Wednesday, February 09, 2011


I haven't ever read interviews of Ingmar Bergman, or rather anything about him - the way I know him is his work, his films. He is, to me, one of that rare breed who are not afraid to doubt - who stand within the pales of religion and yet take a promenade in there. He is a "doubter" - not just in the sense accepted, that of doubting religion and God, but also doubting the arguments contrary to it. Bergman's overarching pain, which he imposes on others through his films, has been striving to understand the perfection of a world which has so much ugliness as well; if man is God's work, why the ugly institutions he created to venerate the same God? Why, Man whom Eva alludes to in the film as having the highest and the lowest in him at the same time, why that man who bears the image of God in himself does need the external symbols and securities? Eva loves: this is the expression of Man, and we give it names. She loves; and thwarted in a world long decayed, she tries to learn to live, wherein every day is a practice.

A beautiful film, which on the face of it is about a failed relationship between two humans, a mother and a daughter, Höstsonaten (int'l title: Autumn Sonata) delves much deeper and brings into play all the themes Bergman struggled with, all the things he tried to understand. One of the features of most Bergman works, one which is not met often in literature or films otherwise, is that it is the women who are successful (and also often prey to that success, just as men are in others' works): forgetting the successful pianist Charlotte, even the tormented and unloved daughter Eva comes across in a way successful compared to her silently suffering husband, Viktor. That is the way Bergman plots the film: although, of course, a silence does not mean that a person does not suffer, yet Viktor is, for Bergman's film, dispensable; he is merely a "detached" narrator, a man playing a side role in the prominent story of a daughter who wants to be loved as she is, without questions and without judgments, without expectations and without bouts of enthusiasm and worry about her. She wants to live but be loved, but not be weighed down by love. Or the affected love - as that of her mother.

Autumn Sonata brings in one more very strange constant of Bergman's work: an old, cynical, intelligent man, a man who understands the world very well but is always a bit bored and wants to keep himself amused by a novelty (Stavrogin if you have read Dostoyevsky, Uncle Erland if you have seen that marvellous Bergman film Summer Interlude), who finds a new prey in a young girl, ready to believe and love, ready to adore and pray, a girl whose spirit is strong but who is what the world will call as naive (it is interesting that in a politically correct world, all the actual cruel words do keep on existing). I consider the Leonard-Helena happening as a complete byplot in the film: probably, in structural terms, it is even a defect; it distracts from the main body and that for a long time in a mere one-and-half-hour film. Yet, who will mind? To glimpse what goes in Bergman's mind, and what dark shadows lurk there, is more fascinating itself.

The question that Bergman never really asked openly - maybe he never got further to the pith, or somehow he just didn't want to - is not a mere rhetorical one, that why this? It is, rather, why the boredness? At the same stroke, Bergman, almost, attacks the religious institutions and glorifies God: in a world of thousand things and patterns to learn, or as Eva says in a world of many alternate realities than we can sense or know ever - God - there is the pew-sitting, there is the sacrament, and there is the choir - religion - someone instilling and instilling always inside us, as if we were mere cardboards, as if our desires and hopes were unclean, as if they were not enough to make us learn ourselves. Instead of trying to know the other realities, we don't even know ourselves - but run after a shining wax model erected by someone and told as desirable, all to protect us from our insecurities, a deus ex machina for the times that we are in doubt of us.

For, yes, we are doubters: and it is good that we are doubters. The inherent opposition between the concept of God and the idea of religion has probably never been so brilliantly put, excepting Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor. Brilliant acting performances, especially by Liv Ullmann, and a simple film with no editing tricks elevate Ingmar Bergman to a master story-teller: the one who touches hearts, who can feel oneself.