During a train journey from Switzerland to Sweden, through war-torn Germany, a married couple are intent on tearing each other apart. Their bitterness is not only the result of his love affairs, but also of her inability to conceive, due to the effects of a previous abortion. Meanwhile, the husband's former mistress, a widow called Viola, wanders through the city at night. Having been cruelly diagnosed as insane by her psychiatrist, a man who tried but failed to seduce her, she is frightened and alone. By chance, she meets a girl she once knew and goes to her flat. It transpires that the girl is a lesbian and Viola once again becomes the focus of an unforeseen seduction. Intricate and intense, this powerful psychological drama is based on four short stories by Birgit Tengroth (who also plays Viola in the film) and stands as a true Bergman classic. Upon its original release in 1949, the lesbian relationship was cut by censors, but is presented here in a fully uncut version.
I've been enjoying very much going chronologically through the Bergman back catalogue(thanks to Cinema Paradiso). He's one of those directors who is probably incapable of making a bad film, and all his early works have a lot in them to recommended. But this is perhaps the first one that feels really profound. It's a meditation on unhappiness, alcoholism and mental health problems. He portrays broken characters who are desperate to discover pathways to a happier existence but are unable to follow them when they appear. As you would expect from Bergman, there are many sequences that reward a closer look. A rewatch uncovers the depth and richness of the world he has created. This may be where his filmmaking crosses the line into visual poetry. Very moving and yet the viewer almost feels like a passive victim to what is being shown. Highly recommended.
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