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Top Moments in Bergman Films

After finally coming to an end of my Bergman journey over these last 10 days or so, watching a grand total of 13 films (yes, I know there’s a lot more that I need to see, and I do promise to get around to seeing them), I have decided to pick my favourite moments. I have gone with 7 scenes or sequences which I believe are perfect examples of Bergman’s genius. And it wasn’t easy, there were many scenes that I loved but have either been discussed about before in greater depth and detail, or just lacked a certain something. I am including films such as Persona, and The Seventh Seal which I watched, but didn’t do as part of my Bergman diary, so please bear this in mind. Sadly, Torment and It Always Rains on our Love didn’t make the list. Not because I didn’t enjoy these films, I just felt that they weren’t as strong as Bergman’s later pieces, and there were just so many scenes on the list already!

Surreal Beginnings: Persona

There are so many great scenes in Persona, but I felt the opening is so unique, surreal and haunting that it deserves to be added to this list. A montage of faces, nails being hammered into hands, film reels, hands, old footage, spiders and other disturbing images. This sequence sets up the rest of the film, creating a sense of unease, and horror although the film is more of a psychological drama than a straight out horror film. There’s so much information to deconstruct in these 6 minutes of film, that it deserves its own essay, but it reveals how Bergman used the montage to draw us in to a strange, unsettling world, grabbing our attention and preparing us for what will unfold later on in the film. The score is so disjointed, and unusual that it makes you feel uncomfortable, especially when you see the images on-screen. As film openings go, this is one that is very original, and unlike anything else you’ve seen, showcasing Bergman’s ability to experiment with medium of film.

Boredom on a train: The Silence

Bergman plays around with sound and editing for this scene, with his decision to forgo the use of music and having the sounds of the train tracks, there’s a soft hum that is created with helps to immerse us into this world. The sound is distracting but so mundane and low-pitched that it almost sends us to sleep, capturing the feeling of boredom that the young boy is experiencing as he peers out of the window. The world outside the window passes by slowly, with just a grey, expressionless landscape which has no redeeming features, this could be anywhere, any place, any time. The use of light is very effective, as the train passes through a tunnel, plunging us in darkness, indicating that the boy is in the dark about the situation about what is happening in the adult world that surrounds him. We see the world via the eyes of a young boy, innocent and naive, but can this point of view be trusted?

Märta’s letter: Winter Light

When Pastor Tomas receives a letter from his ex-mistress, we discover the back story to their relationship, revealing details about how they were as a couple. The scene begins with Tomas reading the letter out loud, before cutting to Ingrid Thulin speaking to the camera, breaking the fourth wall, as if she’s speaking directly to us. It’s a great use of the technique and makes the scene far more personal and direct. Märta discusses an incident that took place between her and Tomas, involving a rash she had on her hands and she challenged him to prove the power of prayer. This simple mid-shot with Thulin detailing her recollection of the incident, proves how talented she is as an actress to keep the audience engaged and immersed in the film. Sometimes the simplest of shots are the most powerful. The scene unfolds to a flashback of the day in question, and we see a close up of Märta’s hands as she clutches them as she asks God, whether there is a reason for her suffering, there is so much emotion in Thulin’s performance that it’s extraordinary.

The Dinner: Hour of the Wolf

We have all been in uncomfortable situations, forced to attend certain events without any choice. Bergman manages to capture the feeling of unease, and discomfort with this brilliant scene from Hour of the Wolf. Johan (Max von Sydow) and his wife Alma (Liv Ullmann) attend a dinner party, and as the dinner begins the camera pans the table at a steady pace, swirling around, never settling on one guest for too long. The guests all seem to be having multiple conversations that overlap each other, making it difficult for us to concentrate on one thing at a time. We discover that some of the guests have some drama and personal issues which they are trying to contain, and their behaviour gets increasingly bizarre as the meal goes on. Alma seems the only person who is aware of the strange situation, her face full of horror as she witnesses the madness taking place around her. A great scene which captures the feeling of being an outsider.

The Chess Game: The Seventh Seal

Yes, it has been parodied so often now that some might argue that it has lost its value, but I would argue that it is still an effective scene. When anyone declares that cinema isn’t art, I would recommend you instruct them to watch this scene. Everything about it is perfect, from the setting of the beach with the waves crashing on to the shore to the effective use of the two shot. The dialogue may seem simple, but it’s blunt and to the point. There’s some humour to the dialogue too, and actually the scene is quite amusing, although it very serious, in a visual sense, this is a funny scene because of the situation. We can see this in the performance from Max von Sydow, hus face is full of amusement. This knight testing his luck against death, and honestly you want him to win, because it would be a victory for mankind.

The Professor’s Dream: Wild Strawberries

Based on a dream that Bergman had, this surreal scene has a nightmarish horror aspect to it, playing on our own fears of mortality. The shot of Victor Sjöström walking down the empty streets, from a long distance create a sense of distance between ourselves and the character. When Borg looks up at the clock and then his watch he discovers that both are missing their hands, he has lost all sense of time. Over the top of this we hear a heart beat, and then as Borg starts to walk down the street unsure of what direction to take, everything goes silent, the only sound is his footsteps. When Borg confronts his double, with his sunken in face, the shot is a dutch angle creating a sense of unease. The double collapses and horse-drawn hearse comes down the street. The dream sequence is perhaps more haunting than any scene in contemporary horror, and very memorable. It will stay with you for a long time.

The Attic: Through a Glass Darkly

After being awoken by a mysterious fog horn, Karin (Harriet Andersson) makes her to the attic, she enter the empty room with it’s peeling wallpaper and we watch her as she attempts to find comfort from it’s wall. The camera cuts from long shot, to medium close up as Karin rests her head against the wall, listening to the wishpers. At one point, she turns and looks directly at the camera, looking at us as if we are in the room with her. As the scene develops, she collapses on the floor in the middle room, clutching her body in a sexual manner. It’s a showcase of amazing acting from Harriet Andersson, and we see the internal struggle that her character is experiencing, without the scene being played out in an over-the-top fashion. Sound is used to create effect and so is the use of close-up and wide shot, to create the sense of empathy and distance we have for Karin.

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