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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
The Silence [DVD] [1963]
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 May 2017
Two phrases which could, no doubt, be used to describe much of Ingmar Bergman’s (particularly 'mid to late’ period) cinema and certainly a pairing that applies to this 1963 work, exploring the impassioned, mercurial sibling relationship between Ingrid Thulin’s seriously ill translator, Ester, and Gunnel Lindblom’s brazen, carefree, Anna. Thus, as well as signifying one of the film’s key themes, that of communication breakdown (both personal and that between cultures), the early scene where Anna’s 10-year old son, Johan (played by Jörgen Lindström), on espying a train carriage sign, asks his aunt (Ester) 'What does that mean?’ is a pointer to likely audience reaction to much of Bergman’s frequently oblique narrative here. Repeat viewings, however, do help to crystallise themes – specifics around (the aforementioned) communication, sexuality, love, maternity and (absence of) spirituality, all within the wider context of the complexity of the human condition – and presented in a visually stunning, symbolically rich and emotionally engaging way. But, suffice to say, there are no easy answers and it’s a film which continually provokes thought and is likely to elicit a range of opinions.

Bergman’s chosen settings – a train, then hotel room in an unnamed, but seemingly Central European, war-torn country, peopled by (mostly) zombie-like inhabitants speaking an undeciphered language – plays up the film’s (difficulties with) communication theme, as does the increasingly fractious sister relationship (the latter inspired by Anna’s heterosexual desires in the wake of what was, seemingly, a previously incestuous association). The increasing separation felt by the sisters is symbolically (and skilfully) represented by Bergman’s repeated depiction of doors and doorways, whilst the film’s communication barriers are memorably alleviated by the repeated featuring of the music of J S Bach. Set against the film’s depiction of sisterhood is its take on motherhood. Here, there is genuine affection for Johan, interestingly though, more pronounced in his aunt than mother. Johan acts as the film’s chief observer (or 'narrator’ or perhaps even 'film director’), patrolling the hotel corridors and lightening the mood via his encounters with a theatrical troupe of dwarves. Lindström is excellent in his depiction, mixing innocent, playful, bored, curious, loving and confused.

Each of Lindblom and Thulin are outstanding here, but particularly the latter. Ester’s mental and physical deterioration is starkly portrayed, exacerbated by Anna’s libidinous behaviour – particularly memorable are Ester’s wide-eyed reactions to each of her sister’s indiscretions. Any hint of glamour in Thulin is thoroughly washed away until the actress (for me) bears an uncanny resemblance to later Bergman regular, Liv Ullmann – (perhaps) coincidentally the co-star of the Bergman film, Persona (made three years later), to which The Silence bears a number of similarities. The reading of Ester and Anna as being potentially two halves of one personality (as in the later film) is certainly invited, plus the appearance of Lindström in the later film and, here, the familiar juxtaposition of the sisters’ profiles all reinforce the resemblances. The other particularly notable feature of The Silence is its sexual explicitness, which, ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, turned it into a (rare) box office hit for Bergman.

In the end, the film’s predominantly despairing, pessimistic trajectory – the breakdown of a seemingly once loving relationship against a backdrop of widespread, anonymous military conflict – is lent a glimmer of forward-looking hope via Johan’s thoughtful curiosity. In any event, the interpretive challenge presented by Bergman’s film is one that is well worth taking up, I would suggest, as it can lead, ultimately, to rich rewards.
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on 17 April 2006
This film is the final part of Bergman's trilogy exploring the nature and existence of God. He described the trilogy as moving from "certainty achieved" (in Through A Glass Darkly), to "certainty unmasked" (in Winter Light) and finally to God's silence "the negative impression" in this film. After making Tystnaden, Bergman "cast off" (as he put it) his faith in God, and would never again explore these themes in his films. Tystnaden is a dark, intense, slow-moving film with very little dialogue. Two sisters, together with a small boy, the son of one of the sisters and nephew of the other, are on holiday in a foreign country. The two sisters have obviously had a long-term incestuous relationship. One of the sisters is pulling away from this relationship, and having casual encounters with men she meets in this foreign country. The other is ill - and, in fact, dying. The boy is angelic in his demenour and character and is both caught between and ignored by the two women. He wanders round the hotel on his own, and meets some interesting characters. This is a fascinating, dark, subtle, difficult and rewarding film.
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on 29 November 2001
The Silence concludes the trilogy of films that includes Through A Glass Darkly and Winter Light. Bergman shows us two sisters, Ester and Anna (with her son, Johan), moving to a strange foreign city. With a loose narrative structure, the scenes have an intensely claustrophobic feeling about them, while the town (we don't know where it is or what language is spoken) has a distinctly Kafka-esque feel. Overall, it is an extremely dark film which views with crushing pessimism human sexuality and desire. The most sensual of the trilogy, it is dreamlike and fluid in its camera work, and, as usual with Bergman films, it contains nothing less than stunning performances. In short: a bleakly-rendered masterpiece.
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on 27 August 2008
The Silence opens with a young boy asking his mother about a sign written in a foreign language. `What does this mean?' To which his mother replies that she doesn't know. And in those opening seven minutes, as the boy, his mother and his aunt travel on a train to an unknown country, Bergman expertly sets up that strange experience of being in a distant world, where everything around you is unknown and inexplicable.

The boy, Johan, is then placed outside when his aunt Ester starts to cough and choke and the door is closed on him. His curiosity takes him along the corridor for a series of brief glimpses into the other carriages, before he looks out of the window at the passing scenery and in a kind of dreamlike hallucination sees a series of tanks driving across the landscape.

The film takes place in a foreign called Timoka. There is a tremendous heat throughout the day, which lingers long into the night. The country appears to be either occupied or at war as suggested by the presence of the tanks, which add further weight to Bergman's battlefield. The elder sister, Ester is ill and takes to her bed, whereas the younger sister, Anna tries to cool down by taking a bath. This arouses the interest of her son and she asks him to wash her back.

Bergman's severity charges the film with such overt eroticism that almost everything becomes a reference to some latent sexuality, such as the boy puffing up his cheeks to make a faint screeching noise and then lying down in the soft cushions and raising his hand up into the air like a snake.

Then in a series of highly structured encounters, Bergman explores the degree of control each character has over another. These range from the comical meeting between the boy and the dwarves in one of the hotel rooms, to the formal encounter between Ester and the porter, to the sexual encounter between Anna and the couple having sex in the theatre.

Ester's intellectual ambition is one form of control, but she is scared by her sister's sensuality - the way Anna sleeps naked and picks up guys at a restaurant, but on the other hand, the only way Anna can exert some form of control is through these sexual encounters. She is also very much aware of the power she has over her sister and there is an almost incestuous attraction as Ester watches Anna undress to take another bath after dirtying her dress outside.

The boy acts as a sort of pivot between the two conflicting women. His innocent amusement guides him through the hotel, from rebellion (pissing in the corridor) to mischief (hiding the porter's photographs) to curiosity (as he watches his mother go into a room with the waiter, nonchalantly telling Ester about it later without any indication of emotion). He is not fazed by his encounter with a traveling troupe of dwarves as they dress him, he doesn't mock them or question them, but simply accepts them. In one of the few humorous moments in the film, the dwarves return from their show and pass Anna who is crying in the corridor. She stares at them in confusion and in a rather absurd, Bunuel-esque manner, each of them bows his head courteously to acknowledge her.

Human tenderness will always be coupled with human bitterness and although Johan's actions appear naïve at first, on closer inspection, it becomes apparent that even he has the capability to oscillate from one extreme to the other, liberty to repression, love to hate etc. etc. For the two women, neither of them are wholly satisfied with the life they are leading, each wanting perhaps a part of the others, but only becoming frustrated when they cannot have it and resorting to complex mind games in an attempt to dominate the other and exert some form of control.

All three display a desire to understand and their attempts (with the exception of Johan) inevitably lead to dispute. The two sisters have an especially strong desire to understand one another, except there are so many things which get in the way to prevent them. Perhaps that's the point that Bergman's trying to make - that these desires ultimately lead only to destruction... In the evening of the first day, Ester is listening to Johann Sebastian Bach to the radio while Anna dries herself in the open-doored bathroom. A few moments later the porter brings in tea. He recognises the music's composer which he mentions in passing and shuffles out of the room. This brief display of knowledge, prompts Anna, who we presume didn't know who the composer was, to spitefully relate an earlier encounter with a waiter to Ester, because she knows that is something, unlike Bach, her sister will not be able to understand.

Bergman's exploration of the unconscious was extremely shocking at the time and people reacted so strongly that the director even received death threats and worst of all a feces-smeared piece of toilet paper. But within the starkness of Bergman's images (photographed by the excellent Sven Nykvist) there is at its heart one of the most beautiful pieces of cinema of all time. The whole thing unravels like a dream and it is certainly one of the best, if not the best of Bergman's so-called Chamber pieces.
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on 21 April 2012
A film I definitely need to see again. My first reaction was the same
I've had to many of Bergman's films: deep admiration, but not personal
adoration. In this case, the more extreme, self-conscious surreal style
threw me off. This feels more like something by Bunuel, Fellini,
Beckett or Lynch (all of whom I love).

Two sisters, polar opposites - one sensual, emotional, promiscuous,
self-centered, representing the body, the id. The other, intellectual,
sickly, sexually isolated stands for mind or super ego. The child of
one, perhaps 8 years old, is accompanying them on a train trip, heading
home. We never know where they're coming from or why they went. They
stop in a city clearly preparing for war, or under some sort of
military occupation. They stay in a baroque but almost abandoned hotel,
unable to communicate with anyone, since this unknown land has a
language none of them speak.

While one sister picks up lovers, and the other languishes ill in bed,
the boy explores the creepy hotel (The Shining was definitely
influenced by this), making friends with a circus full of dwarf
performers, who, pointedly, are the most normal people in the film.

All of this is done with very little dialogue (to the point where the
effect felt forced and self- conscious at times). I had a hard time
clicking in while watching the film, but images and moments have really
stuck with me, and reading why so many intelligent critics think it's a
masterpiece makes me very open to re-visiting this extremely open
ended, stylized film.
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VINE VOICEon 19 November 2000
This is the third film in Bergman's so-called "Faith" trilogy (with Through a Glass Darkly and WInter Light) and looks the best-realised of the three.
Two sisters spend time in a seedy hotel in an unspecified central European city while an unspecified military event takes place around them. Tempers fray as the frictions between the sisters come to the surface. One sister is sick and apparently a lesbian, the other is a single mother although sexually promiscuous.
Between them is her son, who goes on explorations around the hotel, encountering faintly bizarre characters.
The film is outrageously sensual and sexual, worryingly enough between the boy and his mother as much as anyone else, and also claustraphobic and sickening, as the ill sister's ailment takes hold. A foreigness takes hold of the centre of the film, with the sisters unable to communicate with each other and unable to speak the native tongue, thus adding to the claustraphobia.
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VINE VOICEon 22 May 2009
The Silence is the last film in the 1st trilogy.After the austerity of the 2 previous films,Bergman lets rip with a cinematic sensuality of Felliniesque proportions. We are in a godless world where people don't communicate and a strange language is spoken. Sisters,Anna and Ester,have an incestuous relationship.Anna incarnates sensuality, Ester is spiritual and possessive, and is a translator. She is also very ill.On a train ride back to Sweden, they stop in a strange town, Timoka, due to Ester's need to rest somewhere.In a seedy, opulent hotel they rent two rooms and a bathroom.The film is done like a chamber piece,Bach playing in the background. The heart of the movie resides in Johan,the young son of Anna.He is a revelation. The atmosphere is like a cross between The Fallen Idol and The Shining. Johan wanders the vast corridors interacting with waiters,dwarfs,furniture,staircases andshadows. He is often left by his mother to wander.He seems the only,truly curious,exploratory,communicative intelligence, and offers a kind of hope,connecting with everybody and the wider world.

Ester dreads not getting home and dying alone.She drinks alcohol and smokes cigarettes,often lying in bed or up typing, when not spying on her sister. Anna abandons her son and Ester, to go out and pick up a bar man in town, to escape from her clinging lesbian sister.She teases her with graphic details of her love making. They often argue with each other. Anna smoulders throughout like Anna Mangani.The lighting is impressive with a clever use of darkness and light.There are many close-ups and full head shots.This world has no transcendence only a clashing of egos.People make their own heaven and hell.The language cannot be understood.There are moments of tenderness between the child and the individual sisters, between the child and the hotel workers and guests, and between the elderly waiter and Ester.Johan and Ester grow closer in the absence of his mother. Johan has a scene with a troupe of dwarfs in which they dress him like a girl. He also puts on a display of his puppets for Ester, where they speak a funny language when they get frightened. Ester asks Anna not to go back out, but she does, taking the stranger back to a room in the hotel, to make love in.While this is all going on Johan spies a tank going through the streets from the hotel window, at night.Planes are also heard to fly overhead.The people look robotic and a horse's ribs are showing as it drags a cart.Ester is too ill to travel home and asks her sister to leave with Johan, without her.Anna cannot understand why her sister is not dead,what has she to live for?However, on the train home with his mother, Johan pulls out a letter from his auntie, where she has translated a few chosen words of the unknown language.Ester lives on through the child.In the absence of God we have each other. The film must have been ahead of its time, in it's full and frank physicality.Thulin and Lindbloom are remarkable.
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on 25 May 2013
The Silence (Ingmar Bergman, 1963, 96')

First, eminent critic Bosley Crowther (excerpt): The grapplings of Ingmar Bergman with loneliness, lust, and loss of faith, so weirdly displayed in his last two pictures, Through a Glass Darkly, and Winter Light, have plunged him at last into a tangle of brooding confu-sions and despairs in his latest film, which, he tells us, completes a trilogy begun with those previous films. It is titled appropriately The Silence. What Mr Bergman is trying to tell us is something each individual viewer must fathom and discover for himself. Or, indeed, one may reasonably question whether he is trying to give us anything save a grim philosophical observation of a tragic aspect of life. end quote

Two sisters--the sickly, intellectual Ester (Ingrid Thulin) and the sensual, pragmatic Anna (Gunnel Lindblom)--travel by train with Anna's young son Johan (Jorgen Lindstrom) to a foreign country seemingly on the brink of war. Attempting to cope with their alien sur-roundings, the sisters resort to their personal vices while vying for Johan's affection, and in so doing sabotage any hope for a future together. Regarded as one of the most sexually provocative films of its day, Ingmar Bergman's The Silence offers a brilliant, disturbing vision of emotional isolation in a suffocating spiritual void. The collection

It is difficult to do justice to Bergman's The silence (1963). Like many films before and after it, it started with a (sex) scandal, censorship, but then repeal of censorship in many countries (this time with the help of the churches) - not untypical start of many films' careers and the gradual beginning of the end of European censorship. How much remains of the movie's "substance" if censorship had not been an issue - by today's standards, it would not - is near impossible to answer. I went to see it because I had seen all Bergman's, and like "tout Bâle", in Lörrach, just over the border in Germany. I did not like it much, for the same reason the churches liked it: Too much God as an answer to existential (-ist?) problems.

As were alienation, the atomic bomb, cancer, sexual gratification with or without guilt feeling, war; in short, a typical 1960's list, slightly more Lutheran Nordic protestant in orientation than catholic. The movie also lacks any humour, which is an alien concept. Altogether, it leaves, little room for people viewing the world differently, take it (or leave it and be damned). So I left it - afterwards, and was more careful with Bergman in the future. Though being x rated in America is still bad for business, censorship is now largely extinct - except for the Asian mad race on all nudity, kissing, and touching (it goes by degrees), but rarely ever against violence (for which there is unlimited demand).

Ideological aspects in Asia hardly ever occur as audiences are strictly "no politics". Films like The silence would have no mass market, literally anywhere. How do I rate it today, and why? An excellent movie, much in the Scandinavian tradition of Strindberg and Ibsen, addressing existential problems. Neither pornographic nor overly God-seeking. Stands up well as a movie once all the historical scandal and censorship ballast is off. Excellent script (Bergman), acting, camera, directing - all! Perhaps the best Bergman, with Wild Strawberries ex aequo, third place Smiles of a mid-summer night, a delightful comedy.

241 - The Silence (Ingmar Bergman, 1963, 96')- A solid piece - 25/5/2013
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on 14 November 2011
I am not going to comment on the actual film itself. Other reviewers have done a wonderful job of that and I do not have anything to add in that department.
I am however going to comment on the way that the film has been adapted for an English-speaking audience by Tartan.
The English subtitles on this DVD are abysmal! I speak and understand Swedish which is the only reason I was able to understand the dialogue.
When the makers of this DVD have actually bothered to translate the dialogue in this film, they have done a very poor job. The subtitles only give you a very rough idea of what the characters are saying and one misses a lot of the nuances. It was quite confusing for me as a Swedish speaker because when I saw the subtitles I was expecting them to say one thing but what they actually said was very different. Worse still, whole lines of dialogue are not subtitled. A character will start to speak and nothing will appear on the screen. Either that or half a sentence will be subtitled and then the subtitles will stop abruptly. I am not sure if there was something wrong with my DVD or if all of the DVD versions of The Silence put out by Tartan have this fault. It's bewildering to think that a well known company like Tartan would put out such a sloppy translation of the film's dialogue. It just looked so unprofessional.
It has to be said that dialogue plays a fairly minor role in this film and it is possible to appreciate the film without paying that much attention to what the characters are saying.
However, this fact should not have been used as an excuse for a sloppy and ineffective translation of the film's dialogue.
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the uncomfortable subject in this case is incest between two grown sisters, where one of them is trying to get out of the psychological clutches of the other. because of the amount of sexuality displayed this should have been rated 18 instead of 15.

the sister trying to escape the unhealthy relationship leaves her to die alone with foreigners in the city in which they are staying. because of this, you have a conflict of emotions because of the perversity yet you feel sorry for the dying sister since, ironically, even though she is an interpreter, she doesn't understand the language of the country.

I like this film rather than love it as I think the sex was a bit gratuitist, but I think bergman was brave to tackle such an awkward subject so deftly. hats off again to the master.
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