On a cold winter's Sunday, the pastor of a small rural church (Tomas Ericsson) performs service for a tiny congregation; though he is suffering from a cold and a severe crisis of faith. ... See full summary »
A young woman, Karin, has recently returned to the family island after spending some time in a mental hospital. On the island with her is her lonely brother and kind, but increasingly ... See full summary »
Max von Sydow
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How do we understand faith and prayer, and what of miracles? August 1925 on a Danish farm. Patriarch Borgen has three sons: Mikkel, a good-hearted agnostic whose wife Inger is pregnant, ... See full summary »
Carl Theodor Dreyer
Emil Hass Christensen,
Preben Lerdorff Rye
On a cold winter's Sunday, the pastor of a small rural church (Tomas Ericsson) performs service for a tiny congregation; though he is suffering from a cold and a severe crisis of faith. After the service, he attempts to console a fisherman (Jonas Persson) who is tormented by anxiety, but Tomas can only speak about his own troubled relationship with God. A school teacher (Maerta Lundberg) offers Tomas her love as consolation for his loss of faith. But Tomas resists her love as desperately as she offers it to him. This is the second in Bergman's trilogy of films dealing with man's relationship with God. Written by
When she saw the completed film, Ingmar Bergman's then wife Kabi Laretei said, "Yes, Ingmar, it's a masterpiece. But it's a dreary masterpiece." See more »
Märta's near-sightedness is mentioned in the dialogue when she says that without her glasses, Tomas appears fuzzy to her. He even counts her nearsightedness as one of the things he hates about her. But the lenses she wears appear to be of clear glass. See more »
Märta Lundberg, Schoolteacher:
God, why have you created me so eternally dissatisfied? So frightened, so bitter? Why must I realize how wretched I am? Why must I suffer so hellishly for my insignificance? If there is a purpose to my suffering, then tell me, so I can bear my pain without complaint. I'm strong. You made me so very strong in both body and soul, but you never give me a task worthy of my strength. Give my life meaning, and I'll be your obedient slave.
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Grim, dry, depressing and visually stunning, but Pastor Tomas Ericsson is really hard to relate to
In his not-to-be-missed, detailed interviews to Scandinavian filmmakers/critics Jonas Simas, Torsten Manns and Stig Björkman published in France as "Le Cinéma Selon Bergman" (1973) -- inspired by the Hitchcock/Truffaut/Chabrol interviews, and with material selected from over 50 hours of conversations in the span of 5 years -- Bergman reassesses "Winter..." in affectionate but moderately critical terms. He quotes his wife (as of 1962) Käbi Laretei's comment about it: "Yes, Ingmar, it's a masterpiece, but a boring one!" (or "dreary one", according to another translation).
Not that it is really boring, at least not for IB's fans (as myself); and not that it's REALLY a masterpiece. It IS one of his driest, grimmest, most depressing films along with "Shame". As usual, there are magnificent scenes: every one Max Von Sydow is in (what an actor -- with barely a single line to speak he builds a very complex character); Åke Fridell's character, who's got the best lines; the argument between Gunnar Björnstrand and Ingrid Thulin at the cottage. Bergman's and Nykvist's visual conception is riveting: you can FEEL the cold of the bleak Swedish winter. However, there are other scenes that seem to drag longer than necessary (even for Bergman), especially the opening church service, and, yes, the letter scene (which is the source of the great letter scene in "Persona"). But I think the main difficulty with "Winter Light" is that Bergman paints his protagonist (Pastor Tomas Ericsson, played by Björnstrand) mercilessly, making it hard for us to make any connection with the selfish bastard, whether you're religious or not. The question of faith -- that should be the important issue here -- is compromised by the incredible level of egotism of Pastor Ericsson; it's hard to believe that man has ever experienced Christian compassion. Bergman despises him and makes us despise him too; I, for one, couldn't manage to feel the smallest degree of sympathy for the man.
In those interviews, Bergman talks about how difficult shooting "Winter Light" was, with Gunnar Björnstrand ill and detesting his role (no wonder!!) and the influence of Bergman's traumatic religious upbringing (his father was a strict Lutheran pastor), which made it hard for him to convey sympathy for Björnstrand's character. The idea for the film came when a bishop of a small-town church told Bergman of his failure in preventing a fisherman in anguish from committing suicide. Bergman also said that Thulin's character was partly based on his second wife, who had serious eczema in her face and hands.
Christian faith has been the subject of superior films by great filmmakers -- Dreyer, Rossellini, Bresson, Buñuel, Pialat, Melville, Pasolini, and, of course, Bergman himself. With "Winter Light", I found myself thinking a lot about Bresson's masterpiece "Diary of a Country Priest". Both "Winter..." and "Diary..." deal with lonely, depressed Christian clergymen who struggle to come to terms with faith-shattering issues within themselves and the ones around them. Both live in small, bleak, grim villages and cannot find solace in people around them, or give them sound advice. Both strive for an evidence of God a signal, a word, an inspiration to help comfort people. Both face the peak of their religious crisis in winter time (no wonder!!) and when faced with suicide (the doctor in "Diary", the fisherman in "Winter..."). But the major difference is that Bresson's priest ultimately finds a way to trust his God, while Bergman's pastor is abandoned by his ("God's silence in an empty church"). And, of course, that Bresson's priest is impossible to dislike whereas Bergman's pastor is a s.o.b. Bergman himself had been very impressed by Bresson's movie, which, in my opinion, is superior and "thicker" than "Winter....", although both display some of the most magnificent b&w cinematography the movies have ever shown (and Bergman talks proudly about the great amount of work it took to reach the right lighting for the film).
The second of the so-called "Silence Trilogy" (it was never planned as such, but you know, it was the trilogy fad -- S.Ray, Antonioni etc), "Winter Light" is, IMHO, the least satisfying of the three, overshadowed by the powerful study in schizophrenia and incest with richly elaborated characters of "Through a Glass Darkly" and the incredibly daring, close-up approach of female sexuality, childhood innocence, war threat and terminal sickness of "The Silence". Anyway, "Winter Light" is film by Ingmar Bergman stratospheres above most mortal filmmakers. My vote: 6 out of 10 (considering it's Bergman!).
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