Bergman s ‘The passion of Anna’ is a remarkable portrayal of self realisation that captures the contradictions in human relations enmeshed between various truths and lies.
It is very difficult to describe the brilliance of this cine-craft in few words and it is rather a difficult film in which Bergman uses various deconstructionist devices.
Made in 1969, this Swedish drama film is the third film in the trilogy of “Island Trilogy”, alongside Hour of the Wolf(1968) and Shame (1968) all these films has been plotted on the backdrop of human Tragedy , Social prejudices and betrayal. The most isolated, though not necessarily detached, character is Andreas Winkelman (Max von Sydow), in this only colour film in whole trilogy, ‘Max’ looks younger than his age. For the role of ‘Anna’, Bergman chose ‘Liv Ullmann ’ who is compeer of Bergman. Bergman’s films are imperfect without Liv. When the film reach its climax, Liv’s deep blue eyes and red scarf will retained in your memory for a long time. This film can be remembered for Liv’s stark portrait of trauma and spiritual fatigue.
Another familiar face from Bergman’s films, Bibi Andersson played ‘Eva’ in this film. ‘Eva’ lives in the shadow of her husband, longing for security and identity, which she searches for in an affair with Anna’s husband and in a fling with Andreas. Andreas lives in isolation, hiding from the world to wallow in his humiliation and fear. As these lives become entangled, their fragile relationships are shattered. ‘Erland Josephson’ portrays the role of Eva’s husband ‘Elice’ who is a professional photographer. ‘Elice’ is aware of the intimacy among Eva and Andreas but prefers to act ignorant about the relation between them.
Bergman exploits the expressive possibility of cinema, which is noticeable in his use of colour, theme, and the frame. Film has been shot in a small island in Sweden, at this place; Bergman spent his most of his life. Film manages to give a pause to its primary Narrative structure while several other sub plots are also introduced in the script. Bergman makes the whole narrative more unconventional by making his actors introduce the characters they are playing in the film by interviews and other unconventional means. Bergman has also used footage from his previous film of trilogy, ‘shame’ as a dream sequence.
Bergman uses the witness of Vietnam War atrocities as a potent symbol of collective guilt, shame, and anguish at the violence of the world. A madman on the island whose random violent acts provide a sense of mystery, tension and disquiet. Andreas rescues a puppy hanging from a noose, sheep are butchered, and a horse is set on fire. Violence besieges Bergman’s characters, who fail to transcend it in their own relationships. These sub plots within the main narrative, captures the psychology of various characters.
Andreas and Anna who were living together, later decides to separate. Good and evil characters are only mere perceptions. A person who performs his role pretty well in given circumstances, is judged good or bad accordingly.
The Passion’s finale is an influential emotional and thematic summary accomplished in one excruciating long take. Its enigmatic ending suggests that Bergman did not leave questions of God behind when he finished The Silence (1963), as he claimed. Instead The Passion is both a depiction of secular despair and a final appeal to a silent God.
In 1971, in an interview, Bergman agreed that his idea of using deconstruction plot in this film is not an effective idea. He is not happy with that. He believes that the actors didn’t perform well in those interview scenes. This film remains one of the greatest films ever made despite of these words. ‘Liv’ and ‘Max’ were also paired together in the previous two films of this trilogy. Their relationship become multifaceted in this last part. The psychological and physical violence of modernity; of human relations; of war; and of detechment, is the ultimate context for each character’s past trauma, present desperation, and future isolation.
We should also appreciate Sven Nykvist for his breathtaking cinematography. As per Sontag: “Our eye cannot wander about the screen, as it does about the stage. The camera is an absolute dictator. It shows us a face when we are to see a face, and nothing else; a pair of clenched hands, a landscape, a speeding train…only when it wants us to see these things. When the camera moves we move, when it remains still we are still.”
So, More than a filmmaker, Bergman was a magician. The Passion’s final scene exemplifies Bergman’s mastery of cinema’s expressive potential. He combines framing, movement, gesture, dialogue, expression, sound, and colour to create images of intellectual and emotional resonance that inhabit our daydreams and haunt our nightmares.
( I am thankful to Xenia Feldman and Harish Mehla, who helped me to translate this blog post from Hindi to English)
– Gursimran Datla