Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Eclipse Series 1: Early Bergman- Thirst (1949)

Directed By: Ingmar Bergman
Written By: Herbert Grevenius
Torment, Crisis, and Port of Call, for as much potential and ambition they held, were ultimately disappointing starts for writer and director Ingmar Bergman's illustrious career in filmmaking. The first two films being unwieldy and melodramatic from a narrative standpoint and visually stiff, and the third, while visually stunning due to the work of cinematographer Gunnar Fischer and the most  competent of the three films, suffered from issues brought on by both its structure and character development.

Bergman's seventh directorial effort, Thirst, is unlike any previous Bergman film, utilizing a non-linear, flashback heavy structure that really serves to challenge the audience. The film follows troubled couple, Rut (Eva Henning) and her husband Bertil (Birgir Malmsten), as they travel across post-WWII Europe, all while simultaneously recalling the past events that brought them their, a past that involves affairs, infertility, and abuse. Additionally, that storyline parallels that of a mentally disturbed widow Viola (Birgit Tengroth), as she deals with her own issues, which involve a sadistic psychiatrist and depression.

Yet interestingly, Thirst is so much like Bergman's previous films. His trademark dark subject matter is all here intact: the unfortunate characters of Thirst dealing with such wonderful issues like abortion, murder, infidelity, depression, abuse, suicide, sadism, and death. Bergman's treatment of youth culture is as empathetic as its always been, and his tendency to focus on a romantic relationship to provide a narrative framework for the entire film is also done here.

In short, it feels like Bergman finally has figured out what he wants his films to be about, all while finding a structure that he feels most comfortable in. Gone is the superficial melodrama of Torment and Crisis, the tense high stakes psychological drama Bergman excels at taking its place.

What's more is that Bergman is at top form as director here. A tense sequence (Which can be seen on the clip below. SPOILER ALERT!!!), which features Bergman at his most horrific, shows just how skilled he is at utilizing lighting, editing, direction, and sound to achieve such simultaneously hypnotizing and chilling effects.

It certainly isn't a perfect film. The narrative is perhaps a bit too sprawling at times, moments of confusion over where I was in the film's timeline being all too frequent when the film first starts. Additionally, the film's attitudes on sexuality, while certainly progressive at the time, haven't aged nearly as well as they could have, a scene featuring a cliched "devious lesbian" character (I use the word "devious" because her hair conveniently forms horns on her head in one shot.) being an eye-rolling example of this. Yet one can be forgiven for cutting the film some slack considering that it was produced over 60 years ago.

Thirst is the first great film of the Bergman filmography. It's a work that ambitiously treads through a non-linear storyline, all while dealing with harsh thematic subjects effectively while also setting up some skillfully directed sequences. It certainly won't be the best film of his filmography, yet that speaks more of whats to come rather than what's here.

Rating: 4/5
Next: The 400 Blows (1959)


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