|The Criterion Collection/Eclipse
Squalor and suicide, meaningless affairs and empty marriages, ineffectual intellectuals and self-absorbed artists (along with large dollops of despair, hopelessness, and guilt): This collection of five of Ingmar Bergman's earliest efforts has it all. Amazingly, the same life-questioning themes, identity crises, and characters living in a shared emotional wilderness would re-emerge over and over throughout the writer/director's career.
The movies in this five-disc set aren't as technically or artistically proficient, experimental, or ambitious as later classics like Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, and Persona. But they still show a startling maturity and a willingness to take on the most challenging ideas and examine the difficulties of human existence with a pitiless honesty and a deep, completely empathetic understanding. In Torment (1944), a brutal and sadistic schoolmaster abuses and dominates a woman so much that she kills herself - yet he's still shown as being a victim of his own fears and neuroses, more pathetic than evil. This keeps the character real, thereby allowing the viewer to recognize elements of themselves and to gain insight into their own character and behavior. If to err is human and to forgive divine, Bergman is a man with a lot of God in him.
Torment was actually directed by Swedish master Alf Sjöberg from a script by Bergman, and it was an inspired idea to include it in this set since it shows just how much the 24-year-old writer brought to the film. Dialogue is very powerful and original. Not only do motifs like domineering authority figures, illness, female sexuality, and tortured, sensitive souls all recur in the other titles here that the budding filmmaker did direct, but the whole mood of this piece has the same qualities that have become so familiar that they're coined in a term: Bergmanesque.
Torment was soon followed by Crisis. Bergman's 1946 directorial debut lacks the visual brilliance - the expressionistic lighting and cinematography - that Sjöberg had brought to Torment. But it still has the kind of wonderful insight into what drives people to do the terrible things they do to one another that only Bergman the writer can deliver. The story starts as a small-town romantic farce about an innocent young woman meeting a sophisticated visitor, but once she has moved to the corrupting big city, the screw starts to turn, and the tone changes to anguish.
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