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Curious rather than classic Bergman
on 16 June 2014
The title 'Classic Bergman' is a misnomer - this Artificial Eye box set is actually a more or less random selection of 5 early / minor Bergman films on 5 discs. Only one film - Sawdust & Tinsel - could really be considered `classic'. Nonetheless, now the price has come down to around £20 (when I purchased it in 2013) this box set is a useful way to fill some gaps in your collection if you are a big Bergman fan.
Bergman's early filmography is a bit confusing but, according to the box notes, disc one IT RAINS ON OUR LOVE (1946) was Bergman's second film. Like most of his early films it is a romantic melodrama about a young couple from the wrong side of the tracks rebelling against an oppressive society and its bourgeois morality. As a representation of proletarian youth it's not too convincing but it is a very watchable film, with quite a few Bergmanesque touches, including an arch narrator who pops up now & then to comment on the plot and then turns out to be a character (of sorts) in the story.
Disc two is another early `apprentice' film A SHIP BOUND FOR INDIA (1947) - a convoluted melodrama about a down-at-heel sailor family trying to salvage a wrecked boat. It resembles Hollywood B movies of the time - except Bergman throws in some Oedipal psychodrama to spice things up. Lots of interesting cinematography, as if Bergman was trying things out, learning his craft.
For disc three we jump several years & several films for SAWDUST & TINSEL (1953) the tale of a struggling circus troupe. By this time Bergman had indeed learnt his craft - it is a very accomplished film with a great cast firing on all cylinders. Lots of memorable scenes, including the famous opening with Frost the clown clambering over the rocks. Like a lot of Bergman's early films, it looks back to the old expressionist silent cinema. But it also looks ahead to Bergman's own later films like Seventh Seal.
It's another quite big jump to Disc Four DREAMS aka journey into Autumn (1955) by which time Bergman had found his main signature style - contemporary psychological / existentialist chamber drama, usually centred around women. Dreams is about two women in the cosmopolitan fashion world who find their romantic adventures are just bitter illusions. It's a very typical Bergman film, but perhaps a little too schematic & formulaic - certainly not as good as later films of this type such as The Silence or Persona. But it's one of the better films in this box set and has an outstanding performance from Eva Dahlbeck.
The fifth and final disc is SO CLOSE TO LIFE (1958) set in a maternity ward and about 3 women's different attitudes to, and experiences of, childbirth. This film represents another big jump - into the period when Bergman's reputation and powers were at their height (made same year as Seventh Seal & Wild Strawberries!). This film was greeted as another groundbreaking masterpiece, but its reputation has declined and it is admittedly rather dated, striking more than a few false notes. I'd also say that Eva Dahlbeck & Bibi Anderson are miscast, while Ingrid Thulin already seems to be rehearsing for The Silence. Flawed but still an intense watch - on no account see this film with anyone who is pregnant!
Overall, then, this box set is pretty mixed (& not much in the way of extras, just a couple of less than insightful `interview with actors' films) but worth grabbing if you are a long time Bergman aficionado.