On this, the 100th anniversary of Ingmar Bergman‘s birth (7.14.18), I am holding to my conviction that the darkest, hottest and most despairing Bergman film of all time is The Silence (’63). And therefore my favorite, in part because it’s so crystalline and unified — a perfect distillation of a sensual gloomhead mentality.
A ten year-old boy (Jorgen Lindstrom, who’s now 67) travelling with his ailing mother Ester (Ingrid Thulin) and her younger sister Anna (Gunnel Lindblom) through a grim Central European landscape, and then renting a couple of rooms at an old-world hotel. The boy watches as Anna settles into a kind of scowling sensual abandon. As always, Sven Nykvist‘s black-and-white cinematography is exquisite, and his capturings of of the sultry, vaguely self-disgusted Anna in various states of undress in that hotel room and bathroom are the stuff that lifelong dreams are made of. For me anyway.
I’m mentioning The Silence because you can’t buy a stand-alone Bluray version, not from Criterion or anyone else. You can watch it on Filmstruck and The Criterion Channel but I’m not yet a subscriber. (For whatever reason my initial reaction to Filmstruck was “a bridge too far” — lame, I realize.) It’s included in Criterion’s $239 Ingmar Bergman Bluray box set, and you can buy a DVD version in a 2003 Bergman trilogy package that includes Through A Glass Darkly and Winter Light. So right now it’s FilmStruck or nothing. Bummer.
In a 5.27.13 Criterion-posted essay, David Blakeslee wrote that “as significant as The Silence was in Bergman’s development as a filmmaker and person, there’s no doubt that it marked an even bigger advance in terms of expressive freedom in dealing with human sexuality, especially as it involved both nudity and the portrayal of women in pursuit of their own erotic fulfillment rather than as passive sex objects.
“With the Palme d’or winner Blue is the Warmest Color and Lars Von Trier‘s Nymphomaniac, we can trace a tangent that didn’t necessarily begin with Bergman’s 1963 masterpiece but is clearly continuous in using on-screen sex to drum up interest. And it works! Through its lasting influence and continuing beguilement as to what it’s all about, The Silence still makes a lot of noise.
“In 1963 The Silence “became Bergman’s most financially successful and well-attended film in its original theatrical American run,” Blakeslee wrote. “I think that speaks more to the cumulative curiosity of a repressed U.S. populace and elsewhere. I figure that a lot of the horny gents who came to gawk at Bergman’s usual ensemble of Swedish beauties soon came to the conclusion that they could find the gorgeous naked babes they were looking for in more abundance and with much less confusion and patience than Bergman demanded from them, as the strict standards of censors quickly began to erode after The Silence broke down the barriers.”
But that moody ambiguity is everything, you see. Bergman demanding patience and persistence from viewers while subjecting them to a thicket of shadowy despair and alienation is precisely why The Silence is still such a hot number, even today. The existential gloom gives it shape, aroma, dimension, atmosphere.