En passion (1969)


(director/writer: Ingmar Bergman; cinematographer: Sven Nykvist; editor: Siv Lundgren; cast: Max von Sydow (Andreas Winkelman), Liv Ullmann (Anna Fromm), Bibi Andersson (Eva Vergerus), Erland Josephson (Elis Vergerus), Erik Hell (Johan Andersson), Sigge Fürst (Verner); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Lars-Owe Carlberg; MGM; 1969-Sweden-in Swedish with English subtitles)
“Never less than fascinating, even when it falters.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The passion here springs from the emotion over isolation and not being able to live in harmony in a community. It concerns four troubled souls living on a remote Swedish island. Ingmar Bergman’s (“Through a Glass Darkly”/”The Shame”/”The Silence”) second color film is stunningly filmed by master cinematographer Sven Nykvist on Faro island. This outstanding psychological drama is one of his better and more poignant films; it’s never less than fascinating, even when it falters; it’s well acted by his stock company and bears the filmmaker’s usual unique stylistic expressions and high middlebrow symbolism. It’s the final film in the “island” trilogy that includes Hour of the Wolf and Shame.

Andreas Winkelman (Max von Sydow) is a book reading ex-con, imprisoned as a check forger, who lives as a peaceful loner on this barren island, after his wife left him (the only thing we know of this marriage is that she told him the reason she was dumping him was because he had “cancer of the soul…you have tumors all over you”). He has no visible means of support, but seems happily resigned to live a quiet life of solitude. One day his crippled widowed neighbor Anna Fromm (Liv Ullmann) asks him if she can use his phone. When Anna leaves her purse behind, Andreas can’t resist reading a letter from her husband attempting to end a marriage that has gone sour. In any case, the chance encounter leads to a live-in relationship for a year and brings him into contact with her best friends, the compromised middle-class married couple of the insecure but attractive Eva and the cocky Elis Vergerus (Bibi Andersson & Erland Josephson). The financially successful Elis is an architect who takes an indifferent view to the world’s suffering and accepted his pretty vulnerable wife’s fling with Anna’s late husband as one of those things in life. Elis offers Andreas employment and a guarded friendship; while Eva offers Andreas her body.

Life on the island moves along with domestic bliss for Andreas, who tries to make the relationship work despite a few minor spats. Anna hides behind the belief that she has always led a truthful life and speaks of her former marriage as if it were an ideal one. Andreas never contradicts her, but their happiness bubble will burst when Anna is revealed as a twisted woman (filled with lies, a judgmental Christian self-righteousness and a history of mental instability) who, when she couldn’t handle her hubby leaving her, drove in a crazed fit erratically on an icy road and skidded into a ditch–killing her son and husband and leaving her with a limp and revisionist memories. The same cycle is repeating in this relationship, until Andreas retreats to his old solitary way of life after he’s challenged by a zealous Anna waxing poetic about her virtues while flaunting his more elusive ways.

The background story relates to an unknown homicidal maniac cruelly killing animals on the island and the neighbors blaming loner Johan because they don’t know him and he has no pets. Johan happens to be Andreas’ only real friend on the island, but is helpless as his friend is persecuted by the ignorant police, prisoners and locals.

In what strikes me as something gimmicky and unnecessarily staged, during the film Bergman breaks from the action as he conducts “interviews” with his stars and pries from them their thoughts on the characters they play. The responses are revealing, but it seems to be an effort to force-feed us on how the characters were scripted and not allow us to determine for ourselves what the characters were all about.