Friday, August 1, 2014

Eclipse Series 1: Early Bergman- Crisis (1946)

Directed By: Ingmar Bergman
Written By: Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman's directorial debut is a mess. While it’s visually appealing and poignant in parts, Bergman's screenplay makes the same mistakes as Torment: it is overly melodramatic, piles way too many story-lines on top of each other, and tackles way too many themes in its 93 minute running time.

Crisis is the story of a small town piano teacher Ingeborg, played by Dagny Lind, dealing with the arrival of her foster daughter’s mother Jenny, played by Marianne Löfgren. The 18 year old foster daughter Nelly, played by future Bergman collaborator Inga Landgré, feels limited by her quiet life in the town, so she decides to leave with her mother to the city.

Right off the bat, the film seems like it’s going to mainly deal with two potential themes: the painful process of growing up and the loss a parent must deal with when a child eventually must leave them.

Had Crisis focused on these two story-lines  it probably would have turned out to be a fine coming of age film. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for Bergman. In addition to those two main plot lines, Bergman added another about Jenny’s mysterious companion and Nelly’s lover Jack, played by a Stig Olin. While the plot line certainly is interesting due in part to Olin’s fantastically balanced performance as Jack, it still feels completely unnecessary. 

This combined with the fact that Ingeborg gets a terminal illness that is never dealt with at the end of movie and Nelly is given a romantic subplot with her roommate which inexplicably resolves itself by film’s end despite no prior development or chemistry between the actors, leads to way too many story lines occurring simultaneously and thus few of them getting adequately developed or explored. 

Nelly’s storyline fails because it doesn’t explore her point of view nearly enough to have an idea why she became disillusioned with city life. Jack’s storyline derails due to a sudden last minute character transformation that is supposed to be illuminating, but ends up being confusing due to its suddenness. The only storyline that works at all is Ingeborg’s, and even hers is too melodramatic to be taken seriously.

Yet one can’t disregard the film entirely. While a mess, the film definitely is visually appealing. While Bergman’s direction definitely is a little stagey and stiff at times due to his prior  work in play production, his visual compositions are outstanding, the climatic scene featuring a confrontation between Nelly and Jack being a standout of the entire film due to Bergman’s use of lighting and staging.

In another instance where Bergman’s play writing background works as an asset, Crisis has dialogue that is both very poignant and clever in equal measure. The scene where Nelly and Jack meet for the very first time in the local town ball is interesting in showing how the film could have been had Bergman decided to focus on Nelly’s development from an innocent girl to a cynical adult. Jack and Nelly converse about various topics varying from poetry to the town itself while sitting drunk on the shore of the lake. It’s a heartrending moment due to how it’s the first time Nelly really meets anyone or does anything interesting in the town. It’s that moment of rebellion that every teenager has had at one point or another.

Had Bergman toned down the melodrama and general bloatedness of the story, Crisis might have been a poignant coming of age drama or even an emotional tale of loss. Instead, since it tried to be much more than that, it ends up being another small step up in Bergman’s film-making journey. In this case, it can be said that less is much more indeed.

Up Next: The Lady Vanishes (1938)


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