(21/02/08) – Made between 1961 and 1963, Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1962) and The Silence (1963) are grouped together as the director’s ‘faith trilogy’, although only Winter Light directly deals with the concept of ‘faith in god’ and is arguably the most powerful of the films in the triad. The other two deal with more universal themes such a despair and the loss of one’s soul, themes which are also spiritual and universal.
Through a Glass Darkly features Harriet Andersson as Karin, a schizophrenic wife, sister and daughter – Berman places her right in the middle of a triangle of male relations. Set on the island of Farö, where Bergan resided until his death last year, the film starts like a summer holiday picture but Karin’s mental condition soon enough takes over the narrative. It’s a painful film to watch, but it’s very honest and clear about its premise, which is simply to show what happens when a person breaks down, both to themselves and those around them. Bergman, as usual, is very kind to women as he understood their role within the rules of social dynamics like few directors did, or will ever do. Andersson is superb as the troubled heroine, reigning absolute in this single-location film with intense moments and haunting set pieces. The film won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar® in 1962.
Winter Light is the most perfectly realised of the films included in this package. Perfect in its simplicity and straightforward narrative, it nonetheless makes a devastating picture of the impact that the loss of faith, which the film connects with the inability to love, has on a priest’s soul. Played with great dignity by Bergman regular Gunnar Bjornstrand, his priest is asked by the wife of a depressed man (Max Von Sydow) to give him advice. But the priest himself is going through a crisis of faith while also rejecting the love offered to him by the local school mistress played with mesmerising intensity and humbleness by Ingrid Thulin. Thulin is an example of how Bergman had a knack for finding the perfect physical type for a role. The scene when she says the content of a letter facing the camera contains all the meaning of the film and radiates it to the rest of the story. It’s a powerful moment of emotional realism and sincerity. The end offers no solutions but, as the priest says to the afflicted man, life must go on.
The Silence is the most visually experimental of these films, showing a Bergman flirting with the visual grammar and tone of the Novelle Vague style that was emerging then. it’s also the only film here that includes a sense of movement, a journey, although it quickly settles in a place that remains unidentified, except as a ‘foreign land’. The film shows the end of a relationship between two sisters, both of whom are disintegrating emotionally. Ingrid Thulin does a repeat of her role in Winter Light as the longing, cultivated counterpart to a scornful object of desire. At points, she looks like a proto-model of the women that will populate the films of Fassbinder a decade later. Her younger sister is played by Gunnel Lindblom, a somewhat vulgar type who brings a stranger back to the hotel for sex as a way to torment her sister. The film had trouble with the censors at the time because of its representation of assertive female sexual behaviour and it does look ahead of its time in this respect. But despite this, it doesn’t have the same resonance and organic unity as the two other ones, despite some great sequences inside the hotel and great performances.
The DVD extras include brief introductions by Marie Nyreröd, including short sequences of a humourous Bergman instructing the projectionist to ‘start’ the film. The boxset also includes a collection of essays on the director by Philip Strick.
Ingmar Bergman’s The Faith Trilogy is out now on Tartan. Please follow the link provided to buy a copy and support Kamera by doing so.