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Tag Archives: Swedish Cinema

Musik i mörker (Jan. 17, 1948)

After Ingmar Bergman’s last movie, Skepp till India land (A Ship to India) (1947), I was expecting more of the dismal same from this one.

Skepp till India land is a bleak, claustrophobic tale of a miserable family, so when I sat down to watch Musik i mörker (Music in Darkness), which is about a blind musician, I was prepared for something even glummer.

Surprisingly, Musik i mörker is a romantic and even sometimes whimsical film. Birger Malmsten, who played the bitter, hunchbacked son in Skepp till India land, here plays a sweeter, more likable character.

Musik i mörker is based on the novel by Dagmar Edqvist, and she and Bergman collaborated on the screenplay. Malmsten plays Bengt Vyldeke, a young musician who is blinded during his military training (when he attempts to save a little dog that runs out onto a firing range, of all things).

Bergman visually represents Bengt’s initial shock and the blindness that results from his accident in a bizarre dream sequence, shown in the still below:

That’s about as extravagant as Bergman gets in Musik i mörker, but the entire film is pleasingly shot. The lighting is especially good, and beautifully complements the fresh-faced beauty of Mai Zetterling.

Zetterling plays Ingrid, a lower-class servant girl who works for Bengt’s family. She cares for him after he loses his sight, but he is caught in a spiral of self-pity, and eventually he offends her deeply enough to drive her away.

In his second autobiography, Images: My Life in Film (1990), Bergman wrote of making Musik i mörker, “My only memory of the filming is that I kept thinking: Make sure there are no tedious parts. Keep it entertaining. That was my only ambition.”

I think he succeeded. The events of the film are small and intimate, but they move along at a nice clip. Bengt takes a job playing piano in a saloon, he’s cheated by someone he trusts, and he tries to make Ingrid a part of his life again. Meanwhile, Ingrid develops a relationship with a young intellectual named Ebbe (Bengt Eklund) and resists Bengt’s advances when he reenters her life.

Musik i mörker still shows Bergman developing as a director. It’s not a towering cinematic achievement like some of his later films, but it’s a satisfying picture full of gentle romance and bittersweet moments.

Skepp till India land (Sept. 22, 1947)

Ingmar Bergman’s third time in the director’s chair, Skepp till India land (A Ship to India), was released in Sweden in September 1947 and was shown at the 2nd Cannes Film Festival around the same time.

It was the first Bergman film to be shown in the United States, where it was released in 1949 as Frustration.

Frustration isn’t a bad title. It is a film about angry, trapped, and frustrated people, after all. But A Ship to India is such a beautifully understated title, and it has a touch of irony. It evokes exoticism and adventure, but for most of the film, the characters are stifled and miserable, and trapped in one dreary place.

The film, which is based on a play by Martin Söderhjelm, begins with a handsome young sea captain named Johannes Blom (Birger Malmsten) returning to Sweden after being away for eight years. He learns from an old friend, Sally (Gertrud Fridh), that his father died of pneumonia while he was away, but he seems strangely unmoved by the news. Sally has fallen on hard times, and seeing her upsets Johannes.

He walks down to the beach and falls asleep on the rocks, remembering his earlier life.

He was born with a hump on his back and his father beat him mercilessly when he was a child. His father, Alexander Blom (Holger Löwenadler), was the captain of a salvage vessel, and lived on it with his crew, as well as his son Johannes and his wife Alice (Anna Lindahl). Capt. Blom was an alcoholic who would disappear for days at a time, which threatened his salvage operation. With his crew doing nothing while he was away, the wreck they were working on was in danger of sinking forever.

The tensions simmering below the surface bubbled over when Capt. Blom brought his mistress, Sally, to live with him on the salvage ship.

Capt. Blom is one of the nastiest, most despicable film characters I’ve seen in a long time. The worst thing about him is that he never comes off as a monster. His cruelty to his wife and son is believable, and we see just enough of his internal life to understand him without ever sympathizing him. It helps that Löwenadler is a really fantastic actor.

Like Bergman’s first film, Kris (Crisis) (1946), Skepp till India land shows flashes of brilliance, but it’s not as masterful as a lot of his later work. Birger Malmsten, who plays Johannes, is easy to feel sorry for, but not always easy to understand.

But Bergman has a keen sense of why people do the things that they do, and the human drama in Skepp till India land is keenly observed, if rarely uplifting.

Kris (Feb. 25, 1946)

The Swedish film Kris (Crisis) was acclaimed director Ingmar Bergman’s first film. His only previous credited film work was the 1944 film Hets (Frenzy), which he wrote. Based on a play by Leck Fischer, Kris opens with shots of an idyllic little town, accompanied by a voice-over narrator. A strange, worldly woman steps off the bus one morning (the town is too small to have a railway station). The narrator tells us that it is Mrs. Jenny (Marianne Löfgren), who, after 18 years, has come to see her daughter, Nelly (Inga Landgré), who has been raised by Miss Ingeborg Johnson (Dagny Lind), a piano teacher. The narrator ends his opening monologue with the ironic words, “Let the play begin. I wouldn’t call this a great or harrowing tale. It really is just an everyday drama. Almost a comedy. Let’s raise the curtain.”

Despite the source material, and the narrator’s references to theatrical convention, I thought Kris avoided staginess for the most part. A lot of this is due to the direction. If Bergman had never made another film after this one, he almost certainly would not be remembered as a great director, but Kris still shows a lot of greatness. Also, Landgré, the 18 year-old actress who plays Nelly, is incredibly pretty and naturalistic, and the film wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does without her assured performance at its center.

Nelly calls Ingeborg “Mutti” and calls her birth mother “Aunt Jenny.” Before Jenny shows up, Nelly and her mutti seem quite happy, although Nelly is beginning to champ at the bit, and longs for more excitement than her little town can offer her. Ingeborg also has a roomer, Ulf, played by the 38 year-old actor Allan Bohlin, who is in love with Nelly. She likes him, spends a lot of time with him, and affectionately calls him “Uffe,” but he’s too old to arouse her romantic interest. Ingeborg is destitute and in poor health. She borrows money from her elderly aunt and her cleaning lady. Nelly seems unaware of their financial difficulties, but when Jenny buys her a beautiful party dress for the ball she can’t wait to attend, it contrasts sharply with the simple dress Ingeborg purchased for her.

Jenny, who is approximately 40 years old, also brings with her the reedy little 25 year-old dandy Jack (Stig Olin). Jenny refers to him as her “half-brother’s son,” but he’s clearly a gigolo who services her. Things come to a head at the ball, when Jack gets Nelly liquored up and starts an impromptu swing band session that scandalizes the older townspeople. He catches up with Nelly outside, and they enjoy a tryst by the lake until Ulf shows up, chastises Nelly, and beats up Jack.

Back at home, Nelly hugs her mutti Ingeborg good night and tearfully says that she never wants to leave her. In the cold light of morning, however, with the gossipy townsfolk spreading word of the scandals the night before, Nelly runs off to the city with Jack and Jenny, and takes a job at Jenny’s beauty salon, called “Maison Jeannie,” and the love triangle between Nelly, her birth mother, and Jack plays itself out while Ingeborg suffers through loneliness and a single, painful trip to see Nelly in the city.

The dramatic arc of Kris is nothing we haven’t seen before, but the acting and the direction elevate it. The textures in the film’s outdoor scenes are especially beautiful, and hint at some of what was to come in Bergman’s career. As someone who hates day-for-night photography, however, I felt that Bergman was a little too in love with the sun-dappled lake next to which Nelly and Jack have their rendezvous. For a scene that takes place at night, it couldn’t look any more like the middle of the afternoon.

For the most part, however, I thought Kris was a very good film. Its attitude toward sexuality was a little more frank than American films of the time, and the human relationships in the film were nuanced and believable. I could have lived without having to look at Olin’s mustache the whole time, however. While its disturbing qualities were appropriate for his ne’er-do-well character, it was really hard to deal with. The poster above doesn’t really do its sleaziness justice. You have to see it for yourself.