Monthly Archives: January 2018

  • Crisis


    Ingmar Bergman (1946)

    Keen to direct his first feature film, Ingmar Bergman accepted an offer from Carl Anders Dymling , the head of Svensk Filmindustri, to adapt a Danish radio play for the screen with the promise that Bergman would be allowed to direct ‘if I could manage to wring a good script from this grandiose drivel’.  Those words make it ambiguous as to whether it was Bergman or Dymling who had such a low opinion of the source material, Moderhyret (Maternal Instinct) by Leck Fischer.  It was probably Bergman:  in Images: My Life in Film, he goes on to describe how just about everything that could go wrong with the making of the film did.  His accentuating the negative is characteristic and exaggerates the shortcomings of Crisis.  The title, parts of the score (by Erland von Koch) and plenty more besides are melodramatic but Bergman shows a precocious ability to switch between widely different registers in ways that make them seem parts of an integrated whole.

    The main setting is an unnamed small provincial town in Sweden.  Life there is so uneventful that, according to a scene-setting voiceover (Gustaf Molander), the most exciting thing that happens is the daily arrival of a bus.  One day, its passengers include Jenny (Marianne Löfgren), a former prostitute who now runs a beauty salon in Stockholm.  Jenny is the birth mother of eighteen-year-old Nelly (Inga Landgré), who lives in the backwater with Ingeborg (Dagny Lind), the foster mother who raised her.  The beautiful, wilful Nelly finds life claustrophobic with soberly conscientious Ingeborg – a piano teacher, now in failing health – and Ingeborg’s aunt Jessie (Signe Wirff), the well-meaning busybody who shares their home.  The local vet Ulf (Allan Bohlin), who holds a torch for Nelly, is a solid citizen but romantically reticent.  Jenny intends to reclaim her child and Nelly, increasingly exasperated, is ripe for the picking.  Jack (Stig Olin), Jenny’s gigolo in Stockholm, where he’s also a none too successful actor, puts in an appearance in the little town.  He makes an impression on Nelly, who is unaware of the relationship between him and Jenny.  Nelly impulsively agrees to accompany her mother to the big city, where she starts work as a beautician in the salon. 

    The interlinked themes of Crisis include fear of mortality, the capacity of people to hurt each other and – as revealed most starkly in a showdown between Jenny and Jack in the later scenes in Stockholm – a woman’s desperate need to sustain a relationship with a man, however humiliating it may be to her.  These are preoccupations of later Bergman films and that’s partly why they fascinate in this apprentice work.   But the climactic sequences in and around Jenny’s salon, after working hours, are remarkable in themselves.  The watching mannequins and repeated bursts of music from the theatre next door, its flashing lights reflected in the salon’s windows, supply a persistently disturbing background to the quarrelling of Nelly, Jack and Jenny.  The older woman arrives to discover that Jack has seduced Nelly, who sits wrapped only in a sheet.  Her near-nakedness contributes strongly to the girl’s painful vulnerability, when Jenny, angry and derisive, recites word perfect the line she knows that Jack will have been shooting Nelly.  Jenny knows equally well that when he storms out of the salon threatening to shoot himself it’s another bluff.  Except this time it isn’t.  Nelly hears gunfire; Jenny runs into the street screaming.  Bergman follows the crescendo of crises with a detail that might sound like diminuendo but which startlingly adjusts the melodrama to something specific and real.  An anonymous-looking passer-by (Nils Hultgren[1]) describes how he covered Jack’s shattered face with a newspaper.

    Although it’s a melodramatic requirement, Jack’s suicide is also made credible by Stig Olin’s fine performance – Olin’s Jack is convincingly unstable (as well as often funny).   It’s another sign of things to come in Bergman that the acting is excellent throughout.  Dagny Lind, a stage actress who made few films, is no exception – she’s believably careworn and ailing – in spite of Bergman’s ungenerous remarks about her in Images.  Although she was in only her mid-thirties at the time, the heavy-faced Marianne Löfgren gives the brassy Jenny an affecting shopworn anxiety.  As Nelly, Inga Landgré has just the right blend of innocence and brittleness.  In Bergman’s hands, Crisis is no straightforward there’s-no-place-like-home parable.  Nelly eventually returns from the superficially seductive, corrupting city to Ingeborg and her former life but the homecoming is doubly shadowed.  Nelly resumes her relationship with Ulf but the tensions between them don’t go away, even if their reunion is enough for Ingeborg to feel at peace and, as she tells her doctor uncle (Ernst Eklund) in the film’s closing scene, no longer afraid.  Ingeborg is heading to church to play the piano and this final conversation takes place close by – in other words, ‘not too far from the yew tree’ (if they grow in Swedish churchyards as well as English ones).   Gustaf Molander’s voiceover returns to conclude the story.  Its tone has hardly changed but the effect is less lulling, thanks to what has happened on screen since we heard the voice at the start.

    15 January 2018

    [1]  I think – but am not sure.

  • Mulholland Drive

    David Lynch (2001)

    Often beguiling to watch but to write about it is something else.  In 2001, Mulholland Drive screened at the Cannes festival (where David Lynch shared the Best Director prize) before opening in American cinemas in mid-October.  A piece in Salon the same month[1] is perhaps the earliest detailed analysis of this complex, confounding psychological thriller; if you Google ‘Mulholland Drive explained’ you get an idea of how many analyses have followed.    I’m chickening out of this one.  I can’t write a halfway intelligent summary – not at least without watching the film again (and, probably, again).  This note is hardly more than a record of having seen it.

    BFI was showing Mulholland Drive – set in contemporary Los Angeles but probably at different levels of reality too – in their ‘Big Screen Classics’ slot.  It was coincidence I booked to see it just a few days after Persona in the Bergman retrospective.  I knew that two young women were the principals in Lynch’s film too; I didn’t know that shifting identity – Persona-fication, if you like – was at the heart of it.  Both main actresses, Laura Elena Harring and Naomi Watts, play two characters – or, perhaps, a single character and its alter ego.  (In each case, one version of the character has considerably more screen time than the other has.)  Lynch’s leads echo their Swedish antecedents in that Harring (like Liv Ullmann) has an enigmatic, iconic quality while Watts (like Bibi Andersson) is vitally individual.  In what proved to be her breakthrough role(s), Naomi Watts creates truly remarkable contrasts between the aspiring actress Betty Elms, a radiantly optimistic chatterbox, and the depressed, overshadowed Diane Selwyn, with her bad teeth and sallow complexion.  My favourite scene in the film is the one in which Betty goes to read for a part and does so – to the surprise of the other characters on screen and the film audience too – grippingly well.

    12 January 2018



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