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" Dreams can be revealed" (Veronica)
on 22 May 2009
This is a remarkable companion piece to Persona,made in the flush of its success.Directed in the same year as 'Shame',using the same actors,Ullman and von Sydow.The theme-the thin line between genius and insanity-is well depicted.The association between experience,imagination,the night.The artist Johan(von Sydow) remaining unable to sleep,unleashes the demons of his nightmares,until they totally possess him and take him away,leaving his wife(Ullman)with only his diary to recount what happened. The nightmare of the soirée at a château is gradually transformed into Dracula's castle as its aristocratic inhabitants become werewolves and vampires, and the artist flees into a forest of blackened, clutching trees, pursued by monstrous birds of prey.I think the down side to the film is we never see outright the demonic creatures or his drawings of them (CGI hadn't been invented).They are only suggested.Bergman may have thought that an unnecessary vulgarity or it may well have been beyond his budget. The acting is superb.But there is no counterbalance to the formal and thematic disintegration.It should have been made from Alma's point of view:to see an absolutely sane woman go crazy because she loves the madman she married, instead of seeing an already mad man go crazier at the wolfing hour.
Not until the flashbacks do we eventually come to grips with what appear to be the basic facts, and these in turn convey a speedy unreliability.Did Alma really receive a visit from the old lady in white,are the diary entries true or hallucinations?We need to discern from each of the couple what is real(most of their scenes together),what is distorted(most of the scenes at the castle),what is totally unreal(scenes described in diary +the murder of the boy).There are missing pieces of the jigsaw-Johan's disappearance.The link with Mozart is enriching-Lindhorst/ Papageno conducts Johann/Tamino along a corridor thick with wings to the room of Veronica/Pamina. "You see what you want to see," calls the Bird Man, feathers and all.Like The Magician, this film makes explicit what can be said of Bergman's most intense cinema - it is like an esoteric horror movie. It's ultimately less appealing because we are faced with, and enter, an even more demonic protagonist. Here we are immersed in - uncomfortably seeing and feeling - the vertiginous, vampyric mind of a male artist (Max von Sydow), through images that seem like shards of his fracturing psyche.At the heart of the film are strikingly gothic images, a terrible maelstrom around which floats the organic but increasingly nervous performance of Liv Ullmann.Nykvist's camera work is spellbonding.This
ranks for me below The Magician,Persona,Through a Glass,Winter Light,The Silence.