The progeny of this contractual obligation does not augur well. The creation of an overt comedy introduced by a narrator may seem to be as unfaithful to Bergman's natural calling as his biggest fan Woody Allen's turn to tragedy was.
In fact, The Devil's Eye is a success. Even at his most apocalytic or soul-searching, Bergman exercised a comic touch, albeit sometimes stygian. Here, he summons up a vision of the underworld with a welcome felicity and assuredness.
Drawing on an Irish proverb of doubtful authenticity (A girl's virginity is a stye in the eye of the Devil) the film concerns the Devil's attempt to poison innocence to cure his stye. In the pursuit of this task, the Devil transports his most potent seducer, Don Juan, from hell to deflower a young girl whose apparent innocence masks a knowing sexuality.
The film is, to a large part, an investigation of desire and man's reaction to it, how he sumbits to it, is overwhelmed by it, even horrified by it. Unlike in other films, Bergman does not locate this in a Lutheran revolt of pleasure but in a battle of the sexes. Primed as how best to conquer Swedish women, Don Juan and his assistant Pablo seek to seduce a vicar's daughter and wife respectively.
The vicar's world-weary wife is contemptuous of her foolish husband and, as she reveals, herself. When the gruff Pablo makes his insistent, if unsophisticated, advances, the wife resists. The source of her husband's regret that she is never moved to feel compassion, she eventually feels a stirring for Pablo when he substitutes his directness with an appeal to sympathy at his wretched punishment. As such, he connects with Renata's maternal instinct.
The most powerful interraction is that between Don Juan and the daughter Britt-Marie, engaged to be married to her sweetheart Jonas since she was 13.
Alone from everyone else next to the room which will be the nursery for Britt-Marie's children, Don Juan cuts to the chase. He asks if Britt-Marie will kiss him. She does and he is thrown by her dispassion, the fact that he is number 37 in a list she wishes to reach 50 before she marries. With no knowledge of life - or love - Don Juan is momentarily overwhelmed by Britt-Marie's insistence that nothing can break her love for her fiancee.
But she is not completely in control. She says to Don Juan that he is no ordinary man and could wound him mortally. When Don Juan says that that is his greatest wish, that desire is countered by her admission that "Deep in my heart I long for that wound."
The seduction takes a comic turn of events. But there is pain too. Britt-Marie comes to realise that her love for Jonas will not protect her from danger. This is the preliminary step to the lie she tells Jonas on the wedding day, as revealed at the film's conclusion.
Conversely, Don Juan, desireless and dreamless, the man who chose disdain as his spirit, falls for Britt-Marie.
Back in hell, castigated by his master for his abject failure to seduce the girl and abate the stye, Don Juan's anxiety is all to see as his Adam's apple quivers and convulses in pain at hearing her happiness on her wedding day.
Bergman complements his quintessential cinematic use of close-ups with a theatricality of someone who had directed, amongst many others, Moliere's Don Juan.
The Devil's Eye may not have the claim to undeniable greatness of other Bergman films, but it contains much more substance in a scene that many more portentious films do in their entirety. Its universality of theme and singularity of approach reward repeated study.
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