Eva was directed by Gustaf Molander, a well-known director in Sweden in the first half of the 20th century. He had been directing films since the silent years, with Bodakungen (The Tyranny of Hate, 1920) being the first. Molander’s films often tended to be sophisticated comedies set in an upper-class environment with wealthy aristocratic influences or aspirations. His most famous films were Intermezzo (Interlude, 1936), where he was responsible for casting a then unknown Ingrid Bergman, and Ordet (The Word) from 1943.
Ingmar Bergman had a strict Lutheran upbringing (his father was a pastor) and this was to have a profound effect on his lifetime’s work. Practically ‘escaping’ from his background and into the University of Stockholm in 1937 to study literature and art, Bergman found solace in the theatre. He directed a successful stage production of Macbeth in 1940 and for two years was assistant director at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, writing and producing plays. The Swedish Film Industry noticed this talent and tempted him into screen writing in 1942. Inevitably, film direction would follow, although Bergman would carry on working in the theatre throughout his career.
Bergman wrote the story Trumpetaren och Vår Herre (The Trumpet Player and Our Lord) which was adapted into the Eva screenplay with Gustaf Molander. They had first worked together the previous year on the Molander-directed Kvinna utan ansikte (Woman Without a Face, 1947) where they also co-wrote the screenplay. Bergman was prolific at this time – story writing, script writing, writing and directing for the theatre, and for film. In many ways, Eva underlines this activity, ideas and influence. Sure, Molander is the director, but we can see many of the Bergman themes emerging.
Eva begins with the character of Bo visiting his home after two years Navy service. Sweden being neutral meant Bo hadn’t seen the horrors of war, but still has his own demons to contend with. On the train journey home, he starts to reminisce about a time of innocence that was lost forever. He recalls that, at 12 years old, he was beginning to rebel and, in flashback, we see the young Bo as a very emotional, unstable child who demanded more attention from his parents. He explains this to a 10-year-old blind girl and says, "All grown-ups are mean." What happens to his new friend becomes a pivotal moment in the film and a permanent scar in Bo’s life.
In the present, Bo is living on a remote island with his beautiful young wife Eva. However, after a death in the family, Bo starts to believe that he is a catalyst of death and he begins to worry for Eva. This is an important early indicator of the influence of agnosticism drawn from Bergman’s own life in his films. Eva, who is pregnant with Bo’s child, reacts pertinently to his fatalism, "God has abandoned mankind. I think God is dead." When Eva goes into Labour, Bo takes her back to the mainland and gets a vision of the blind girl from his past. The waves of the sea are quite violent and draw on the forces of nature, or perhaps alluding to the devil in this battle between good and evil.
The film is not without minor flaws, though not to its detriment. I feel Bergman’s early theatrical experiences possibly carried over into the screenplay, with its four-act structure. This could almost have been four separate short films, the train journey inserted to link the stories and add seamlessness, with occasional episodic sequences. There also seems to be a guiding light that profoundly takes over the characters thoughts, particularly the young Bo who appears as an enlightened adult in a child’s body, Eva after witnessing a dead body, and Bo at the end of the film, accepting that transcendental forces are governing us.
Eva, though ultimately a more optimistic interpretation on life and death, still portrays innocence lost and reaching out to a higher ground for salvation. Bergman continued theme to a more darker effect in Det Sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal, 1957), Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring, 1960), and the trilogy of man’s relationship with god in the films Såsom i en spegel (Through a Glass Darkly, 1961), Nattvardsgästerna (Winter Light, 1963) and Tystnaden (The Silence, 1963).
The tenuous Ingrid Bergman connection continues in the Höstsonaten (Autumn Sonata, 1978) trailer, also included here, as does Liv Ullmann who also appears in the atmospheric trailer for Persona (1966). Bergman’s muses were called ‘Stars’, and female centricity was never far away in his films. Eva’s DVD release was on the same day as Kvinnors väntan (Waiting Women, 1952), another early Bergman-directed film, set in a summer cottage and concerned with conflicts in interpersonal relationships.