The courtship and early marriage of Ingmar Bergman’s parents in early twentieth-century Sweden, a poor, self-sensitive Lutheran priest and a cultured girl from a wealthy family: this is the narrative territory of Danish filmmaker Bille August’s somber, absorbing, beautifully scored Den Goda viljan. August, working from a script by Bergman, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for this film, which is given a visual presentation appropriate to the spare lighting of the time in which the chronicle is set. Pernilla August, August’s wife at the time, also won as best actress for her exquisite performance as Anna Åkerblom, whom Henrik Bergman desires to possess as much as loves. The glowing, at times miraculous color cinematography is by Jorgen Persson. Although their film largely unfolds in underlit interiors (but without the heaviness or generated eyestrain of The Godfather), Persson and the director achieve especial brilliance in one of silent Scandinavian cinema’s celebrated areas of achievement: humanity glimpsed in beauteous Nature. One particular such image, projecting Henrik’s self-absorption and melancholy, is a stupendous shot.
Anna’s fastidious mother (Ghita Nørby, giving the best performance) does everything she can to undo the young couple prior to their marriage; when her own husband, Anna’s father (Max von Sydow), dies (“I lived in his love,” Anna says), she confesses her schemes to her daughter.
The unmarried couple quarrel even over the wedding. A cathedral wedding has been planned, one—cruel irony!—“as great as our happiness,” according to Anna; but disgusted with Anna’s family and pressing his authority, Henrik opts instead for a simple ceremony: the couple, the marrying priest, two witnesses. Before relenting (offscreen, with a cut to the lavish ceremony), Henrik balks: “It’s clear you’re on your family’s side against me.”
Sounds to me like his son’s father.
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