma (Liv Ullmann) talking about what had happened during this holiday where things start off fine but then her husband Johan Borg (Max von Sydow) starts to unravel due to his insomnia and claims that he is seeing people who could be imaginary. Even as they’re invited to a party at a nearby castle by a baron where the events become very strange as it would lead to Johan unraveling even more. Ingmar Bergman’s screenplay starts off with a claim that the story is real as Bergman says he got the story from a diary given to him by Alma as it would be the basis for what is to be told. Though much of the narrative is told by Alma through flashbacks, it is layered as it relates to the memories and fears that Johan endures which includes the appearance of a former lover.

Bergman’s direction is quite intoxicating in its approach to compositions and framing as well as emphasizing on surrealism to help tell the story. Shot on location at the island of Baltrum in Sweden, the film does play into this world that is quite isolated where a man is desperate to get better and relax but he is slowly undone by his demons and bad memories. While there are some unique wide shots that has Bergman take stock in the location as well as putting actors into a frame for a wide shot. Much of it is very simple with its usage of medium shots and close-ups as it play into the drama as well as the moments of surrealism which includes one eerie sequence. A sequence involving Johan and a child that play into the dark past that Johan is dealing with while the scenes at the castle for the film’s climax are just as strange as it adds to this blur of reality and fiction. Especially as it involves Alma who would be forced to watch this blend come to life while trying to come terms with what she saw. Overall, Bergman creates a haunting yet visceral film about demons and dark pasts.

Cinematographer Sven Nykvist does incredible work with the film’s black-and-white photography as it is rich in its look as well as playing to its sense of atmosphere in the naturalistic daytime lighting as well as the interior scenes in day and night for its usage of shadows. Editor Ulla Ryghe does excellent work with the editing as it has some style with its usage of jump-cuts and some eerie montages which play into the drama and suspense. Production designer Marik Vos-Lundh does brilliant work with the look of the house that Johan and Alma live in as well as some of the interiors inside the castle as some of it is very scary. Costume designer Mago does nice work with the costumes as it is very quaint for the clothes that Johan and Alma wear at home in contrast to the more posh look of the people in the castle. The sound work of Lennart Engholm and Per-Olof Pettersson is terrific for the atmosphere it creates for the scenes inside the castle as well as in some of the film’s surreal moments. The film’s music by Lars Johan Werle is superb for its chilling score that play into the suspense including the horrifying sequence involving Johan and a child while the film also features classical music for a puppet show.

The film’s amazing cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Gertrud Fridh as the baron’s wife who flirts with Johan, Erland Josephson as the baron who invites Johan to his home with some strange intentions, and Ingrid Thulin in a radiant performance as a former lover of Johan who would haunt him in his dreams. Max von Sydow is remarkable as Johan Borg as an artist who is dealing with an illness as it worsens to the point that he starts to unravel and wonders if the reality he’s seeing is real which would haunt him. Finally, there’s Liv Ullmann in a radiant performance as Alma as Johan’s pregnant wife who is trying to understand everything her husband is dealing with as well as reading his diary as she wonders if she really knows him at all.

Vargtimmen is a phenomenal film from Ingmar Bergman with great performances from Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann. It’s a film that explores madness and demons as it relates to Bergman’s exploration of the mind and what drive people to lose it. In the end, Vargtimmen 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 and 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 (1958 film) - The Virgin Spring - The Devil's Eye - Through a Glass Darkly - Winter Light - The Silence (1963 film) - All These Women - Persona - (Stimulantia-Daniel) - (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) - (The Blessed Ones) - (In the Presence of a Clown) - (The Image Makers) – Saraband

© thevoid99 2017


Anonymous said...

Oh my god, this is so good. You're bang on about the cinematography. It really makes the black and white come alive, it takes on such a presence.

Dell said...

I want to see this. In general, I need to see more Bergman. The only film of his I've seen is The Virgin Spring. A very good film. By the way, it heavily inspired Wes Craven's Last House on the Left.

thevoid99 said... Nykvist is at his best when he shoots in black-and-white as it's just incredible to look at.

@Wendell-The Virgin Spring is one of my favorites as it essential as I'm aware that it did inspire The Last House on the Left by Wes Craven. This one is just as good as it's part of a trilogy about violence and madness that I hope to catch up on. I think I'm nearly half-way there into completing his body of work.

Anonymous said...

You've sold this one to me. Anything that combines the dangers of the mind and horror gets my vote.

thevoid99 said...

@vinnieh-It's not a conventional horror movie as it's more of a drama but it is still an interesting film. Then again, anything Bergman does is interesting.

Alex Withrow said...

A great Bergman film. So well does it capture the madness of the mind. I don't think von Sydow was ever more unhinged. Great review!

thevoid99 said...

@Alex Withrow-Indeed. I hope to do Shame and The Passion of Anna as I heard they're all part of a thematic trilogy on violence. Bergman would be a great Auteurs piece in the future and certainly another giant to conquer.