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TORMENT (aka: HETS) (aka: FRENZY)(director: Alf Sjöberg; screenwriter: Ingmar Bergman; cinematographer: Martin Bodin; editor: Oscar Rosander; music: Hilding Rosenberg; cast: Stig Järrel (Caligula), Alf Kjellin (Jan-Erik Widgren), Mai Zetterling (Bertha Olsson), Olof Winnerstrand (The Headmaster), Gösta Cederlund (Pippi), Hugo Björne (The Doctor); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Victor Sjöström/Harald Molander; The Criterion Collection; 1944-Sweden-in Swedish with English subtitles)
“A dark coming-of-age melodrama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The bleak screenplay is by the 24-year-old Ingmar Bergman, who also was the assistant director (this is considered to be his first film even though he didn’t direct). It’s a dark coming-of-age melodrama helmed by the great Swedish filmmaker Alf Sjöberg (“Miss Julie”/”Karin Mansdotter”). Because Sjöberg is unavailable, Bergman will reshoot the last scene on the insistence of the studio to come up with a sunnier ending than just having the expelled student walking out the school gates. This was Bergman’s first time behind the camera and he relished the experience.

Idealistic and sensitive high school senior, at a strict prestigious school for boys, Jan-Erik Widgren (Alf Kjellin) is bullied by his unpopular sadistic Latin teacher, nicknamed by the students Caligula (Stig Järrel). With two weeks to go before his final exams, the teacher punishes him for supposedly cheating and his stern father takes the teacher’s side without listening to his son’s rational explanation. The teacher is made up to resemble Himmler, indicating the filmmakers were looking for an allegory on the evils of fascism as well as making a scathing commentary on schools being repressive, women being treated as second-class citizens and parents unable to listen to their children.

One night while coming home after being out with his cynical nihilistic school chum Sandman, who quotes from Nietzsche and Strindberg, the romantic do-gooder Jan spots in the street a drunken Bertha Olsson (Mai Zetterling), the local tobacco-shop clerk, and takes her home. He begins a relationship with the slightly older girl who has a bad reputation, but doesn’t realize that the sinister older man she says is ruining her life by forcing her to have an abusive relationship with him is none other than Caligula. When he uncovers this, it will lead to inevitable doom. He jeopardizes his chances of finishing school by continuing to see a girl who is an alcoholic and prostitute. The “love” triangle brings about a series of emotional conflicts that the good-hearted youngster is ill-prepared to deal with as well as the sly, cold-hearted and treacherous Caligula could, even after the student finds his teacher in the dead girl’s room after a drinking binge.

It makes for a solidly themed but messy in execution melodrama; one that gets props for being so brilliantly shot in a stark black and white as an Expressionist picture, that will anticipate Bergman’s later tormented world of spiritual and personal divisions.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”