The Ingmar Bergman Project #3: Port of Call (1948)
If you followed me on the first post in my journey through Criterion’s Ingmar Bergman box set, you’ll know that while I've seen a handful of his films, I’m mostly a Bergman beginner. Having seen a few, I’m approaching the box set in chronological order, doing no research before watching, and only a minimal amount afterward, mostly to get plot details I may have missed or technical/personnel information. Mostly these are my own observations from watching the films for the first time (unless otherwise noted).
I am also keeping up with how many times Bergman used the same collaborators. For instance, you will notice a (1) next to two names in the production credits, signifying that these people were also used in Bergman’s first film. I plan to continue this practice throughout, numbering the films according to the box set’s chronology.
Port of Call (1948)
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Produced by Harald Molander
Written by Ingmar Bergman, Olle Länsberg
Based on the story/novel by Olle Länsberg
Cinematography by Gunnar Fischer
Music by Erland von Koch (1, 2)
Edited by Oscar Rosander (1)
(1:37) Criterion Blu-ray
At the opening of Ingmar Bergman’s fifth film (and the third chronologically in the Criterion box set), a disgruntled man named Gösta (Bengt Eklund) pulls into a Swedish seaport town after spending eight years at sea. Nearby, a young woman attempts to drown herself by stepping off a dock. It’s inevitable that these two will meet, and in fact, the entire films seems to be about nothing other than inevitability, suggesting that there are some forces in this universe that simply can’t be changed.
The young woman is named Berit (Nine-Christine Jönsson), who has spent most of the last few years at a reform school, initially desiring to live there rather than with her parents, who hate each other, but apparently aren’t capable of living apart. Berit and Gösta get together early in the film, but he doesn’t seem interested in anything besides sex and Berit becomes convinced that all relationships will turn into the hellishness of her parents’ marriage.
One evening, while waiting at home for Gösta to meet her, Berit and her mother have a fight. something we determine happens all the time. It goes something like this: Berit’s mother quietly nags her daughter’s behavior, coldly suggesting that she’ll one day regret her both her bad life choices and how she's treated her mother. (During one such scene, a clock softly ticks away with the intensity of Chinese water torture.) Gösta does pick her up and they go to the movies, a place where Berit is genuinely happy. Perhaps Bergman is telling us something about himself as well as Berit…
Things move quickly for the couple, but Berit soon determines that she and Gösta will one day turn into her parents with all their bitterness and contention, which sends Berit into a spiral of depression. Gösta articulates his love for Berit with a simple “I love you,” but she cannot reciprocate. “I hate those words,” she tells him. “Everyone says them without meaning them.” As we have already seen in characters from both Crisis and A Ship to India, Berit is someone who cannot bring herself to truly love another person.
This idea is strengthened during a flashback in which Berit’s mother locks her out of the house after she’s missed her curfew. In the hall, she meets a young man named Tomas (Stig Olin), who’s only interested in one thing, even telling Berit right up front, “No honest intentions here.” Her time with Tomas eventually leads to reform school and we soon learn why Berit attempted suicide at the beginning of the film. A subplot involving Berit’s friend Getrtud (Mimi Nelson) complicates things and also provides one of the most interesting aspects of the film, one I will let the reader discover without further comment.
Port of Call continues themes Bergman has previously explored in Crisis and A Ship to India, primarily the inability to love, broken relationships between parents and children, and humiliation. Port of Call is the most difficult of these three films to watch, although ironically its end seems to offer the most hope (misguided, perhaps). But the idea that couples who are fundamentally unable to love each other, yet can’t seem to live apart, is a concept that makes revisiting the film a near impossibility, at least for me. I know enough about Bergman to know that this is also a theme that I’m going to face many more times in this journey. Don’t be surprised if I eventually write a “What to Watch Immediately after Bergman” post, consisting of Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, or even Caddyshack. So I got that goin’ for me… Which is nice.
Photos: Criterion, IMDb, DVD Beaver