The three films in this box set represent some of the best of Ingmar Bergman's work in the 'chamber drama' format. As the director's interest in classical music grew, the art house scene saw more and more films from Bergman with just a few characters interacting within one location, like the instruments in a string quartet. In __Through a Glass Darkly__, __Winterlight (aka __The Communicants__), and __The Silence__, Bergman exorcises the spiritual demons of his childhood within a very modern, every-day context. The themes that he deals with are the same ones which drove such classics as __The Seventh Seal__ and __Wild Strawberries__; however, while such movies were theatrical and featured archetypical characters, the films in the trilogy (and most of Bergman's subsequent works) are realistic and feature psychologically nuanced and complex characters.
In __Through a Glass Darkly__, a vacationing family is forced to deal with its own disintegration. The daughter, Karin, played masterfully by Harriet Anderson, battles schizophrenia and attempts in vein to stay in touch with consensual reality, while her father David, played by the stoic Gunner Bjornstrand finds himself unable to resist the urge to use her illness as a means to drive his artistic and intellectual work as a novelist. Max von Sydow plays Karin's loving and simple husband, while her brother, Minus, played by Lars Pasgard, comes to represent the anxieties and insecurities of the family's next generation. This is a difficult film to watch. Emotionally, it is overwhelming (though Bergman never strays too far from his characteristic subtlety).
The next offering in the trilogy is __Winterlight__. Here Gunner Bjorstrand plays Tomas, a mid-aged priest, whose own crisis of fate fails to save a parishioner in his church from committing suicide at the thought of nuclear holocaust. Meanwhile, in a superb performance, Ingrid Thulin plays Tomas's mistress, an atheist who attempts to save him from his own spiritual and personal failings.
Finally, __The Silence__ is the controversial third move in the trilogy. While traveling through a mysterious foreign country, two sisters, the intellectual Ester (Ingrid Thulin) and the sensual Anna (Gunnel Lindblom), and Anna's 10-year-old son, are forced to stay in an almost abandoned hotel. Sexual tension rises as Ester and Anna (presumably intimate) cannot come to terms with their own diverging desires. Anna's son Johan, played by Jorgen Lindstrom, must discover the hotel, while attempting to understand the uncertainty of the world around him.
I will not go into the deeper symbolic structures of each film and allow viewers to discover for themselves. __The Silence__, the most bleak AND most optimistic film in the trilogy, is my favorite, though __Winterlight__ will probably compel more viewers.
The era of Bergman's auteurism is gone. Just as Antonioni, Dreyer, and other masters of high modernist cinema have lost their once immense popularity in the American and European art house scene, so have Bergman and the 'Bergmanesque' been long in decline. However, it is definitely a good idea to view these films. Even if the singular existential angst portrayed by Bergman is no longer the anxiety of the postmodern era, Bergman's technical abilities and his skills in drawing incredible perfomances from his troupe of actors are a wonder to behold.
Each DVD contains a short discussion with film scholar Peter Cowie. Also included is __Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie__ on a separate disk. Bergman fans will enjoy more than two hours of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage from the making of __Winterlight__. The box set contains just the right amount of extras. It is packaged elegantly and is a great buy.