Bergman's first film where he wrote his own script, and had real
artistic control (in exchange for a tiny budget.).
An aging film professor, just released from a mental asylum, visits an
old student, now a successful director, and challenges him to make a
film showing that the devil really rules the earth. While dismissive in
the moment, the director is haunted by the idea, and a journalist
friend suggests the film could take off from his experience
interviewing a very young prostitute.
We then enter the prostitute's story, and it's (intentionally) never
fully clear if what we're seeing is the film that arose from the
concept, or the truth of the girl's life.
Beautifully photographed, and full of inventive touches (the main
credits are spoken, not seen, over a long tracking shot of a dark
cobblestone street), I was also surprised that it contained more of a
dark sense of humor, about itself and the world, then most critics
acknowledge. In turn, that keeps the film's occasional youthful
over-obsession with despair from ever feeling unbearably sophomoric.
I will admit it lost steam for me in the last third, some of the
performers aren't quite up to the heavy burdens of the script, and a
few sequences are awkward and bespeak Bergman's comparative youth. But
the next morning I found myself haunted by images and moments even if
the whole only felt partly successful.
The Tartan DVD is a very nice transfer.
An ex Maths teacher announces he's just been released from a lunatic asylum (as you do) to some people making a film. (He used to teach one of them). He says that he has ideas about the Devil. The filmmakers try to adapt those ideas into a screenplay. Apparently they reject those ideas -after making them - for this film, presumably.
The meandering narrative seems to explore scenarios that surround some pretty miserable and uninteresting people. I think I read that it's Bergman's first film to look solely at mild horror and the place of the Devil, both in philosophy, film and in folklore. Suicide, alcoholism, prostitution, even drowning babies born to the under-aged get limp, clumsy and unconvincing treatment.
It's pretty impossible to follow and no doubt spoilt by knowing what gems came later from the Master of Darkness.
Best thing to come out of it was a line that I've slightly altered - "Life Itself is a terminal illness "