HUMILIATION, guilt, psychic imprisonment, schizophrenia, cosmic alienation, cruelty, suicide, cancer of the soul: these are not unlikely concerns for a new film by Ingmar Bergman. Through a Glass Darkly, The Silence, Persona, and Hour of the Wolf have all developed these themes, groped for them, probed them, pried them loose from their existential moorings, and held them up for all to see against the ambiguous Scandinavian sky in their full mystery and complexity. The Passion of Anna, however, attempts no exploration into these. It presents them, parades them, but asks no questions, suggests no solutions.
It is also a passion-play, as Bergman's intended title implies, in which psychological stereotypes act out their psychoses in vain hopes of redemption. The director concentrates on universal patterns of interaction, and thus requires only a brief background sketch for each character: Andreas Winkleman has retreated into an emotional state of non-expression after being abandoned by his wife and lives alone in a small cottage, "a prison as much as a refuge." He soon meets Anna Fromm, a widow who has fantasized her late marriage into a monolith of Truth and Happiness, despite strong indications that she actually murdered her husband and child in a car crash. She has recovered and lives near Andreas with Eva and Elis Vergerus (Bibi Andersson and Erland Josephson). Eva has always felt rootless, meaningless, and useless, has remained childless. Her husband, on the other hand, represents a significant alternative to these varieties of despair by maintaining a brutal cynicism. The highly successful architect finds security in his belief in nothingness, considering it "hypocritical" to be moved by the sufferings of others. He spends his leisure time photographing people, pursuing a cool, Skinnerian interest in typing their external behavior.
Never has Bergman created in any other film a more clinical, reductive, spiritless, or hollow prototype of himself as artist, or more aptly, as architect of the themes of human torment. Elis looks and even dresses in a way that resembles the director and shares as his defense against the world the same vast resignation and distancing. Bergman devises his own special "alienation effect," with the actors speaking to the camera about what sort of person each character "is," as if they are universal givens. Whereas Brecht and Godard use the technique of actors speaking as themselves to remind the audience that it witnesses art as distinguished from life, Bergman attempts the opposite effect-to minimize the consideration of his stereotypes as isolated individuals, and to imply a higher reality, that the spectacle goes beyond mere portrayal, that his vision is life objectified.
THE "VISION" itself far surpasses the facile "pessimism" often ascribed to Bergman. Shame initiated his latest phase as a director, in which he made obvious his disinterest in all values and means of transcendence due to the frailty of human substance beside the brutality that dominates modern life. he never identifies the political factions in the civil war in Shame, for they are all the same, their line: violence. There can be no salvation, either, not even for artists like Jan Rosenberg and his wife, who are reduced to beasts by the end of the film, no longer higher beings worthy of spiritual appraisal, but interesting only for their patterns of behavior.
Bergman regards in the same fashion the characters of The Passion of Anna (a really absurd title when you think about it or repeat it very much) and consequently keeps the details of their lives as vague as possible. Almost nothing significant happens on the screen; everything is deliberately consigned to the oft-contradicted past or is omitted and simply brushed over by the narrator (as when and why and how Anna and Andreas start living together, for instance). Plot movement plays such a minimal role that the film seems almost a sequence of still photographs on the varieties of physical and psychic contortions: either monotonous guilt and anxiety or momentary flare-ups of violence.
The camera pans slowly, surely, relentlessly, and the cutting takes up the same rhythm, creating a ponderous, significant atmosphere well-suited to clinical analysis. Adding to this quality of abstraction, the color provides one of the few pleasant aspects of the film. (Bergman's only other try at color proved dismal in All These Women , an unsuccessful sex comedy, and he has avoided it until now.) Cool gold and turquoise pastels predominate in the soft, grainy texture of Sven Nykvist's photography. Bergman wanted a lyrical-but-resigned-to-suffering flavor and certainly got it.
The color's only failing is that it reminds you of the Vision-violence and guilt unmediated by love, passion and anguish without redemption. Von Sydow plays the part of a modern Everyman, as the narrator explains at the end, while the camera soft-focuses out on his writhing body. "This time he was called Andreas Winkelman." And the whole show hits you with so much class-it's so beautiful -that you've just got to buy it. Don't you?
PEOPLE like Godard say no. Not only does the film push a limited and pretty disgusting view of man, but a weighty style forces it on you, oppresses you with it, so that you leave the theatre with sad masses knowing the Truth as dictated by Ingmar Bergman. Godard's own outrageousness, by comparison, keeps you alive and aware to the cinematic image as only "the reality of the reflection" and maintains a constant dialectic that makes his films argument rather than indoctrination. The Passion of Anna will admit no criticism into your experience of it. You must either embrace the Vision as "the reflection of reality," as Bergman intends, or else recoil from it and malign its director.