Technically speaking, Torment (Hets) wasn’t directed by Ingmar Bergman. In fact the film was directed by Alf Sjoberg with the screenplay being written by Ingmar Bergman. Bergman did direct the last scenes, which were put in later when the producer rejected the original ending. Bergman detailed in his second autobiography Images: My Life in Film, that the filming of the exteriors as his actual film directorial debut:
“When the film was virtually done, I made my debut as a movie director…[the] final scene shows Kjellin in the light of dawn, walking towards the awakening city. I was told to shoot these last exteriors, since Sjöberg was otherwise engaged. They were my first professionally filmed images. I was more excited that I can describe.”
It is interesting to read this comment by the great director as it shows his excitement and passion for filmmaking.
Although this isn’t essentially a Bergman film, it does feel like one in many ways, especially it terms of the narrative which is simple but focuses solely on human emotions, passion and relationships. The story regards an idealistic adolescent Jan-Erik Widgren (Alf Kjellin) who is a young student under the thumb of a sadistic Latin teacher, known by all the students as Caligula played by Stig Jarrell.
Like many young men, Jan-Erik is interested in girls. One day he starts talking with a pretty young woman (Mai Zetterling) who works in a nearby store and they have a connection. That night he sees her drunk on her way home, and he helps her. They have an affair, but she has another lover, but is only with him out of fear. Meanwhile, graduation is drawing near, and Jan-Erik must decide whether to continue his relationship or study.
When researching, I was amazed to find that the script was based on some of Bergman’s own experiences, as he hated school and hated the institution of school, you can see a similarity to the character of Jan-Erik to many characters who later appeared in Bergman’s work. Often I believe that many filmmakers and writers to struggle to create moving drama out of school-life, but Bergman gets it right in that he focuses it on three characters without complicating things. The action is well paced, and has elements of great melodrama without being too over-the top or clichéd.
Torment, is what many consider the little spark for Bergman’s career and I would highly recommend it at the least for the serious Bergman fans wanting to check out all of his films. Although, I enjoyed it, I didn’t find as charming or as emotionally engaging as Bergman’s other films, however I did admire the obvious beginnings of the master and his ability to be a great storyteller. It is always a treat to go back and visit the humble beginnings of an auteur, especially one like Ingmar Bergman.