Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Produced by Victor Sjöström, Harald Molander
Screenplay by Ingmar Bergman
Based on the Danish radio play Moderhjertet by Leck Fischer
Cinematography by Gösta Roosling
Edited by Oscar Rosander
Music by Erland von Koch
Svensk Filmindustri (SF)
(1:33) Criterion Blu-ray
After having the Criterion 30-film Ingmar Bergman box set on my shelf for over a year, I’ve finally decided to work my way through it. This is not a project I plan to complete in a year. I’m taking my time, dwelling on each film before writing about it, trying to discover how Bergman the filmmaker developed, what his themes are, the issues he’s struggling with, what he felt was important to put on the screen, and other such considerations, including my own reactions to each work.
After consulting my Film Twitter friends for advice, I decided to watch the films in chronological order and not the festival order suggested in the accompanying book. My reason? I’ve already seen several of the “big” Bergman films: Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, Persona, and a handful of others, so I am at least familiar with his work and some of his themes. Watching in chronological order, I’ll be better able to see Bergman’s development, how his style changed, etc. (Thanks once again to all those who offered advice. I hope you’ll join me for the ride and share your thoughts on these films.)
What am I bringing to this project? Not much previous knowledge about Bergman, for one thing. Again, I know only bits and pieces about the man’s life and work. I have never read a Bergman biography and will probably do minimal research here at this point, but I can already tell this man and his work easily demands an enormous amount of serious, dedicated time. But for now, I’m primarily interested in learning Bergman through his work as well as how these films affect me on a personal and emotional level. After watching the films, I’m sure I’ll want to dig deeper into everything about them and not just Bergman himself, but everyone associated with these works.
So today I’ll begin with Crisis (1946), Bergman’s first feature film.
Nelly (Inga Landgré, left) has enjoyed a peaceful, mostly sheltered life for the past 18 years, living with and being raised by her Aunt Ingeborg, or “Mutti” (Dagny Lind, right), in a small Swedish town.
Although courted by an older man named Ulf (Allan Bohlin), Nelly knows he’s not the right one for her. She wants to see who else - and what else - is out there.
When Nelly’s mother Jenny (Marianne Löfgren) arrives after 18 years, wanting to take Nelly home, where she can earn a better living in Jenny’s salon in the city, Mutti fears her world will end as Nelly’s is just beginning.
Nelly’s small town life was at one time probably idyllic, but she’s matured, awakened to her desires and the recognition that men (besides Ulf) find her attractive. I know enough of Bergman to know that sexual awakening is one of his recurring themes and it’s certainly one key to Nelly’s character. Her curiosity and inexperience could spell trouble when she meets Jack (Stig Olin), an "acquaintance," let us say, of Jenny’s. Jack is only after one thing, but at least he’s up front about it, stating that he can’t love anyone other than himself. (I wonder how much of this could be characteristic of Bergman himself? Again, it's too early in the project and I'm simply speculating here.)
What’s interesting is Jack’s honesty (although he’s not 100% honest about everything) and Jenny’s straightforward proposal to take Nelly back to live with her. Jenny and Jack - who appear to be the film’s villains - are totally upfront about their intentions.
Yet early on it is Mutti who may be someone we’re not sure we can trust. In the opening, Mutti asks a neighbor to loan her 60 kroner. The neighbor gives her 30, and Mutti tells her (paraphrased), I really only needed 30, but I knew if I asked for twice that, you’d give me half. This leads us to wonder whether Mutti is lying to Jenny when she begs her to let Nelly stay a little longer, saying “I’m sick and don’t have much time left.” Yet we know that Mutti loves Nelly and has her best interests in mind.
But what about Jenny’s true intentions? It seems she’s honest, but why now, after 18 years, does she want Nelly back? Guilt? Another worker for her salon? You’ll have to see the film to discover that.
Of course Nelly does leave her small town to live with her mother and it is here the film gets darker and also more compelling. Although Bergman was almost certainly an atheist, he seems to devote much of his work (at least what I’ve seen) to the subjects of God and faith. Here we can see Nelly’s departure and subsequent journey as something of a Prodigal Son story, although with some significant differences. Motives are important here, but so also are the ways authority is portrayed. At a local ball, the different social attitudes of the older attendees clash with those of the younger people, as a sort of “battle of the bands” takes place between a recital of proper parlor music and a ragged jam session of boogie woogie jazz.
This scene gives us a bigger context than the individual conflicts between Nelly’s desire to leave and Mutti’s wish for her to stay, but we also see larger structures in conflict: country life vs. city life, blood family vs. “adopted” family, as well as the obvious conflict, life vs. death. Yet the dance scene also allows us a moment of levity.
Stylistically, Bergman gives us a few interesting moments, particularly when Jenny walks in on Nelly’s assignation with Jack, emerging from several mannequin heads who seem to be observing everything like silent specters. It is both effective and unsettling, as is the later scene in front of the theatre where Jack meets his end. If I remember correctly, the writer of the piece on Crisis in the box set’s accompanying book mentions that the film should’ve ended here, with a devastated Nelly looking at the dead body of Jack on the street. It certainly could have ended there, but I think we need to experience Nelly’s return home, which is not going to be, as Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) says in Notorious (1946), full of “daisies and buttercups.” Still, the ending drags on for too long and becomes a somewhat diluting force in the film's power. Bergman was certainly quite bold to attempt such a difference in tone in this, his first film. These shifts in tone seem a bit muddied, but hey, it's the guy's first effort.
I don’t know if he uses it again, but I was a bit surprised that Bergman begins and ends the film with voiceover narration. (If I’ve encountered it in his films before, I’ve clearly forgotten it.) I was also surprised at what I considered to be an overblown soundtrack (not counting the dance), but again, I have to remember that this was Bergman’s first directorial feature, and I’m sure he learned quite a bit from it. I also seem to remember that Bergman either didn’t care for this film, didn’t like to discuss it, or both, but overall, I was quite impressed.
After watching Crisis (and again, having seen several Bergman films previously), I felt I’d made the right decision (at least for me) in watching the films in chronological order. I’d be pleased to hear your thoughts on the film. Thanks for reading.
Photos: Mid-Century Cinema, Black on White Film Journal, DVD Beaver, Offscreen, The Film Sufi