Hamnstad (1948)


(director/writer: Ingmar Bergman; screenwriter: from the novel Guldet och murarna by Olle Länsberg; cinematographer: Gunnar Fischer; editor: Oscar Rosander; music: Erland von Koch; cast: Nine-Christine Jonsson (Berit), Bengt Eklund (Gosta), Berta Hall (Berit’s Mother), Erik Hell (Berit’s Father), Mimi Nelson (Gertrud), Birgitta Valberg (Welfare Worker), Harry Ahlin (Skåningen), Sif Ruud ( Mrs. Krona, abortionist); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Harald Molander; Criterion Collection; 1948-Sweden-in Swedish with English subtitles)
“Gritty dockside melodrama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the fifth feature film of Ingmar Bergman (“Crisis”/”It Rains on Our Love”/”A Ship To India”). The gritty dockside melodrama, which plays like a documentary on the life of the working-class, has been strongly influenced by Rossellini and Neo-Realism. It falters a bit when its bleak tone suddenly shifts by the third act into an unconvincing upbeat mood, as its rhythm is broken and the sudden turn makes it appear less than authentic.

The film opens with the teenager Berit (Nine-Christine Jonsson) jumping into the sea in an attempt to drown herself. She’s saved by Gosta (Bengt Eklund), who is returning after eight years in the East Indies as a seaman to work on the docks of Göteborg (Bergman worked there as a theater director for three years). In flashback, we learn why she’s so depressed. The sad story covers her dysfunctional homelife that led her astray and to reform school, the oppressive atmosphere that she can’t escape from, her loneliness, falling in with the wrong crowd, a stint as a prostitute and sleeping around with a lot of boys.

Berit is picked up at a dance hall that night by the 29-year-old simplistic honest sailor, Gosta. The troubled factory worker who is trapped by her reform school past, a domineering mother (Berta Hall), an absentee and cold-hearted seaman father (Erik Hell) and a rigid social worker (Birgitta Valberg), is unable to trust anyone but takes him home for a night of romance. She reluctantly takes up with Gosta while living at home, as her bossy mom is driving her nuts and she needs an exit strategy. When they begin to get serious, she opens up to Gosta and tells him of her rocky past and that she had many lovers. Gosta is not sure if he can handle this, but his work-place friends tell him he can’t go wrong by giving the relationship a chance to work. In the end, the two inarticulate and lonely soul mates flee to Stockholm to get a fresh start on life and begin new dreams.

It’s schematic, but the performances are overall good. Jonsson gives a nuanced performance as the hard-luck heroine needing some love who at last sees some light at the end of the tunnel; while Eklund convinces as the nice guy who frets over being with a former slut.

There’s nudity and a hard-hitting scene about abortion that seem tame by today’s standards but back in the day was daring.