Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Women's Dream (aka Dreams)

 What's in Your Head, Your Head

The clock is ticking: maybe because of its foregrounding we should ingest that as the First Instance of what will become one of Bergman's great tropes — although it ordains not so much a matter of suspense (as in Hitchcock) as a humming, if you will, of irresolution, and the announcement nonetheless of an eminently logical plotting to come. The film is Kvinnodröm [Women's Dream, 1955], also known as Dreams, which is not to be confused with Akira Kurosawa's picture of forty years later. In contradistinction from the Kurosawa movie, there are no surreal passages here to signal dreamscapes (outside of the Bergman-intrinsic-cinema), but rather wishes, hopings-for — mind you, in Women's Dream they have their airing. Note too that this is the umpteenth Bergman picture that pivots around women and not men: in Bergman's view, women are infinitely more interesting and are the contextual stage-setters for men's condition(s). A cinephile of iconoclastic taste, Bergman opts for Eva Dahlbeck over Joan Crawford, and that is to his individual credit.

Women's Dream starts out like a silent film, with Susanne (Dahlbeck) art-directing the photo-shoot for which Doris (Harriet Andersson) is modeling — something like five minutes of screen-time without any dialogue, only the tinkling of the music, diegetic or non, on the soundtrack, — a representative from the maison hornily sucking in each inch of the proceedings, tapping his ringed fingers on an endtable, an oblivious ass, his bladder-section bulging to the point of burst. Here is the most 'dreamlike' section of the film, something that would fit in Fellini were it not for the dire sweat, just inadmissions of anxiety ("Si, certo.").

Another shoot encroaches, via telephone, in Göteberg now: the models know that Dahlbeck has a lover there; Andersson is a good-time gal and will surely find amusement, despite the fiancé of Stockholm. We now gather these women as parallels in their love-lives, and await the mutual unstringing. It's not long after their arrival in Göteberg (by train again, condensing but promulgating touches of A Lesson in Love) that Dahlbeck attempts to connect via telephone in a konditeri with Henrik (Ulf Palme), wherein all the exclusively women patrons give her perturbed, perhaps maddeningly jealous, glances, as she exits the establishment after what has been an exceedingly chaste exchange.

Susanne fires Doris upon her lateness for the Göteberg shoot; Susanne second-guesses her own anger immediately afterward. Doris has met Otto (Gunnar Björnstrand), a dandy'ish about-towner who telegraphs his wealth by promises of gifts to Doris in the course of her idle window-shopping. I don't have much to remark upon here: the most extraordinary section of the film, in which Otto invites Doris to his house and thus initiates one of The Great House Scenes in cinema: many questions about the origins of an estate arise, but they're outside the ken of the film itself, which is a beautiful circumstance. 

A fantasy crumbles upon the intrusion of Otto's daughter Marianne (Kerstin Hedeby), vulpine.

"Go, I said," are Otto's last words to Doris.

The emotional stakes throughout this sequence make Susanne's rendez-vous with Henrik seem what it is — worn of energy — in this dismal hotel room that reminds one of a movie made ten years later, Godard's not un-Bergman-like Une femme mariée.


Saturday, November 21, 2020

A Lesson in Love


Bergman's A Lesson in Love [En lektion i kärlek, 1954] holds the distinction outside of signal entries in the Weimar cinema of being among the first films to treat lesbian desire and, still rarer, suggest transgender longing. The fragility of emotion and the most poignant admissions of such come to the fore in a scene wherein Nix (Harriet Andersson) and her father (Gunnar Björnstrand) shape clay pieces on pottery wheels in a relative's studio (in an echo of the ceramics shop of Summer with Monika), and the daughter wails that she wishes explicitly to change from a woman to a man. A childish aspiration as a means of coping amid buzzing hormones? (In the period, the code-word for this 'acting out' is, of course, "tomboyism.") Nix will disclose later to her father something more acute than jealous soreness over her best friend's revelations of intimacy with a new boy; at her grandfather's birthday celebration she doggedly resists wearing a dress or weaving flowers into her hair. 

The irony of the film's title is that perhaps one can draw no concrete 'lessons' from love. When Björnstrand reconciles (irresolutely) with his ex-wife (Eva Dahlbeck) in a hotel room at the conclusion (both senses of the word), a literal Cupid approaches their door from the corridor and closing it shut, hangs a do-not-disturb sign grimmer than a studio screwball, for it reads: "SILENCE." Which word will serve in the title of a future Bergman masterpiece that we'll examine in the months ahead.


Sunday, November 08, 2020

Carnies' Twilight (aka Sawdust and Tinsel)

 Flashback and Mirrors

That Gycklarnas afton [Carnies' Twilight, 1953] is often taken as Bergman's first 'major' work, at the expense of Summer with Monika (at least off-continent), rankles a little. But if taken as his first major 'dreamwork,' the consideration becomes partially understandable. In previous Bergmans, the flashback acted as precursor to the liminal state; in Carnies' Twilight, the early flashback contains aspects of the anxiety dream, which seep into the main action that plays out in oneiric humiliations (stolen clothing; mocking laughter; sawdust kicked in the face; sexual leer at women on parade) and heightened grotesquerie. 

Another symmetry exists nested in the main action: the trajectories of Anne (Harriet Andersson) and Albert ("Alberti," Åke Grönberg), who stray from each other out of a shared ennui with the circus and their lives together there. These dualities are given expression — two-fold — in the mise-en-scène: (1) two-shots take the place of shot-reverse-shots: both actors face the camera, usually one behind the shoulder of the other, dialoguing while lost in thought, as though addressing each other and an audience; (2) the preponderance of mirrors and reflections, more a searching for confirmation than a confirmation outright.

Even with suicide, Albert commits it by proxy: a gunshot at Dorothy the bear.


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]

Kvinnors väntan [Women's Waiting, 1952]

Sommaren med Monika [Summer with Monika, 1953] 

Gycklarnas afton [Carnies' Twilight, aka Sawdust and Tinsel, 1954]