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Den vita katten (1950)
Compelling Ekman mystery falters
A handsome young man arrives in Stockholm by train one night. He has no money or identification, but in his pockets are a set of keys and a paper with an address and a phone number. He has no memory of who he is or where he came from. He overhears people discussing an escaped mental patient, a sex offender, who bears his exact description. A waitress at the station, played by the great Eva Henning, takes him under her wing and puts him up for the night. He has a fear of white cats.
It's a compelling set-up, and has all the components of a great Ekman piece: the lurid sexuality (similar to Mattsson and Bergman of the period), dream sequences that offer keys to a fractured psyche, an existential entanglement of multiple identities... And the first act lives up to that. But from there the film sort of crumbles underneath its weighty and ultimately nonsensical plot.
By the final act, many of the film's more intriguing plot points have been entirely ignored and forgotten, and the resolution will leave you more perplexed than satisfied. Henning is not given enough screen time, or a strong enough character. Enjoyable, but not a great film.
Good Film With a Bad Reputation
I've heard a lot of things about this film -- it generally gets low reviews, is described as "unBergmanesque", and the fact that its so difficult to find led me have very low expectations for the film. I expected something between the atypical Bergman plot of "The Serpent's Egg" and the disturbing social violence of "From the Life of the Marionettes." I finally tracked down a copy, poor in quality, and expected mediocrity at best when I put it in.
After having just finished watching it, I can say I was very pleasantly surprised with the film. A lot of the things said about it are just plain false -- the plot is very much in keeping with Bergman's other material. A married woman, Karin (Anderson), falls in love with a disturbed architect, David (Gould), and the two begin an emotionally confused love affair. Karin is caught between her happy bourgeois life with her husband (Sydow) and children, and her passionate, unconventional relationship with David. Acting in bad faith, Karen refuses to choose between her two lives, though both David and her husband eventually push the decision on her. Like most Bergman films, its a psychological roller coaster and a bleak portrayal of the coarseness of human relationships.
Bibi Anderson does a wonderful job in a very difficult role, and Max von Sydow plays the part of the honest and good intentioned husband very well, playing hard on the viewer's sympathies. The stiff performance of Gould echoes that of Carradine in "The Serpent's Egg," so it must unfortunately be attributed to Bergman's struggle with directing in English, not on Gould himself. If I recall, the film was made in both Swedish and English, both versions filmed at once, which poses obvious production difficulties which might account from the some times mechanical treatment of the script.
The film has an excellent pace to it, and moves very swiftly and smoothly, wonderfully shot by Nykvist in a way very similar to "The Passion of Anna." Unlike a lot of Bergman's depressing work in the 1970s, I felt good about the film when it was over.
I don't know why this film has such a poor reputation -- I'm very much baffled after having seen it. My guess is the obvious mistake of having made it in English accounts for most of this.
Its seems a lot like Bergman's other work in this period. Very Good.