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Described by Bergman's own wife as a "dreary masterpiece", the synopsis to Winter Light seems almost comically miserable, yet this passion play is gripping in its unsparing bleakness, bathed in the stark illumination implied by the title, ironically akin to the light of a religious epiphany. Released at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, its preoccupations and all-pervasive anxieties are especially apt.
On the DVD: Bergman's own notes reveal that Winter Lightis among his own favourites and he explains the evolution of the film's ideas at some length. Critic Philip Strick's background notes reveal that Gunnar Bjornstrand was exhausted and ill for much of the making of the film, which doubtless enhanced his anguished performance here. --David Stubbs
It is perhaps the most downbeat of the three, with Bergman spinning out a yarn of a preacher attempting to fulfil his duties to a remote parish. The emptiness (of the church, for one) is excruciating, and the embarrassment of performing the old rituals to two or three people brings the preacher's torment to the fore. In his back room he quietly reveals to a close companion that he has no more faith.
The suicide of a lonely soul in his parish drives the nail home and the preacher is unable to continue without some tortuous self-examination, helped by some unsymapthetic parishoners.
An excellent performance by Gunnar Bjornstrand, who battled through a life-threatening illness to finish [and indeed carried on or many years], and an inspired piece of work, if a little desperate at times. But where would we be without the desperation?