Monday, December 05, 2022

The Communicants (aka Winter Light)


Isolation: the church as an artificial community, a commune drawn from proximate residents. Chamber dramas lend themselves to churchwork; and vice-versa. Tomas (Gunnar Björnstrand)'s benediction seems like a farewell to the small congregation on the brink of irrevocable changes in their lives.

A pastor as rural psychiatrist. His truisms will give way to explicit interior confessions. "We must trust God," may not be of any help to The Communicants [Nattvardsgästerna, 1962, also known most popularly, though not so poignantly, by the title Winter Light], but neither perhaps is: "God has never spoken, because God does not exist." It's as though Tomas suffers an aural — visually and tactilely influenced — misophonia of the flesh. I register his disgust, barely expressed, when Märta (Ingrid Thulin), plainly unmade-up with lush lips chapped and cracked, touches his skin after blowing her nose. Shortly after, Tomas will open an envelope containing photos of his love — all things peripheral seem blown away by this village like a regurgitative black hole.

Confessions without a confessional. First, Märta's extra-diegetic reading of the letter to Tomas; second, Tomas's excoriation of Märta. She recounts, "Then the rash spread to my hands and feet. And our relationship ended." This is her testament, indeed her narration, and she apparently enters into her most present, while exerting this 'strong move.'

But there's a suicide in the offing. Jonas Persson (Max von Sydow) confesses his anxiety to Tomas: the knight errant and his sidekick from The Seventh Seal are reunited and swapped. Except one is swapped with Death, the other the Knight... Tomas to Jonas, with all being stripped to bare bones: "If there is no God, would it even make a difference?"

And, once the blazing sunlight bursts into the room: "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 

A woman who talks too much, and a man who doesn't talk enough. Train cars at the rail crossing like coffins.

Tomas is a man of doubt and spectacular self-speculation.


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