Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1962)

The first thing that struck me watching Winter Light was the precision of the filmmaking. It’s been awhile since I’ve sat down with a Bergman, so my memory could be faulty, but I remember The Seventh Seal, and Wild Strawberries¸ and even Persona (one of my absolute favorites) feeling a bit frayed at the edges. Every edit and every shot in Winter Light seems precisely conceived. The mise-en-scene speaks volumes.  There is no one as talented as Bergman at positioning actors within a frame for effect. It is a much sparser film than the earlier ones often touted as his best, and a much stronger one.

Austerity is fitting for a film about God’s silence. Bergman observes its effects primarily in the tortured faces of his players. During the opening scene in the church, I was consistently drawn to that of Ingrid Thulin. I fell in love with her as Tomas sits down to read her letter. Bergman wrenches every ounce of expression out of her face as he films her staring directly into the camera, sans glasses, reciting her words in a single take. A similarly powerful choice later in the film stages a scene fraught with emotional  torment in front of a raging river, the roaring rapids drowning out the dialogue.

Bergman makes no claims as to whether God’s silence is a choice on the deity’s part or a result of his or her nonexistence. He merely asks that we all, believers and nonbelievers alike, question the courage of our convictions. It’s the uncertainty that troubles Marta in her atheism and Tomas and Jonas in their Christianity. Algot, the sexton, makes the astute observation that the doubt Jesus suffered on the cross, along with the departure of his disciples, must have been inifinitely more harrowing than the physical pain he suffered. He is the only character in the film who has bears the courage of his convictions, having taken Jesus’s directive to express himself with love to heart, and he’s all the better for it.

In Swedish the film’s title translate to “The Communicants.” It bears a double meaning. The opening scene features the films cast accepting communion, but these are characters incapable of articulating their feelings to one another. Algot said when Jesus’s disciples deserted him it must have been painful, realizing none of them had truly understood the things he had said. So it is for Tomas, whose attempt to empathize with Jonas only serves to hasten his demise, who unconscionably excoriates Marta, a woman he clearly cares deeply for. And also for Marta, who insists she is incapable of putting her love for Tomas into words. If only we knew how to communicate better, perhaps the pain of existence would be less acute.

1 comment:

  1. “Winter Light” by Ingmar Bergman (1962) is the second part of his “religious trilogy” (the first, “Through Glass Darkly” – 1960, and the third, “Silence” – 1962). In the first film, the basic (for achieving enlightened life) human abilities – to love without psychological defensiveness and to be vital without de-sublimation, that together as a sacred combination make human beings spiritual creatures, leave the existential circumstances of human life and retreat to “heavens”. In the third film of the trilogy “god” (the form in which the unity of human love and human vitality take place outside life) has “died” and human beings have to start from the beginning. But “Winter Light” depicts the situation when “god is silent”, and human beings slowly grow towards understanding that it is up to them to return their libidinous vitality back into the (earthly) life. In all of the films of trilogy Bergman’s points about spiritual life are mediated by the scrupulous psychological analysis of the characters.
    “Winter light” is a metaphor of light of love/vitality in a condition of being distant from human life. The film depicts the Christian faith of seven characters – Pastor Tomas Ericsson and the six parishioners of his Church (three men and three women). Each protagonist‘s faith is uniquely created by their individual intelligence and will in the unique circumstances of each of their lives. Bergman approaches each character’s religious belief as sacred reality, as a precious creation. Some of the personages he personally admires, some he respects and others are objects of his “loyal criticism” that is full of empathy and good faith.
    The frankness and gracious intensity with which the director depicts the human destinies and encounters between the characters are overwhelming, as much as actors’ performances make each individual soul radiate its own truth. Each personage is represented as having been formed by life and human history, nothing is fabricated in order to entertain or sentimentally please the audience. With all seriousness, the film is so congruent with human emotions that it is taken inside human soul as naturally as air for our lungs.
    The film addresses Christians of various denominations, as much as people of other beliefs and non-believers with equal authority, and is an icon of not only a philosophical, but a humanistic cinema.
    The film confirms that Bergman’s cinema is made for 21st century even more than it was for 20th century.
    By Victor Enyutin