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DVD SAVANT

The Passion of Anna


The Passion of Anna
MGM DVD
1969 / Color / 1:66 flat letterboxed / 101 min. / En Passion / 24.98
Starring Max Von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson
Cinematography Sven Nykvist
Production Designer P.A. Lundgren
Editor Siv Lundgren
Produced by Lars-Owe Carlberg
Written and Directed by Ingmar Bergman



Also available in The Ingmar Bergman Special Edition DVD Collection Boxed set (112.96, street date April 20, 2004), with Persona, Shame, Hour of the Wolf and The Serpent's Egg.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Although this movie is identified as En Passion, the card in the title position on the film itself simply reads L 182. There's no other title given on the DVD. I found no explanation of this in the docu, the commentary or on the IMDB. Oddness or inconsistencies in a Bergman film always feel like misreads ... it comes from being intimidated by world-renowned, serious art filmmakers, so I'm assuming that there's a story behind this that I've yet to catch up with.  1 In the context of the film, "L 182" would seem to correspond to the neat boxes of photos that the Erland Josephson character stores in the creative office in his windmill. The thousands of filed images corresponding to specific subject matter - happiness, violence - seem to either be Bergman's criticism of the 'organized' mind, or the unconscious repository for the feelings of man who shows no feelings ... sort of a variation on the hidden rooms with terrible secrets in the house belonging to Peeping Tom.

The Passion of Anna is more accessible, less frustrating and less mysterious than some of Bergman's previous studies in psychological opacity. In bringing his inner concerns to the surface, Bergman uses readily-interpretable symbols and situations. The characters spend less time gazing at the camera in blank-faced introspection and there are fewer indigestible unknown factors. The film is also photographed in color, something we didn't expect from the Swedish master of stark, ascetic grays.

Synopsis:

Andreas Winkelman (Max von Sydow) lives alone on an island after a broken relationship and some money troubles. While trying to be kind to another solitary local, Johan Andersson (Erik Hell), he comes in contact with the odd Vergerus household. Elis Vergerus (Erland Josephson) is a self-possessed and successful architect. His bored wife Eva (Bibi Andersson) is flighty and sees a new man like Andreas as a potential lover. Eva's sister is the intense, pained Anna Fromm (Liv Ullmann), who has nightmares about her dead husband and son. While Andreas becomes more involved with these people, some sick individual on the island is killing sheep, hanging dogs and setting horses on fire. Johan is suspected.

The Passion of Anna is straightforward with its unusual content. Andreas is sloppy and aimless in his farmyard chores and seems to see more than one sun in the sky, a phenomenon he pays no special heed. He gets miserably drunk. He considers his new neighbor Elis a soft touch for a loan guarantee; Elis affects an intellectual distance that might hide an attraction for Andreas. Elis photographs Andreas and makes sly references to his wife sometimes having affairs. Eva's eventual flirtation with Andreas is refreshingly uncomplicated, almost a bright spot in Bergman's dour filmography.

Lost soul Anna doesn't always have a good hold on the truth or reality. She seems to do fairly well after moving in with Andreas (a plot development Bergman chooses to leap-frog), but suffers from vivid nightmares. We fear that she may be the animal-killer, even though she's crippled and Andreas definitely sees a nimble person running from the first incident. The film is still a depressing rumination on the meaninglessness and pain of life, but it ends more like Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion than a typical 60s Bergman zen-fest. The change of pace is welcome.

Anna is definitely a visual departure for Bergman. The interesting color is often warm and mellow, radiantly so in Bibi Andersson's big scene with Max's old swing record. The hues are intense without being exaggerated, like old Kodachrome home movies. I am told that original prints used grain interestingly; it's less visible here except in the final scene. Perhaps the grain was only on duped American prints.

Bergman's thematic use of color is actually rather commonplace - the color red bounces between fire trucks and flames, signaling alarm and panic in the Anna Fromm character. At one point, Ullman's red scarf is used to mirror the pools of crimson blood from the throats of slaughtered sheep.

Bergman's dream sequences are vivid - one with Ullmann in a boat resembles a situation in Shame and could almost be an unused sequence from it. Bergman cuts away to format-disrupting false interviews for all four main actors, a gambit that isn't any more successful than it would be in anybody else's avant-garde film. He probably felt something was needed to break up the rather conventional drama. There's plenty of disturbing content here, but often conveyed with atypical technique for the Swedish master, including overlapping dissolves in the barn-burning scene. The film is more accessible and less mysterious - one doesn't necessarily have to read a film book or peruse a critic's exegesis to follow what's going on.

All four actors are fascinating to observe, with faces that compel interest even when they 'are not expressing anything' - Von Sydow's desired acting goal as stated in his false interview. In color, Ullman's reddish face and glowing blue eyes have a startling presence, as if we could feel her warm breath. Andersson is ravishing, even the imperfections in her complexion.

Bergman still strains to convey his inner moods and conflicted psychological states, but The Passion of Anna gives us more of a story to appreciate, even if the conclusion is yet another formless question-mark. It's nice to see him working his way out of his ethereal stare-0-thons ... even if he'd later return to the occasional ennui machine, like Face to Face.


MGM's DVD of The Passion of Anna is very handsome. The color is exactingly transferred and has an unusual look that's interesting in itself. The 1:66 aspect ratio is reportedly accurate. If MGM supported 16:9 with 1:66, the film would look even better. The audio is clear; a second Spanish track is included. There's also a photo album and a trailer.

The extras are dominated by revealing interviews with Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson and to a lesser extent Erland Josephson. They talk about the false interview segments (they all feel they no longer work, if they ever did) but are pleased with the overall quality of the film. Ullmann openly reveals that she and Bergman were breaking up at the time the film was made. She was furious that the director left her fellow actors' improvised speeches intact, but cut hers off. Melancholy monologues are so often allowed to go on interrupted in a Bergman film, that actually trimming one really sticks out as an affront.

The weak link is author-professor Marc Gervais, whose comments are sometimes interesting but rarely well organized. His commentary rambles, stressing his subjective reactions and pointing out without much elaboration things like the fact that the film is in color. He's an authoritative presence in the docus, but doesn't impart much concrete wisdom about Bergman. He also stumbles in his technical understanding. The final shot is an optical push-in that purposely increases the film grain - Gervais either misidentifies it as a 'zoom' or doesn't know the difference.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Passion of Anna rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: 2nd Spanish audio track, Commentary by Bergman biographer Marc Gervais, Disintegration of Passion featurette, interviews with Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, and Bibi Andersson, Elliott Gould reads The Passion of Anna, Photo gallery, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 18, 2004


Footnote:

1. I'm told that an original music cue sheet at MGM ID's the film as L 182 En Passion.
Explanatory note from Stefan, 3/1/04: The Swedish Filmography, the encyclopedia of record for Swedish films, says that Bergman submitted a screenplay coded L-182 and titled Annandreas Suggestions for scenes from a marriage by Ingmar Bergman to Svensk Filmindustri in the spring of 1968. The August 1968 script is called En Passion. The film was shot on Farö island in the Baltic in Autumn 1968. The Filmographycommentary suggests the film is a further gestation on themes from The Reservation, a Bergman TV play I've never seen.In a Glass Darkly was coded L-131. I donīt know if this is SF's or Bergman's coding. - Stefan

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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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