Monday, May 18, 2020

To Joy

Music in Darkness


I remember To Joy [Till glädje, 1950] as the film that impressed me the most years back in that very first Criterion Eclipse set, Early Bergman. It still strikes me as very good, and perhaps the strongest film Bergman had made up to this point in his career, although Thirst is close behind. Admittedly, I say this without having seen a few of the other early films, which for whatever reason (probably rights issues) were not included in the Criterion Ingmar Bergman's Cinema mega-box: It Rains on Our Love, Music in Darkness, and the oft-Histoire(s)-cited Prison.

The title "To Joy" is at once ironic and sincere, and the movie makes good on both: abject marital misery, and a grand reconciliation; a deus ex machina of tragedy (revealed in the opening moments, as the film plays out as a flashback: a portable kerosene oven explodes and kills Marta [Maj-Britt Nilsson] and her children, widowing Stig [Stig Olin]), and of the exalted revival of hope, contentment, and the internalized digestion of experience. "To Joy, in the double-sense of "to" in both Swedish and English: a gradual movement toward, and a salute to the prospect of new unity.

I'm always interested in the idea of films that take place against an occupational backdrop. There are two rationales: (1) The author is interested in exploring the process of the occupation or its milieu, in addition to a separate dramaturgical movement. (2) The author constructs the dramaturgy with the occupation itself as one of its central tenets. Bergman opts for the latter in To Joy: Mendelssohn, Rimsky-Korsakov, and of course Beethoven embody the visceral expression of the emotion at play in the drama. (In zenith and nadir: When Stig's violin falls out of tune [a chance happening for which he owns no immediately evident responsibility] during his solo in the midst of an orchestral performance, a newspaper critic remarks — shades of Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane — that as soloist Stig's was a "premature debut", and deems it an "unnecessary suicide.")

The great Victor Sjöström, in his first of two roles for Bergman, concludes the film to note of Beethoven's Ode to Joy: "It's a joy beyond grief and despair. It's a joy beyond all understanding." Two modes of 'climax' — two modes of joy — two stunning endings: To Joy and Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. I subscribe to both visions, neither so distant from the other, as I suspect did both Bergman and Kubrick.

Another Bergman cameo.


Other writing on Ingmar Bergman at Cinemasparagus:

Kris [Crisis, 1946]

Skepp till India Land [Ship to India, 1947]

Hamnstad [Port of Call, 1948]

Törst [Thirst, 1949]

Till glädje [To Joy, 1950]

Sommarlek [Summer Interlude, 1951]


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