In the spirit of "duality" of this film, this is a dual review...
A film from the current IMDb 250 whose ranking includes the #1 (i.e. 10, 21, 31)
"I think I could turn myself into you. If I made a real effort. I mean inside. You could turn yourself into me just like that. Although your soul would much be too big. It would stick out everywhere!"
It's been two weeks since I first saw this film, and I've been going back and forth with it all the while, still puzzling over it. Did I like it or not? Was this or that literal or symbolic? Should I watch it again or not? Two weeks and I probably still can't tell left from right. Yesterday, I finally gave up and watched it again. It's not everyday that I do that, rewatch a film within a short amount of time. Other films that prompted me to do that were Memento
, Mulholland Drive
, and THX-1138
. In my opinion, all meritorious cases, all times where the rewatch helped everything pull into focus. Not necessarily to understand it, but to appreciate it more.
follows Alma (Bibi Andersson), a young nurse assigned to take care of Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullman), an actress that for some reason has stopped speaking. Not finding anything wrong with her, physically or mentally, the hospital sends Vogler to a cottage under the care of Alma, where the two become closer and closer each day. This is my third Ingmar Bergman film, and if one thing in it is clear, is that the film is one of those cases where you're meant to understand, as much as you're meant to "feel" the film. I know it sounds cliché and corny, but that's how I feel about it. The emotions conveyed by the characters and the imagery is undeniable, to the point that you feel a burden, even if you can't explain *what* burden.
Through its narrative and its visuals, the film explores multiple themes like duality and individuality, public image and privacy, motherhood and gender roles, guilt and forgiveness, religion and atheism, and heck, even vampires. One can say that all those themes and symbolisms are jumbled together, and yet it all feels harmoniously cohesive. Among all those themes, the religious one was probably the one that resonated with me most. The guilt of the confession, the regrets from time long past, and the silence of "God" (Vogler) against the constant conversation/prayer of the "believer" (Alma). How Alma fights against that "silence" and how she craves to hear something from "God", even if it's "nothing", and how the reassurances (or lack of) she gets from that make her change.
Most of the weight of how those themes are transmitted falls on the talent of both Andersson and Ullman, who are pretty much alone through all the film. Ullman has the challenge of performing without talking and she manages to convey that mystery within Vogler. But to me, the real treat was Andersson who, IMO, carries the film with her performance. Her portrayal of Alma goes through a rollercoaster of emotions: naivete, idealism, insecurity, fear, trust, betrayal, bitterness, regret, guilt, love, confidence, acceptance... it is all there. Don't ask me how, but it is, and it's pretty impressive.
Bergman makes a point to signal these abrupt changes in the story and the behavior of the characters; from its bizarre opening montage to a particular "split" towards the middle of the film, while still having it flow seamlessly from one act to the other, from one theme to the other. It also helps that he uses a variety of filming techniques to achieve this unique and weird macro/micro mixture of styles: from long shots to close ups, from tracking shots to fixed shots. It's a beautifully shot film with great cinematography and use of light/shadows. Sound seems to also play a key role to everything, as Bergman uses it in an intrusive yet subtle way (what does the constant dripping means?).
I could probably write more paragraphs about each theme and I probably wouldn't be any closer to understanding much of what's happening. Still puzzled over it, still going back and forth, still wondering what these or that meant. After two watches, it feels like I walk away with nothing, and yet a part of me feels changed.