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HOUR OF THE WOLF (Vargtimmen)(director/writer: Ingmar Bergman; cinematographer: Sven Nykvist; editor: Ulla Ryghe; music: Lars Johan Werle; cast: Max von Sydow .(Johan Borg), Liv Ullmann (Alma Borg), Erland Josephson (Baron von Merkens), Gertrud Fridh (Corinne von Merkens), Georg Rydeberg (Lindhorst, archivist), Naima Wifstrand (Old Lady with Hat), Ulf Johansson (Therapist Heerbrand), Gudrun Brost (Gamla Fru von Merkens), Bertil Anderberg (Ernst von Merkens), Ingrid Thulin (Veronica Vogler); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Lars-Owe Carlberg; MGM; 1968-Sweden-in Swedish with English subtitles)
“One of the typical bleak psychological dramas of Ingmar Bergman.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title alludes to the hour when nightmares come. It’s a companion piece to Persona, one of the typical bleak psychological dramas of Ingmar Bergman (“Through a Glass Darkly”/”The Shame”/”The Silence”). It’s a superbly acted and brilliantly conceived Gothic horror tale that tells about a brooding artist crossing into the dangerous territory between madness and genius, unable to distinguish reality from fiction, and his wife who must choose either to be with her genius deranged hubby or to save her own skin by escaping from his clutches. The script revolves around the diary of the artist and his wife’s recollections, which are used to retrace his steps before he vanished.

Johan Borg (Max von Sydow) is the restless tortured artist living in his summer cottage on the desolate island of Faro (where Bergman has a home) with his compatible pregnant wife Alma ( Liv Ullmann). The artist is torn apart over his nightmares, apparitions (a 216-year-old lady holding a parasol over her head for the sun will later act out the film’s most repulsive and memorable shot, as she dismantles her face when she takes off her hat), hallucinations and adulterous past (Ingrid Thulin plays von Sydow’s temptress); he’s unsuccessfully fighting to keep sane and still have his artistic skills remain intact. Married for seven years, Alma is starting to share his dark visions.

In the opening scenes we see Johan go through a sleepless night with his wife by his side as a source of comfort; he tells Alma that he has drawn monsters in his sketchbook that only he sees for real; This is followed by surreal shots of apparitions crossing the barren beach like insects. At night, he’s invited with his wife to attend a dinner-party at the castle of Baron von Merkens, the island’s landowner, and his aristocratic family and sycophantic hangers-on. As the evening wears on with distasteful banal small-talk among the bourgeois party-goers, the castle is gradually transformed into one of Dracula’s haunts with all the inhabitants becoming werewolves and vampires.

This enigmatic subversive personal Bergman film about an artist who loses his grip on reality, acts as a gloomy reminder about the dangers of unchecked inner demons, an artist becoming self-absorbed, that creativity doesn’t come in the nicest places and art cannot be gained without paying a certain price for it. Bergman’s alter ego, von Sydow, flees into the black forest to escape from the monsters he envisions inside the castle (the artist’s public, rivals and patrons) and is not seen again, perhaps, because he cannot face his own disappointments.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”