Screeened June 21 2009 on MGM DVD in Brooklyn, NY
Ingmar Bergman stumbles out of the ’60s, his most creatively expansive and emotionally exhausting period, with one final attempt to channel New Wave stylistic vitality into his foursquare obsessions with individual angst. As with the other entries in his “Island Trilogy” (including Shame and Hour of the Wolf), it’s fractured, dissonant and despairing. The sensual glow of Sven Nykvist’s cinematography (in their first color film) blazes into a vision of apocalypse, rife with animal slaughter, tortured fornication and a marriage verging on homicide.
Max Von Sydow plays an unassuming island yokel who’s emotionally corrupted by three Bergman regulars: his neurotic wife (Liv Ullmann), a neurotic adulteress (Bibi Andersson), and a controlling patriarch (Erland Josephsson). Von Sydow’s slide into a flailing rage at modernity is mirrored by Bergman’s slapdash employment of self-conscious techniques: interviews with the cast about their roles, voiceover narration by the director, a dream sequence explicitly referencing Shame. The interviews are especially unsatisfying, suggesting a dynamic interrogation of the space between actor and performance that’s left largely unexplored.
The film is most successful in its project of mining for the ugly truth when it’s simplest: two extended, soul-baring monologues by Ullmann and Andersson that stare down the camera. These moments complicate Bergman’s characteristic misogyny, daring the viewer to call out these naked displays of emotion as so much female wiliness. They also point to the maturity of the more modest, person-to-person realism awaiting Bergman following his late 60s creative burnout.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?
The following citations were counted towards the placement of The Passion of Anna among the 1000 Greatest Films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?
Antonio Castro, Dirigido Por (1992)
Peter Harcourt, Sight & Sound (1982)
Robin Wood, The Manitoban (2008)
? New York Times, The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made (2004)
? Take One, Best European Films of the ‘Decade’ 1966-77 (1978)
The Passion of Anna is one of Bergman’s most beautiful films (it is his second in color), all tawny, wintry grays and browns, deep blacks, and dark greens, highlighted occasionally by splashes of red, sometimes blood. It is also, on the surface, one of his most lucid, if a film that tries to dramatize spiritual exhaustion can be ever said to be really lucid. However, like all of Bergman’s recent films, it does seem designed more for the indefatigable Bergman cryptologists (of which I am not one) than for interested, but uncommitted filmgoers…
There is no confusion in The Passion of Anna between reality and fantasy—it is all fantasy. That, at least, is the effect of a device by which, at four points in the film, he steps back and asks each of his principal actors about his conception of the role he is playing. The result is not so much enlightenment as it is an expression of Bergman’s appreciation to his stars, particularly von Sydow, Miss Ullmann, and Miss Andersson, who have contributed so much to so many of his films.
They are all superb here, and Bergman gives each of them extraordinary moments of cinematic truth, monologues of sustained richness and drama that are the hallmarks of Bergman’s best work, when the camera, without moving, records the birth of a character largely through facial expression and dialogue.
– Vincent Canby, The New York Times
All Bergman’s films in the late ’60s centre on isolated social groups (often the partners of a marriage) and show them under attack from both inside and out: Laingian fissures and cracks open up between the characters, and their precarious security is challenged by irruptions from the outside world. Bergman preserves and extends his private mythologies (witness the way that images and names recur from film to film), but in a broader (less precious, more honest) context. Liv Ullmann says it all in The Shame when she dreams of ‘living in the truth’. Here, another bold step forward in Bergman’s analysis of human isolation, the public and private manias of Hour of the Wolf are brought down to earth among middle class intruders in an island community.
“Ingmar Bergman’s film about the impossibility of purity and consistency in a world where to live is to contradict yourself. The passion of the title is not sexual, but the ability to live with the contradictions of life and to bear them without resignation. A tentative, plotless film that pulses with the rhythms of life rather than the rhythms of drama.
Ingmar Bergman’s 1969 drama En Passion / A Passion (in the U.S., mistitled as The Passion of Anna) is a great film — in fact, it may be the best of Bergman’s mid-to-late-1960s efforts dealing with human relationships and the Self — e.g., Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Shame.
Of the three films that show von Sydow and Ullmann as lovers — Hour of the Wolf and Shame are the other two — the portrayal found in A Passion is the most realistic and multi-faceted. Cinematographer Sven Nykvist makes a smooth transition from black-and-white to color, and some of the symbolism early in the film, such as a sundog that fades to clouds, is superb. Such a shot would be impossible to distill so powerfully in black and white. Von Sydow also looks better in color, as his features smooth out, making him look younger.
– Dan Schneider, Alternative Film Guide
The Passion of Anna is one of the difficult Bergman psychodramas of the sixties, and while it is not the best Bergman film of this period it nevertheless has many things in its favour – an intelligent script, impeccable acting and Sven Nykvist’s beautiful colour photography. The characters are complex and can be interpreted in any number of ways depending on the individual viewer, but the film’s argument isn’t that difficult to follow – while the characters themselves are somewhat fragmented, the storyline itself, at least on the surface, is fairly linear.
The film’s apparent linear narrative actually conceals a circular pattern, each of the characters displaying a propensity for recurring patterns of behaviour and playing-out roles that they have previously enacted with their previous partners. Anna’s previous husband Andreas and Max von Sydow’s character, tellingly with the same name Andreas, both have had an affair with Eva which seems to have been conducted and ended in similar circumstances. The story of Anna’s break-up with her husband also resembles the story of Andreas’ estrangement from his wife. Bergman appears to be examining the recidivist nature of people to fall back into familiar patterns of behaviour, but he also blurs the lines between what actually happened and what people believe happened, how they interpret events for themselves according to their experience and memories of past events. This gives the film a confused, dream-like quality where we are never quite sure whether something is actually happening or is being forced to fit a predetermined sequence of events based on the perceptions or delusions of the damaged minds of the characters in this isolated community. The strange unresolved subplot of the killer and the islanders’ search for someone to blame could be an external representation of madness that reflects the suppressed madness of one or all of the characters, but it is difficult to interpret.
What makes this somewhat less confusing and particularly enjoyable to watch is the attention to detail and the sheer emotional force that each of the characters brings to their role. All of the actors at this stage have long been part of the Bergman’s company and very familiar with working together on this type of material, but they bring a particular intensity to this film which often frames them in close-up, capturing every flicker of emotion and passion. Sven Nykvist’s photography is in this respect simply marvellous – somewhat looser than the fixed, studied head poses of earlier films, the film also benefits from the warm colours that bathe the characters and landscapes in orange glows and is able to draw the full visceral effect from an image of blood on snow. It all contributes to the unspoken language that gives this film particular force despite the ambiguities and confusions inherent within the story.
– Noel Megahey, DVD Times
The Passion of Anna has not dated as well as some other films of this period and compared to Shame or Hour of the Wolf it seems laboured and predictable. The use of then fashionable post-modern devices doesn’t really work either. The film contains interviews with the actors about their views on the characters they’re playing, snippets which tend to achieve little other than make you reflect on how much younger Max Von Sydow looks without his beard. There’s also a narration from Bergman which doesn’t help much either – although the final line of this is probably pivotal to understanding his conception of the world as a place where we, no matter how hard we try, we can’t hide from ourselves. Overall, however, it is a powerful and disturbing film which contains scenes that resonate in the mind even though you’re not always sure why – Elis’ collection of photographs of violent acts by people, the love scene in silhouette, the blood of the animals against the mud of Faro’s winter. It also reminds us that we are all prisoners of our pasts, a theme which recurs at the very centre of his next major film, Cries and Whispers.
– Mike Sutton, DVD Times
Although this movie is identified as En Passion, the card in the title position on the film itself simply reads L 182. There’s no other title given on the DVD. I found no explanation of this in the docu, the commentary or on the IMDB. Oddness or inconsistencies in a Bergman film always feel like misreads … it comes from being intimidated by world-renowned, serious art filmmakers, so I’m assuming that there’s a story behind this that I’ve yet to catch up with. 1 In the context of the film, “L 182” would seem to correspond to the neat boxes of photos that the Erland Josephson character stores in the creative office in his windmill. The thousands of filed images corresponding to specific subject matter – happiness, violence – seem to either be Bergman’s criticism of the ‘organized’ mind, or the unconscious repository for the feelings of man who shows no feelings … sort of a variation on the hidden rooms with terrible secrets in the house belonging to Peeping Tom.
The Passion of Anna is more accessible, less frustrating and less mysterious than some of Bergman’s previous studies in psychological opacity. In bringing his inner concerns to the surface, Bergman uses readily-interpretable symbols and situations. The characters spend less time gazing at the camera in blank-faced introspection and there are fewer indigestible unknown factors. The film is also photographed in color, something we didn’t expect from the Swedish master of stark, ascetic grays.
Anna is definitely a visual departure for Bergman. The interesting color is often warm and mellow, radiantly so in Bibi Andersson’s big scene with Max’s old swing record. The hues are intense without being exaggerated, like old Kodachrome home movies. I am told that original prints used grain interestingly; it’s less visible here except in the final scene. Perhaps the grain was only on duped American prints.
Bergman’s thematic use of color is actually rather commonplace – the color red bounces between fire trucks and flames, signaling alarm and panic in the Anna Fromm character. At one point, Ullman’s red scarf is used to mirror the pools of crimson blood from the throats of slaughtered sheep.
Bergman’s dream sequences are vivid – one with Ullmann in a boat resembles a situation in Shame and could almost be an unused sequence from it. Bergman cuts away to format-disrupting false interviews for all four main actors, a gambit that isn’t any more successful than it would be in anybody else’s avant-garde film. He probably felt something was needed to break up the rather conventional drama. There’s plenty of disturbing content here, but often conveyed with atypical technique for the Swedish master, including overlapping dissolves in the barn-burning scene. The film is more accessible and less mysterious – one doesn’t necessarily have to read a film book or peruse a critic’s exegesis to follow what’s going on.
– Hal Erickson, DVD Talk
There is no perfect analogy for the relationship an actor has to the character, but the connectedness they have makes the ones’ commentary on the other a form of introspection. This is interesting for Andreas/von Sydow because his character is so wrapped up in himself. His perspective, the film’s perspective can best understand the character/actors by how they understand themselves.
This representation makes the film dynamic. It brings the meta-narration that Bergman was hashing out in Hour of the Wolf and Persona to the forefront, and involves it directly in the plot and character of the film.
– Nicholas Michael Grant, Suite 101
Although not one of Bergman’s most popular efforts, The Passion of Anna is a complicated work from an undeniable genius. It’s execution is at times muddled and confused, certain turns in the plot end up feeling unnatural and forced, yet this only adds to the disjointed knowledge that we are, in fact, watching a constructed story. At several points in the story the plot evaporates and the actors speak to us about their characters. This device works wonders for the female cast members who have improvised their statements, adding insight to their characters’ development and future, yet the males read speeches prepared for them by Bergman, and in doing so they falsify their interviews. These abstract moments do distract from the functional use of the film as entertainment, making it a flawed yet effective work of artistic experimentation.
– Joshua, Octopus Cinema
Shot in color, The Passion of Anna (1969) takes place — like its predecessors Hour of the Wolf and Shame — on a remote island, where Andreas (Max Von Sydow) lives a solitary existence, until widowed Anna (Liv Ullmann) comes along. She tries to convince herself that she had a happy marriage, but Andreas knows differently. When Anna accidentally leaves her purse behind, Andreas reads a letter from her husband attempting to end the marriage. Nevertheless, Anna moves in with him and the cycle repeats. Bibi Andersson adds another layer as a confused married woman who has a brief fling with Andreas. Strangely, Bergman occasionally cuts away from the action with on-camera interviews of the actors explaining their characters’ motivations. I generally prefer Bergman’s black-and-white films, but Sven Nykvist’s color cinematography makes Ullmann’s blue eyes a thing to behold.
– Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid
Colors are the most notable change in the first of Bergman’s films to escape the realm of black and white. What a difference a few hues make! In the beginning you are introduced to Andreas Winkleman, (played by the wonderful Max von Sydow). He is a forty something year old man who is living alone on a slightly inhabited Swedish island. We watch as he applies stone tiles to the roof of his humble abode during the hazy, snowy days of winter. Silence seems to pervade the area with only a few sheep clopping around the hilly snow banks in the distance. It’s here in the film that the viewer gets a look at an amazing cinematic shot of the horizon. But suddenly, the orange sky becomes darkened by a mass of clouds and the bright sun changes into a dull gray sphere. A telltale sign of things to come?
I can definitely respect this film’s honesty. Yet, the constant subtle sadness never lifts and I felt a bit weighed down by it’s empty outlook. Also, the characters have already lived through all their hardest times and trials before the film begins so as a viewer you feel as though you missed out on all the main reasons underneath their sorrow. Never in Bergman’s career has he created a film with characters so heartbreakingly devoid of hope. The four seem to know that the sun will never shine brightly for them and even more, they cannot push away the dark clouds from their view. Anna Fromm has a passion, but it’s only held together with old happier memories that serve to keep her spirit from dying.
– Dr. Isaakson, eFilmCritic.com
There’s two ways “The Passion Of Anna” (released in Sweden under the less exclusionist title, “Passion”) can be viewed: in the eyes of Bergmanites, it’s a radical, triumphant work of deconstructionist cinema; or because of the real-life break-up between director Ingmar Bergman and star Liv Ullman, it’s a therapeutic exercise, affected by major creative blocks.
Even co-star Erland Josephson admits in his interview segments for the DVD’s documentary that some of Bergman’s impulsive ideas harmed the final film, citing on-camera mock interviews with the four stars, edited into the film; tearing the viewer away from the drama, it’s either a distraction, or a delightful twist in a film that’s actually more challenging than “Persona.”
– Mark R. Hasan, KQEK
The Passion of Anna is another of Bergman’s diegetic efforts, it is a film which draws attention to it’s medium, a counterpart to his 1966 masterpiece, Persona. Although there are many similarities between these two psychodramas, there are also many through lines between The Passion and his film made the year before, Shame. Aside from the obvious similarities, namely the lead actors and the black and white footage of Liv Ullmann on a boat which Bergman pulled from Shame and inserted into The Passion of Anna, there are parallels in the depiction of the brutalization of more-or-less harmless citizens. With Shame, it is the horrors of war and the government’s complicity in such horrors which visit upon them, while The Passion of Anna indicts society’s blind thirst for justice and obscene love of “truth.”
The passion here springs from the emotion over isolation and not being able to live in harmony in a community. It concerns four troubled souls living on a remote Swedish island. Ingmar Bergman’s (“Through a Glass Darkly”/”The Shame”/”The Silence”) second color film is stunningly filmed by master cinematographer Sven Nykvist on Faro island. This outstanding psychological drama is one of his better and more poignant films; it’s never less than fascinating, even when it falters; it’s well acted by his stock company and bears the filmmaker’s usual unique stylistic expressions and high middlebrow symbolism. It’s the final film in the “island” trilogy that includes Hour of the Wolf and Shame.
In what strikes me as something gimmicky and unnecessarily staged, during the film Bergman breaks from the action as he conducts “interviews” with his stars and pries from them their thoughts on the characters they play. The responses are revealing, but it seems to be an effort to force-feed us on how the characters were scripted and not allow us to determine for ourselves what the characters were all about.
– Dennis Schwartz, Ozu’s World Movie Reviews
One of writer-director Ingmar Bergman’s most stirring and beautifully crafted films.
INGMAR BERGMAN ON THE PASSION OF ANNA
Quoted on Bergmanorama
“I’m sorry to say that those [interviews with the actors] are very unsuccessful. I just wanted to have a break in the film and to let the actors express themselves. Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann improvised their interviews, but Max von Sydow and Erland Josephson had no idea what to say, so they said what I told them to. This led to two different films, and I no longer understand why I left the whole batch in, because I always realized that they wouldn’t work. But I like coups de theatre, things that make people wake up and rejoin the film. This time, however, it wasn’t successful.”– Ingmar Bergman (1971)
“The Passion of Anna could have been a good film, had the traces of the 1960s not been so evident. They leave an imprint, not only because of the skirts and hairdos, but, even more essentially, because of the important formal elements: the interviews with the actors and the improvised dinner invitation. The interviews should have been cut out. The dinner party should have been vastly different, much tighter. It is regrettable that I frequently became so worriedly didactic. But I was scared. You are scared when you have, for a long time, been sawing off the branch upon which you sit. Shame was truly not a success. I worked under the pressure of a firm demand that my film be comprehensible. I could possibly defend myself by saying that, in spite of this, it took all my courage to give The Passion of Anna its final shape.”
– Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life in Film
During a seminar at the American Film Institute in 1973, Liv Ullmann (who played Anna) recalled working with Bergman and how he experimented in this film by allowing the actors to deviate from the script. “He has always been very strict in wanting us to keep to his sentences. There was the dinner party in The Passion of Anna where the four tell their own story. In that scene, we had complete freedom. But we had to stick to the character. One day a lady arrived and made a beautiful dinner. Max von Sydow drank red wine and all of us asked him questions. He had to answer as the character and the camera was on him all the time. Bergman did the same thing with all four of us. Then he edited it. Bergman further experimented by interviewing the actors during the film, The characters sort of came out and spoke as the character. [A]fter the picture was finished he asked us to come to the studio and to speak as actors. Bibi Andersson used the text from her character.”
According to Peter Cowie in his book, Ingmar Bergman: A Critical Biography, shooting the film (from September to December 1968) was full of difficulties. Max von Sydow was under pressure also, for he was appearing at the Royal Dramatic Theater for two performances each weekend during the forty-five day production schedule and had to commute by boat during the late fall season. Sven Nykvist [Bergman’s cinematographer] and Bergman frustrated each other; Bergman felt a recurrence of his old stomach ulcer and Nykvist suffered dizzy spells. In the final stages even the editing proved difficult, and over eleven thousand feet were left on the cutting room floor. [..] Conditions for the crew were similar [at the studio] to those on any location. They worked from 7:30 AM to 5 PM except for Monday, and in their free time they could play ping-pong, bathe in the icy sea, drink wine and eat cheese, and amuse themselves at the holiday campsite of Sudersand, when it was open.
– Lorraine LoBianco, Turner Classic Movies
If the challenge of color inspired innovation, the film’s temper and issues continue to form part of the common denominator which subtends ‘sixties Bermgan. The filmmaker himself has remarked that A Passion follows “a line of development” stretching from Through a Glass Darkly, and it is clearly the terminus for that segment of the line, beginning with Persona and passing through Shame, in which the island settings serve as metaphor for a besieged consciousness. Although any script Bergman might have written in 1968 would probably have shown a similarity, A Passion evolved directly from Shame; indeed, he looked upon it as virtually a sequel.
A Passion is a product of [Bergman’s] dream machinery – and after a quarter century of filmmaking, Bergman had cause to wonder whether he really controlled its levers or the machine controlled him. It is not only Andreas who is sucked into reproducing a preexisting patern. When Bergman was asked to explain his pronouncement at the very end of hte film, he replied, “It means a sort of giving up… You must feel behind the [ostensible] meaning another you cannot define. For me, it expresses a feeling of boredom. I mean, ‘This time his name is Andreas’; but I will be back and next time my character will have another name. I don’t know what it will be, but this boring character will be back.
Frank Gado, The Passion of Ingmar Bergman. Duke University Press, 1986. Pages 377, 390
The Passion of Anna is an amazing movie, in some ways pursuing the quest for a new, open film form beyond even the experimentations of Persona. The hard-edged, precise brilliance of the former gives way to a loose, freewheeling, almost haphazardly structured film text breathing the indeterminate and the elusive, in a world still dominated by the experience of nothingness.
Bergman… is sharing the “text-in-process-of-becoming” with us. The actors seem to be sharing in creating the plot and the character: there are possibilities, probabilities; this could happen or that. Here is a kind of cinema of virtualities, showing us various potentialities, and in that, reflecting the filmmaking process. Alain Resnais was doing something of the sort in a number of his films (especially Providence later one), but with an aggressive and overt brilliance. In The Passion of Anna we have a leisurely and “open text,” deliberately “imperfect,” “unfinished,” much as Eco was suggesting in The Open Work. Without the showy super-intellectualism and super-craftsmanship that exploded in Persona, Bergman has found a way of directly addressing his audience, as it were, sharing with us the awareness of what the nature of film, this film, really is. The final image may be of the actual visual disintegration of the central character, commented on by “author” Bergman; but we are very much aware that we are witnessing an artificial act of artistic legerdemain. Bergman makes us feel the nothingness, but also he makes us distance ourselves from it with the consciousness that it is an art object we are contemplating, and a highly complex one. Perhaps, because of the visible structuring of the film, we are prevented from taking the ending literally, at face value. For there are, after all, four factors in the equation, each with his or her possibilities. And so for life: we are watching Bergman work out some of the feasibilities. The context may still be grim, and nothing is clear; but here are four types of people reacting, each with his or her virtualities.
The Seventh Seal presented different kinds of fates for different individuals. But there one felt Bergman personally involved, working his way to some kind of affirmation and imposition of order. This would be pursued with growing clarity, as we have seen, in succeeding films. But with The Passion of Anna Bergman no longer feels the compulsion to be the prophet seeking the answer. For better or for worse, having faced the unbearable anguish of ingenting, he is now able to step back, seeing all options represented by the characters as data or possibilities (or maybe not!). Maybe ingenting itself is just that, one of the possibilities and maybe, braced by that conviction, one can surivive, can get on with one’s life… Perhaps.
– Michael Gervais. Ingmar Bergman: Magician and Prophet. McGill-Queen’s Press – MQUP, 1999. Pages 110, 111-113.
NOTES ON THE BERGMAN “ISLAND” TRILOGY: HOUR OF THE WOLF, SHAME AND THE PASSION OF ANNA
The Passion of Anna completes a loose trilogy of films in which director Ingmar Bergman examines how external factors can influence a person’s psychology and result in the break-up of a close male-female relationship. It follows the expressionistic Hour of the Wolf (1968) and the wartime drama Shame (1968), with Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann playing the lead characters in all three films. Each of the films continues Bergman’s exploration of existentialist themes – the nature of identity, the meaning of reality and the difficulty of living in a world filled with irreconcilable contradictions.
Stylistically, these three films could hardly be more different. Whereas the first two are filmed in high-contrast black-and-white and have a grim claustrophobic intensity, The Passion of Anna is shot in colour and feels much looser, less confined, and far more naturalistic. However, the similarities between the films are as striking as the differences and lead one to conjecture that they depict not three separate stories, but the same story, seen from three different perspectives. One possible clue to the relationship between the films is in the inclusion in The Passion of Anna of a short sequence from Shame to represent part of a dream. The hint is there that, perhaps, the whole of Shame is a dream, or maybe a twisted reinterpretation of the world as seen by Anna.
Mental derangement features heavily in all three films, and in each film Liv Ullmann plays a character who is either obviously unhinged or else looking as if she might be teetering on the brink of insanity. Assuming that Ulmann’s character is the linchpin to each film, it is plausible that what the films are showing are a single mind that is fragmenting into various pseudo-realities – states that exist between reality and imagination. For this character, reality as we know it (or rather, as we think we know it) has ceased to have any meaning.
A more evident connection between the films is the idea that an individual’s identity can be strongly affected by external forces. In Hour of the Wolf, it is the bleak, solitary landscape in which the story takes place which results in the mental collapse of the main protagonist. In Shame , the experience of war completely changes the way a husband and wife behave towards one another, ultimately ruining their relationship. In The Passion of Anna, it is the senseless killing of livestock by an unknown maniac that leads to the breakdown in trust and affection between Andreas and Anna.
– James Travers, Cinema Forever
ABOUT THE MGM DVD
The transfer is very good, with strong colors and accurate fleshtones. There’s a lot of detail in the image, and the source print contains occasional speckles. For the most part, grain is not a problem, although it does pop up in the occasional darker scene.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
While The Passion of Anna is probably the least interesting film in MGM’s The Ingmar Bergman Collection boxed set, its supplements are the most insightful and revealing of the lot. Liv Ullman’s 4m:05s interview is an amusing anecdote about her dachshund “Pet”, and reveals the truth about the writing behind Bergman’s films. In the 4m:53s allotted to Bibi Andersson, she comments on Bergman’s dedication to his art, how the filmmaking climate in Sweden has changed and how it has affected her, and explains why it’s not a good idea to invite Bergman to dinner. Erland Josephson speaks of his enduring friendship with Bergman in his brief (2m:25s) interview.
The Photo Gallery consists of the Swedish release poster and 17 production photos, which are duplicated from the Supplemental Materials disc. The U.S. theatrical trailer is in poor shape, with scratchy sound and a damaged source print, but the transfer is adequate.
University of Montreal film professor Marc Gervais contributes the commentary track, as he does for most of the films in the set. It’s probably his least interesting talk, which is fair enough because there’s simply less the say about this film than the others. He places it in the context of Bergman’s other “disintegration” films from the 1960s, and discusses how the film reveals aspects of Bergman’s character and personal life. The deconstructive elements of the film are analyzed, including the last shot of the film, where the image of Andreas is gradually obliterated, but this shot is almost certainly an optical effect and not a simple zoom as Gervais claims.
The documentary, Disintegration of Passion, is a bit shorter than the rest in the set, but follows the same format: clips from the film, interview snippets with the actors, comments by Gervais, and excerpts from a 1970 Bergman interview. Gervais mostly repeats observations from his commentary, but the remarks by the other actors provide insights into Bergman’s unhappiness at the time, his hesitancies during filming, questionable use of improvisation, and indecision at including the interview segments in the film. If you can ignore the inclusion of the unrelated segments from the 1970 Bergman interview, this is a revealing, insightful documentary.
There’s one supplement that breaks away from the formula used on the discs in this set: Elliott Gould reading the story treatment on which The Passion of Anna was based. Bergman typically writes out a detailed version of the story before shooting begins, then shares it with his cast and crew, who use it as a basis for their work. Over the course of more than an hour and a half, Gould reads the story, and it provides a fascinating glimpse into Bergman’s working methods.
Extras Grade: A
– Robert Edwards, Digitally Obsessed
ABOUT INGMAR BERGMAN
The following quotes are found on the TSPDT director profile for Ingmar Bergman:
“Bergman has never set out to be less than demanding; and as an artist his greatest achievement is in digesting such unrelenting seriousness until he sees no need to bludgeon us with it…Bergman has seen no reason to abandon his faith in a select audience, prepared and trained for a diligent intellectual and emotional involvement with cinema.” – David Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 2002)
“Although he may be faulted for an occasional cold, humourless pessimism that may seem contrived, both his intellectual gravity and his uncompromising devotion to cinema as a serious art form are undeniable.” – Geoff Andrew (The Film Handbook, 1989)
“Bergman’s unique international status as a filmmaker would seem assured on many grounds; his prolific output of largely notable work; the profoundly personal nature of his best films since the 1950s; the innovative nature of his technique combined with its essential simplicity even when employing surrealistic and dream-like treatments; his creative sensitivity in relation to his players; and his extraordinary capacity to evoke distinguished acting from his regular interpreters.” – Roger Manvell (International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 1991)
“Human laughter, sorrow, joy, and anxiety are analyzed and compellingly illustrated by Bergman, one of the great directors.” – William R. Meyer (The Film Buff’s Catalog, 1978)
“Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.” – Ingmar Bergman
“I write scripts to serve as skeletons awaiting the flesh and sinew of images.” – Ingmar Bergman
ABOUT MAX VON SYDOW
When you think of Scandinavian movie stars, the first name that comes to mind is Max von Sydow. Since his screen debut in 1949 in Alf Sjoberg’s Only a Mother, he has appeared in countless films, including titles as diverse as Hannah and Her Sisters and Conan the Barbarian, The Emigrants and The Exorcist, Pelle the Conqueror and Judge Dredd. The actor is easily recognized by his gaunt appearance: he is tall, with a long, lean face and sharp features. These physical characteristics have been an asset in both aspects of his screen career, comprised of the character roles he has played in English-language films and his status as a principal on-screen interpreter of Ingmar Bergman.
Von Sydow has co-starred in a number of European productions by prominent directors, including Mauro Bolognini, Bertrand Tavernier, Jan Troell, and, most recently, Bille August. But it is his work with Bergman for which he will be best-remembered. He earned his initial international acclaim in Bergman-directed films, particularly The Seventh Seal (as the tormented knight who rides through the plague-ridden countryside in search of a good deed he might perform before the figure of Death takes him away) and The Virgin Spring (as the father who avenges the rape-murder of his young daughter). Indeed, in his best roles for Bergman (in which he has, more often than not, played husbands and artists), von Sydow has embodied the anguished soul who suffers as a result of his desires, or guilt, or the guilt he feels because of his desires.
—Rob Edelman, Film Reference.com
ABOUT LIV ULLMANN
From the mid-1960s, Liv Ullmann represented to American audiences a sensual and sophisticated screen presence that did not exist within Hollywood. Her earthy beauty was best utilized in a series of provocative films directed by her mentor, Ingmar Bergman.
Her film credits were few and minor—she had appeared in several little-known Norwegian features—when Ullmann first met Bergman in Stockholm. He offered her the principal role of the mute Elisabeth Vogler in the psychologically complicated and exacting study Persona. There followed not only an artistic collaboration between the director and actress, but for a time, a deep personal and emotional relationship. Persona gave Ullmann a great acting opportunity, and was both an artistic and personal success for her. “It was difficult,” says Ullmann. “I prepared myself so that I read the script several times and I tried to divide it into certain sections. Bergman helped me a lot. He differs very much from what the majority of people think of him. People say that he is a demon, but it is not true at all. He simply knows whom to engage. He listens and then he tries to get the maximum from an actor.”
Under Bergman’s influence, Ullmann became an internationally recognized actress. In the films Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Shame, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage, and Face to Face, she creates immensely complicated portraits of contemporary women. Able to communicate an entire range of emotions through minute details of action, she relies neither on sharp mimicry nor intensified vocal intonation in her portrayals. Nevertheless, she is capable of expressing urgency, sensitivity, and agitation by the slightest movement of her eyes. Ullmann interprets the feelings and inner actions of her heroines by suggestion. Although trained in the theater, her experience there is not evident, except perhaps in some long Bergmanesque dialogue passages in which, through her ardor, she is able to draw the audience into her own inner conflict. Ullmann’s mastery of the dramatic consists precisely of the simplicity and realism of her expression.
—Vacláv Merhaut, updated by Audrey E. Kupferberg, Film Reference.com
ABOUT BIBI ANDERSSON
Like other European-trained actors, Andersson’s work is not an emotionally cathartic experience, but rather an exercise of knowledge and technique, as her versatility proves. Following her role in The Seventh Seal, as the wife in the pair of fairground innocents who survive the destruction of the knight and his family after the apocalypse, she played the hitchhiker in Wild Strawberries, again projecting a youthful hopefulness and innocence. Her portrayal of the unmarried mother in Brink of Life revealed a broader range and won her an award at Cannes (along with Ingrid Thulin for the same film).
With the exception of a role in Now about All These Women, Andersson did not work with Bergman for six years. Their collaboration resumed with her most important film, Persona, in which she established herself as an actress of international stature. This masterpiece owes much to Andersson’s brilliance and is evidence of her greater emotional experience than was apparent in her earlier work. Playing opposite Liv Ullmann as the mute Elisabeth, Andersson was required to carry the dialogue of the film. A mutual transference of personae occurs, signified by the merging of their images on screen. The film required of Andersson an enormous extension of her talent; her submission to the film’s somewhat cruel objectivity attested to Andersson’s dedication—not only to the aims of Bergman’s films but also to the demands made by a role of extraordinary emotional complexity. The characterization did much to erase the rather condescending view of her as a pleasant, lightweight actress, and elevated her to the first rank of Bergman’s ensemble, along with Thulin and Ullmann.
Andersson then made a number of films with other Swedish directors, and worked again with Bergman in a supporting part in The Passion of Anna, in a central role opposite Elliott Gould in The Touch, and in a brief appearance in one episode of Scenes from a Marriage, which would be the last films they made together. In The Touch she turned in a performance that established her, according to one critic, as the warmest and most free-spirited of Bergman’s women, both robust and compassionate.
—Charles L. P. Silet, updated by Kelly Otter, Film Reference.com