CRISIS (Ingmar Bergman, 1946)

The late Stan Brakhage slandered Ingmar Bergman by saying that the Swedish filmmaker made his films to elicit approval from U.S. art-house audiences and critics. Envious, the U.S. filmmaker expanded this lie by adding that Bergman admitted this publicly. Of course, Bergman never did such a thing or said such a thing; those of the nouvelle vague admired him, whose work was stylistically and thematically so different than theirs, precisely because Bergman was his own person and went his own way. It is quite possible that we owe his great black-and-white trilogy, whose conclusion, The Silence (1963), is Bergman’s masterpiece, to the laughable misinterpretation by U.S. audiences and critics who somehow found The Virgin Spring (1959) to be religious. Bergman made plain in the trilogy that he was an atheist, not a religionist—although The Virgin Spring was scarcely less plain in the matter. Bergman had no reason to court U.S. favor, and he repudiated, by the way, the first of three films of his that Americans accorded the foreign-language Oscar: The Virgin Spring.
     Well, I like that film, although I can’t imagine how something that exposes Christianity’s mythmaking tendencies could be mistaken for being other than what it is. But if this American obtuseness helped bring the world Winter Light (1963) and The Silence, brother and sister, I say amen.
     Now I have seen Bergman’s first directorial effort, Kris, which Bergman adapted from The Maternal Instinct, a play by Leck Fischer—and already Bergman’s work presumes a Godless universe. Humane and humanistic, it is being dismissed by reviewers of the DVD as inferior Bergman, as sub-inferior Bergman. It’s a helluva lot better, let me tell you, than Wild Strawberries (1957) or Persona (1966)! A dying woman loses her just-grown daughter—she has raised the girl for eighteen years—to the latter’s biological/absentee mother. Also, the girl is being romantically pursued by two men, one of whom is her mother’s young lover. Eventually there is a suicide. Bergman may have opined that the play is “drivel”—from what one can glean from the film, this is not the case—and Victor Sjöström himself may have been called in to help the 27-year-old first-timer; but the result, if not sparkling, captivates and touches the heart. I would gladly watch it again.
     Early Bergman is so much more relaxed than later Bergman. The frames are permitted to breathe. Most of the acting is fine; indeed, Stig Olin is splendid as haunted Jack.

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