Two estranged sisters, Ester and Anna, and Anna's 10-year-old son travel to the Central European country on the verge of war. Ester becomes seriously ill and the three of them move into a hotel in a small town called Timoka.
In the midst of a civil war, former violinists Jan and Eva Rosenberg, who have a tempestuous marriage, run a farm on a rural island. In spite of their best efforts to escape their homeland, the war impinges on every aspect of their lives.
In turn-of-the-century Sweden, cancer-stricken, dying Agnes is visited in her isolated rural mansion by her sisters Karin and Maria. As Agnes' condition deteriorates and pain management becomes increasingly more difficult, fear and revulsion grip the sisters, who seem incapable of empathy, and Agnes' only comfort and solace comes from her maid Anna. As the end draws closer, long repressed feelings of grudging resentment and mistrust cause jealousy, selfishness, and bitterness between the siblings to surface. Written by
Pain, Hate, Love, God, Death...Yet Another Bergman Masterpiece.
How many masterpieces can one director make? In the case of Ingmar Bergman, the answer would be plenty. This is one beautiful, but very painful and at times horrifying film. I think I've yet to see another film that depicts the pain, suffering and despair of dying to such vividness that like the characters, one almost feels the need to look away. The story itself is fairly simple - a woman is in the final stages of cancer/tuberculosis and her two sisters and maid take care of her in her final days - but Bergman's unique narrative style and the complexity and depth of his script turn what at first seems a horror show into a profound meditation on faith, love and mortality. Bergman's direction is simply too perfect. The way the film is conceived visually couldn't be more evocative of its themes. The intensity of the color red to convey the hell these characters are living, and the chamber-like, claustrophobic atmosphere it creates is suffocating and exhausting. Sven Nykvist's Oscar-winning cinematography is simply one of the most inventive and unique I've ever seen in a movie. Bergman's narrative strategy is incredibly thoughtful and effective; it's like the scenes flowed into each other, and despite the horror we are to endure, there is such tact, sensitivity, attention to detail and a feeling of intimacy to every scene. It's simply glorious to behold, appreciate and let yourself be taken by the emotions and insights this film has to offer. All four actresses give spectacular performances: Harriet Andersson (Agnes) is searing physical pain personified, Liv Ullmann (Maria) is so nuanced and real in her flight sensuality (one extended scene that is a close-up to her face is astonishing in the incredible nuances of expressiveness and what the character is trying to conceal but can't), Ingrid Thulin (Karin) is chilling to the bone (and that one scene that is about mutilation in a very sensitive place is for sure one I'll never forget) and Kari Sylwan (Anna) is pure warmth, dedication and love. Bergman has a fame for depicting a bleak and pessimistic view of the world, and I won't argue with that, but I don't think his humanism is addressed very often. I had heard so many things about how depressing and horrifying this film is, and it is indeed, but it is not hopeless. Yes, Bergman suggests that the world can a horrible place and the human experience is full of pain, loneliness and cruelty, but he also suggests that if we extend our love to one another and let ourselves be loved, the burden won't be as hard to bare, and that there will be moments that will bring us love, happiness and grace, as Agnes says in her beautiful and haunting soliloquy. Agnes manages to find solace and consolation even though she's living the most excruciating hell because she allows herself to love and be loved, and her confrontation with death won't be as terrifying. Maria and Karin on the other hand, as the film suggests, will have to endure the pain and fear of dying in utter loneliness because they don't allow themselves to be loved and have lost the ability to love as well. The film is also bold and insightful enough to suggest that the most awful of circumstances in which a human being can be is paradoxically what strengthens one's faith and love, therefore sustaining one's existence.
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