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Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg follows a week in the life of Abel Rosenberg, an out-of-work American circus acrobat living in poverty-stricken Berlin following Germany's defeat in World War I. When his brother commits suicide, Abel seeks refuge in the apartment of an old acquaintance Professor Veregus. Desperate to make ends meet in the war-ravaged city, Abel takes a job in Veregus' clinic, where he discovers the horrific truth behind the work of the strangely beneficent professor and unlocks the chilling mystery that drove his brother to kill himself. Written by
The Nazi-looking thugs that are beating up people are wearing Model 1943 German army caps and 1940s style clothing. This film is supposed to take place in the 1920s. See more »
[explains the upcoming social and political developments in Germany to Abel Rosenberg]
It's like a serpent's egg. Through the thin membranes, you can clearly discern the already perfect reptile.
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This must have seemed like such a great idea at the time. Put Ingmar Bergman (arguably one of the finest filmmakers of our time) at the helm of a big-budget international horror film starring the notable David Carradine and his can-do-no-wrong leading lady Liv Ullmann. As a concept, it's faultless; as a film, it's amazing this has as many moments as it does.
Taking place over a period of one week (November 3-11) in 1923 Berlin, "The Serpent's Egg" zeroes in on two desperate characters who are slowly overtaken by the horror of their situation. The country has virtually come apart around them; the German mark is practically worthless, unemployment is astronomical, and Adolf Hitler is laying the plans for his first attempt to seize power. Abel Rosenberg (Carradine) and Manuela (Ullmann) are out-of-work circus performers whose third partner Max (Abel's brother) commits suicide in the opening of the film. The rest of the movie concerns itself with their gradual awakening to the horrors perpetuated by their current employer Vergerus (Heinz Bennett).
Actually, the rest of the movie concerns itself with taking as hysterical and pessimistic view of life as possible. While not entirely unfamiliar to Bergman's fans, here the gloom is so all-pervasive and the time and place so alien, that the film is often nearly impossible to sit through. It becomes instead a movie of moments, each breaking out of the general tedium to grab the viewer by the throat.
The opening is brilliant, and promises something really special. Likewise, the rat-infested piles of garbage are not something the viewer is likely to forget. But the conclusion they build up to is disappointing and unenlightening. Worst of all, we know no more about the characters at the end of the film than we did at the outset (Liv Ullmann, whose performance is wonderful considering the circumstances, has virtually nonexistent character development to work with).
Any fan of Bergman should try to see this once, if only for the light it sheds on his other films of the period, and his personal turmoil at that moment in time. Casual viewers need not apply.
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