It’s Movie Night in Central Kentucky. It’s summer with 132% humidity; just the night for a cold beer or Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light.
I have radically mixed feelings about the films of Ingmar Bergman. Some of the longest and most tedious decades of my life have been spent watching Persona and Fanny and Alexander and The Virgin Spring…and yes, The Seventh Seal. Some of the most interesting times have been spent watching Through a Glass Darkly, Smiles of a Summer Night, Summer With Monika…and yes again, The Seventh Seal (scratchin’ my head).
And then there’s Winter Light.
I love this film. I first saw it in the summer of 1969. It sank its claws in me and has never let go. I’ve watched the film about a half-dozen times since then.
It is small, intimate, exquisite, painful story-telling about the largest of issues. It would never make it in today’s United States of Donald Trump, AK-14’s (or 47’s, or whatever), anti-maskers, or ark parks.
It whispers – it doesn’t shout. It agonizes – it doesn’t sneer. It lingers and ponders – it’s not a sound byte or a tweet. It thinks for itself – it doesn’t meme (is that even a verb?). It’s not reality TV – it’s reality. No need to fake it for the judges or a hidden camera or the voters at home – just tell the story in the unforgiving glare of truth.
I’m reminded of Carl Theodore Dreyer’s captivating film; Joan of Arc, which tells its story as a ballet of faces. You cannot look away.
Winter Light takes it further. Bergman uses his faces in excruciatingly long shots – but his characters also speak – directly and with no hesitation. Neither faces nor their voices blink. There is no escape from their story; not for you as the viewer, and certainly not for Gunnar Bjornstrand, the faith-challenged priest of the story or Max Von Sydow the faith-bereft farmer he attempts to counsel.
Faith is hard. It’s available to everyone, but not granted to everyone. It has value. It will save/redeem/inspire…but not everyone.
Mr. Bjornstrand’s performance is wondrous to me. I totally believe Bjornstrand’s discomfort with his cold/flu. I believe his discomfort comforting his parishioners. I believe his weariness and desperation. I believe his slipping belief. I believe his desire to believe. I watch the film waiting for his epiphany like a boy raised in a Southern Baptist Sunday School should. I wait for Godot as a child of the sixties should.
This is great storytelling and nothing gets blown up and there are no super-powers…not that there’s anything wrong with that.