"The magic of movements is fascinating... those moving shadows on my screen... whenever I make a film, I have the same difficulty, same unhappiness that I'm not able to express it the way I want it," says legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman in an interview.
Film buffs in Coimbatore got a taste of his magical filmmaking at the Bergman Film Festival held recently at Kasthuri Sreenivasan Trust Auditorium.
This is the first in the retrospective series of world masters organised by Konangal Film Society. A 30-minute film about the filmmaker, who retired at the age of 83 and now lives in Sweden, was an added bonanza.
If The Hour of the Wolf (horror) traces the agony of an artist, the emotionally packed Cries and Whispers converts reality into fiction with one happy moment in the coda (penultimate) scene.
The award winning The Seventh Seal, set in 14th century Sweden, speaks about a man in search of the meaning of life. Death is personified as a character here.
"The transition from fantasy to reality is muted in his films," says D. Anandan of Konangal. In The Hour... the director narrates the story through the eyes of the artist's wife (Liv Ullmann). Through her husband's diary, she takes you into flashback mode to their life in a lonely castle on an island to her insomniac husband haunted by darkness, demons and other creatures of his imagination and to the full-blooded horror that eventually destroys him.
"Every film is a journey from the unconscious to the conscious. His theory is that endurance is possible through art," adds Anandan.
When someone in the audience wanted to deconstruct the movie to understand its depths, Paul Simon, a final year engineering student, said its beauty lay in its ambiguous ending.
"Bergman is not forcing his ideas on us; instead he creates an opportunity to think and interpret," he adds. In Cries and Whispers, four women get together in a manor house. The unmarried sister, Agnes (Harriet Andersson) is dying of cancer and her two sisters come to ease her pain.
For Karin (Ingrid Thulin), the wife of diplomat and a mother of five, life is nothing but a tissue of lies.
She mutilates herself to show her hostility towards her husband and life. The flirtatious Maria (Ullmann) is taken up with her own beauty; morals don't matter. The fourth woman, maid Anna (Kari Sylwan), shares a relationship with Agnes.
Endurance of women
While female critics say the film projects the fears and desires of men, Anandan says it brings out the endurance of women. "Though Agnes takes us through the painful experience of death, that happy moment when all the characters have a nice time in a garden gives it a fictional twist. There is a dream sequence where the body talks, leaving us wondering if Agnes is dead or alive. And, Anna becomes a mother in her relationship with Agnes," he adds.
Some felt the film analysed sexual instincts in a person who was unwell (an issue that current day filmmakers are just learning to deal with) and spoke about how physical pleasures become important to escape pain. "In love, you need to feel and the beautiful relationship between Anna and Agnes is about this feeling," Paul adds.
The blood red backgrounds and the picturesque landscapes captured by Sven Nykvist were other highlights.
To understand the religious criticism in The Seventh Seal, the audience was requested to watch it with an `intellectual blanket'. In this, Bergman, an atheist, probes death and makes a subtle commentary on religion. A knight (Max Von Sydow), hoping to gain knowledge about life, challenges Death (Beng Ekerot) to a game of chess.
"Man is perishable but society lives. Bergman shows humanity is the future by saving three people from death in this film," comments Pon. Chandran of Konangal.
The fear factor
"Fear is the core theme in the three films — of death, of relationships and of the unknown. Bergman describes cinema as an `exciting mistress' and theatre as a `faithful wife'. He uses drama-based narration with a lot of satire. Even his stylised narration was a subject of criticism," he adds.
But, as a film buff put it: "Just let the movies sink in. Don't get into the details."